When I first started cloth diapering my stash was limited to cotton prefolds and covers. From time to time I’d read about bamboo diapers and wonder what all the hype was about. After getting to review a bamboo diaper last year (the Giggle Life) a light bulb went on in my head. Bamboo is pretty great! In fact, it’s now one of my favorite diapering fabrics and you can find ALL sorts of things on the market besides just pockets: there are bamboo wipes, bamboo flats, bamboo prefolds, bamboo inserts and even bamboo changing pads.
So here’s the lowdown on bamboo – the good, the bad and the basic facts.
What is bamboo? It’s a fast-growing plant (in the grass family) that is tough and fibrous. The hard stalks can be used to make utensils, furniture and even tools. The leaves and pulp can be rendered into food products and even fabric. Bamboo as a fabric is technically called “rayon from bamboo.” Why this distinction? Because rayon can be rendered from things other than bamboo fibers – like cotton or wood pulp. For this reason, the FTC might require manufacturers in the future to use the term “rayon from bamboo” on their labeling, instead of just “bamboo.”
Is bamboo environmentally friendly? All fabrics, even those marketed as “eco-friendly,” impact the environment in some way. Bamboo is definitely a very “green” crop compared to things like trees and cotton. It absorbs more carbon dioxide than your typical tree, and quickly grows after harvest because unlike a tree that dies after being cut, bamboo replenishes in much the same way that grass does. It grows well without irrigation, pesticides or chemical fertilizers. And because it grows like grass and has more surface roots, it helps to prevent soil erosion better than trees and other plants do. But what about the chemicals used to turn it into rayon fabric? Sodium hydroxide is the major player; it’s also known as caustic soda. While it is a strong chemical, it poses no health hazards when used properly and disposed of in a responsible manner. Caustic soda is even used in the product of organic cotton, which is also marketed as a “green” fabric. One way that factories lessen the environmental impact of rayon from bamboo production is to use a “closed loop” system that recycles the sodium hydroxide and water for re-use.
Ok, now here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of rayon from bamboo as a cloth diapering fabric:
1. It’s naturally antimicrobial and resists odor. Japanese studies indicate that even after 50 washes, bamboo fabric retains this property.
2. It’s highly breathable and great for sensitive skin (other natural fibers also have this benefit).
3. It’s highly absorbent (even more so than cotton).
4. It’s very soft and smooth (especially compared to cotton).
1. Bamboo holds on to stains more easily than synthetic fibers like microfleece and microfiber.
2. Bamboo must be thoroughly prepped before using or it will leak. Don’t get discouraged if your beautiful new bamboo diaper leaks; keep washing that sucker! Bamboo is amazing, but it needs time to start working its magic. Think at least six washes.
3. Bamboo is more expensive than it’s major competitor – cotton – but not by too much. Here are some cost comparisons from Nicki’s Diapers:
- Imagine cotton prefolds are $1.75 each; Imagine bamboo prefolds are $2.25 each
- Imagine cotton flats are $1.66; Imagine bamboo flats are $3.85 each
- Imagine Newborn Stay-Dry AIO is $10.95; the Imagine Newborn Bamboo AIO is $11.95 (photo below)