What is Lyocell?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Lyocell is the generic name for a biodegradable fabric that's made out of treated wood pulp. It's commonly sold under the brand name Tencel®, which is made by Lenzing AG. Known for its versatility, durability, and strength when both wet and dry, this material is used in everything from clothing to cars. Though it's often seen as eco-friendly because of its natural origins and its manufacturing process, it is made with petrochemical derivatives, and takes a lot of energy to produce.

Lyocell fabric comes in many varieties.
Lyocell fabric comes in many varieties.

Production Process

The production process for lyocell begins by treating wood chips approximately the size of a coin until they form a substance similar to a thick paper, which is then sent to a fabric production factory. Once there, it is broken down into about 1 inch (2.5 cm) squares and chemically dissolved. The resulting slurry is then forced through a device called a spinneret, which has many small holes in it, somewhat like a strainer. This causes the mixture to form long fibers, which are chemically treated again, rinsed and dried, and lubricated before being compressed, combed, and cut. After this, they can be spun into yarn for use, either alone or in combination with other materials.

Lyocell is made from wood pulp.
Lyocell is made from wood pulp.

Characteristics and Uses

In its pure form, this material is very strong both when wet and dry, and lasts a long time. It can be mixed with many other types of fibers, including cotton, wool, linen, silk, and Lycra®; and can also be treated to have a variety of textures, from silky to denim-feel. It drapes well and resists wrinkles, which makes it popular for dress clothing. Additionally, it's very absorbent and wicks moisture well, and so is often used to make athletic clothing and summer garments. Depending on how it's treated, lyocell can be either machine washed, hand washed, or dry clean only.

Baby wipes made with lyocell.
Baby wipes made with lyocell.

Besides clothing, lyocell is used in making linens, some cigarette filters, vehicle carpeting, baby wipes, and bandages. Its durability makes it well-suited for industrial uses too: it's commonly found in conveyor belts, oil filters, and capacitor separators. It is also used to reinforce some plastics and in making some types of paper.

Some lyocell fabrics can be hand-washed.
Some lyocell fabrics can be hand-washed.

Debate over Eco-Friendly Status

Lyocell is often seen as an environmentally friendly fabric since it comes from renewable sources, is biodegradable, and is made in a closed-loop system that recycles almost all of the chemicals used. The raw materials needed to make it also take up much less land and water than those needed for comparable materials like cotton. Additionally, Tencel® is usually made with eucalyptus trees that are grown without pesticides or artificial irrigation. While the trees are a sustainable resource, the wood does have to be shipped to manufacturing plants from Africa, which takes a lot of fuel. The production process also takes a lot of energy, and the substances used to treat the fibers are derived from petrochemicals. The processes used to dye or texture lyocell sometimes include the use of toxic chemicals, though this varies from producer to producer.

Lyocell is used to make some cigarette filters.
Lyocell is used to make some cigarette filters.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Is lyocell a synthetic fiber?


All trade names are in fact just Rayon (Model/Tencel/Lyocell). The only difference is the source of the cellouse they obtain it from, whether it is from wood pulp or another plant source.

All rayon gets weak (lower tensile strength) when wet. It is similar to cotton (which is also cellouse fiber) and has high shrinkage.

Neither is more durable than the other. Do not be fooled - generic rayon is the same chemistry as the trade name versions.


Lyocell is also a rayon and is only slightly more durable than the viscose form of rayon by virtue of its higher strength.


Would Lyocell be OK for traveling in a humid third world country?


Is the dyeing process similar to viscose rayon?


It says lyocell is on sold by one company in the US. Who is that? Is it better than bamboo fabric? I know the process to make it is better but I need a fabric that is durable, machine washable and extremely soft for a baby.


So is it washable or not? does it lose its shape and fade and all the things mentioned above? I just bought an article of clothing and didn't realize till I got it home that is is 100 percent Tencel lyocell, and I need to know answers to these questions or it goes back to the store!


I have had problems with lyocell shrinking when hand washed (cold), so am hesitant to buy again!


I have a black dress made of 100 percent tencel. I love the dress, but after washing a few times it is starting to wear and fade. Is there anything I can do to bring it back to original quality. Can it be re-dyed black? What products should I use? Thanks!


Lyocell doesn't breathe. It stretches out, gets warpy, loses shape with 5 percent spandex blend. It is pretty, but gets a sloppy stretched out look and feel.


Is tencel or lyocell a manmade fiber or synthetic/artificial?


I'd suggest that the Lyocell process info misses the chemical pulping step between wood chips and the making of the amine oxide spindope. The resulting chemical cellulose is key to both the viscose rayon and Lyocell processes.


Is Lyocell breathable?


What colours does it come in?


Does Lyocell shrink when washed???


Is a garment made of 56% lyocell and 44% rayon hand or machine washable?


So what is the difference between Rayon and Lyocell? They are both regenerated cellulose, but why is Lyocell more durable????

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