What Is Lyocell, Really? All You Need To Know About The Fascinating Fabric

Are you looking to make more environmentally responsible choices when it comes to fashion? A great start is to look at what our clothes are made of, and one of the most sustainable fabrics currently available is lyocell.

In this article, I explain all you need to know about the trendy lyocell fabric.

What is Lyocell fabric?

Lyocell is a semi-synthetic fabric that is essentially a form of rayon. The raw material used to make lyocell is cellulose from wood pulp, generally from Eucalyptus, Oak, and Birch. 

One of the most sustainable brand names of lyocell fibers is TENCEL Lyocell, commercialized by Lenzing.

TENCEL, specifically, is made from certified forests’ Eucalyptus, which proliferate without pesticides, fertilizers, or irrigation.

lyocell fabric dress
Wearing a beautiful lyocell dress on a summer day in Spain

Is Lyocell fabric sustainable?

In general, lyocell is a more sustainable fabric than mainstream ones. Take, for example, cotton: it requires a huge amount of water to grow it; meanwhile, the trees that provide the pulp required to manufacture lyocell need significantly less water, making it a more environmentally responsible option.

Another important point to consider is the type of trees used as raw material for lyocell production. It’s not difficult to see that overproduction can lead to deforestation of precious forests. Lenzing tries to reduce deforestation impact producing TENCEL from wood pulp from sustainably managed sources. They have earned United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) BioPreferred® designation.

RELATED ARTICLE: 9 plant-based sustainable fabrics you and your skin will love

All fabrics require the use of chemicals for their processing. Still, for lyocell, the process can be carried out in a closed-loop system where the chemically contaminated water is recovered and reused. For example, the solvent-spinning process used to create the TENCEL fibers recycles water and solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.

Lastly, if it’s not mixed with other materials, TENCEL lyocell yarn is certified as compostable and biodegradable, so it can fully revert to nature.

Lyocell fabric properties

Lyocell is a soft, silky, breathable fabric perfect for summer because it can keep you cool and dry. These characteristics make lyocell fabrics ideal for intimates, activewear, and home textiles, like bedsheets.

  • Gentleness to the skin. Lyocell can be very smooth to the touch, and it glides gently over the skin.
  • Efficient moisture regulation. The cellulosic fibers of lyocell are structured to regulate the absorption and release of moisture, making the fabric breathable and supporting the body’s thermal regulation, even better than cotton. Furthermore, because of the mentioned reasons, lyocell provides a less favorable environment for bacterial growth, offering hygienic protection.
  • Wrinkle resistance. Lyocell doesn’t crease or wrinkle easily. 
  • High tenacity. Lyocell is famous because of its high tenacity profile among other cellulose fibers.
  • Flexibility. Lyocell is used in various textiles for different applications in fashion, including intimates, activewear. Lyocell is also used for household textiles such as bedsheets and towels.

Lyocell compared to other fabrics

Lyocell compared to cotton and polyester

CharacteristicsLyocellCottonPolyester
SoftnessIt feels soft and smooth from the beginningIt feels crisp initially and then gets softer with use and washingSlightly coarse; it may not be suitable for sensitive skin
PriceMore expensiveLess expensiveConsiderably cheaper
DurabilityIt’s long-lasting and durable if it’s handled with careUsually more durable, but it requires more washesSuper long-lasting and durable
MaintenanceDelicate, it may require hand washing, or it may be machine-washed on a delicate cycleEasy to handle and machine-washableIt does not require special care; machine-washable
BreathabilityCool, breathable, and wicks away moistureCool and breathable but cannot wick away moistureNot breathable; it will trap moisture instead of wicking it away
Resistance to wrinklesYesNoYes
SustainabilitySustainableOnly sustainable if organicNot sustainable

How to care for Lyocell fabric

Lyocell is a durable fabric that doesn’t shrink easily; however, you should treat it as delicate. Be careful when applying heat because it can damage the clothing. In general, avoid high-temperature washing and machine drying. 

Since Lyocell can be mixed with other materials, always read the care tag label for your specific garment instructions.

  • Washing. Hand-wash or use a gentle machine cycle. Avoid twisting the wet fabric.
  • Drying. Air-dry or use a low-heat dry cycle.
  • Ironing. Iron at low heat. For extra protection, use a pressing cloth between the garment and the iron. If possible, use a steamer instead of an iron.
  • Stains removal. To remove stains, select an oxygen bleach as Lyocell fibers can be weakened by chlorine bleach.

Lyocell fabric FAQs

Is lyocell stretchy or elastic?

Yes, lyocell can be stretchy and doesn’t need to be mixed with other fibers to achieve elasticity.

Is lyocell warm?

Lyocell has thermoregulating properties; therefore, it can keep you cool in summer and somehow warm in winter. It might not be optimized for warmness, but it can be a good choice for that as well. 

Is lyocell absorbent?

Yes, lyocell is an absorbent fabric. It also has moisture-wicking properties, which means that it can absorb moisture and keep it away from your skin and instead evaporate it to the exterior.

Is lyocell comfortable?

Yes, lyocell can be very comfortable and gentle to the skin. It’s as soft as cotton or silk.

Is lyocell compostable?

Yes, some types of lyocell are certified biodegradable and compostable, like TENCEL Lyocell.

Is lyocell clingy?

No, lyocell has good moisture-wicking properties, which means that it can absorb moisture but keep it away from your skin and instead evaporate it to the exterior, making it not “clingy.”

Is lyocell durable?

Yes, lyocell is a durable fabric that requires less washing than, for example, cotton. To make it even more durable, you should treat it as delicate. 

Is lyocell dyeable?

Yes, lyocell can be dyed at home. Given that it’s a fiber that comes from a natural source, it will accept dye very well. 

Is lyocell expensive?

Lyocell is more expensive than other fabrics, like cotton. TENCEL lyocell can be considerer a luxurious fabric because of its high-quality and sustainable properties, which require more investment to produce.

Is lyocell easy to iron?

Yes, lyocell ironing is simple. Just hover over the item using the steam setting or press it using a warm temperature.

Is lyocell flammable?

Yes, being a manufactured cellulose fabric, lyocell is flammable. It sits just beneath linen and cotton, which are the easiest fabrics to ignite.

Is lyocell good for swimwear?

The best fabrics for swimwear are those that are hydrophobic and quick-drying, like polyester and nylon. Lyocell doesn’t fall into those categories; hence it would not be an ideal choice for swimwear. 

Is lyocell good in jeans?

Yes, the cellulosic nature of lyocell can be suitable for denim garments. Lenzing produces TENCEL denim, which is an excellent choice to make sustainable jeans.

If you would like to learn more about the sustainability of denim, I wrote an extensive article about it, make sure to check it out. 

Is lyocell hydrophobic?

No, lyocell does absorb a fair amount of water, unlike polyester or nylon. 

Is lyocell knit or woven?

Lyocell yarns can be either knit or woven, depending on the fabric that needs to be produced from them.

Is lyocell dry clean only?

No, lyocell can be washed at home. However, remember to always read your garment’s care instructions label for specific details. 

Is lyocell water-resistant?

No, lyocell does absorb some moisture. It has good moisture-wicking properties. 

Is lyocell shiny?

Tencel generally has a matte, suede-like finish. However, I have seen blends of lyocell that can resemble the shininess of silk.

Is lyocell see-through?

No, because of its weight and density, lyocell is typically opaque.

Is lyocell vegan?

Yes, lyocell is a vegan fabric.

Is lyocell recyclable?

Lyocell might be recyclable; however, since it’s a biodegradable and compostable fabric, it might be a better option to let it return to nature.

Are lyocell and TENCEL the same?

No, lyocell refers to fiber, and TENCEL is a brand name of lyocell fibers. 

Does lyocell dry quickly?

Yes, lyocell can dry relatively quickly. It dries faster than cotton because it retains less moisture, but it will not dry as fast as hydrophobic materials like polyester or nylon.

Does lyocell make you sweat or smell?

No, lyocell has good moisture-wicking properties, which means that it can absorb moisture but keep it away from your skin and instead evaporate it to the exterior, making you sweat and smell less than other fabrics.

Does lyocell shrink?

Yes, lyocell tends to shrink after the first few washes slightly. With these types of fabrics, you should avoid washing at high temperatures and air dry when possible.

Does lyocell pill?

Yes, lyocell might pill if it’s not properly cared for. To avoid it, you can try hand washing and avoid the dryer machine.

Final thoughts

Wearing a beautiful lyocell dress on a summer day in Spain

I’m the proud owner of several garment pieces made of Lyocell or a blend with other materials. I have to say I was impressed with its softness when I first touched it. It also feels lightweight, breathable, and luxurious. Even on a warm day in Spain, I don’t feel sweaty.

Lyocell garments can be considerably more costly than their polyester or cotton counterparts, but they are durable and don’t require constant washing. I believe investing in it has made me love my clothes even more because I keep them for longer, treat them with care, and they’re gentle to my skin and the environment.

If you’re interested in learning more about innovative and sustainable fabrics similar to lyocell, check out my article about modal fabric.

Additionally, if you’re interested in becoming more environmentally conscious, a good place to start is by reading this article and understanding why fast fashion is harmful to the planet.