Know Your Fibers: What is Tencel?

Know Your Fibers: Tencel. Lyocell

The goal of our Know Your Fibers series is to provide info about different types of fibers for our readers. This quarter, we take a look at Tencel ®.

A Brief History of Tencel ®

Lyocell is a form of rayon which consists of cellulose fiber made from wood pulp. It was first developed through the pilot stage by (the now-defunct) American Enka in 1972, and they called it Newcell. Later, the fiber was commercialized by Courtaulds Fibers in the 1980s. In 1990 the first plant was opened in Mobile, AL, and Courtaulds renamed the fiber “Tencel.” When Lenzing AG purchased the Tencel plants in 2004, they combined it with their lyocell business, but they kept the Tencel® name. They are the only major producer of lyocell fiber.

The Federal Trade Commission assigned the separate generic name of “lyocell” and classifies it as a sub-category under rayon. Tencel® fibers (which is now the Lenzing brand name) are lyocell fibers and therefore a sub-category of rayon. Lenzing is using the Tencel® branding on packaging of consumer products, which consists of both nonwovens and woven/knit fabrics.

Rayon vs. Lyocell Process

As mentioned earlier, the raw material for lyocell (Tencel®) is wood pulp, and like rayon the pulp is milled and bleached. The cellulose after this process is dissolved in an organic solution and extruded through a spinneret which has small holes (the diameter of the holes determines the fiber diameter). On the other side of the spinneret, the organic solvent is removed and forms fiber filaments, one per hole. These filaments are cut into the desired fiber lengths and baled to be sold. This process allows for the recycling of almost all the organic solvent for reuse. Rayon does not allow for recycling so there are waste streams associated with its manufacturing.

Tencel ® Properties

The main difference in Tencel® fiber versus rayon is it has higher tensile strength, both wet and dry. Tencel® does lose some strength when wet, though not as much as rayon (of course, purified cotton is stronger when wet). The degree of polymerization is great in Tencel®; it’s about twice that of rayon, but cotton is still four to six times higher—which is why cotton does not lose strength when wet.

Feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions or comments!

23 Responses to Know Your Fibers: What is Tencel?

  1. Still a bit confused.

    Tencel is a brand of lyocell, and lyocell is a sub-category of Rayon.

    Why put a header called Rayon vs Lyocell process? When you are describing Rayon, are you talking about the Viscose Rayon process?

    • Hi Fiona,

      Tencel (lyocell)is regenerated cellulose not made by the viscose method. It is made using and entirely new chemistry and process that is more environmentally friendly. It has better fiber strength properties than viscose rayon.
      The FTC found the properties and process difference between viscose rayon and lyocell to create a new and new designation for lyocell. Both are still regenerated cellulose.

      Hope this helps!

  2. The first time I washed sheets before using a softball size of lint cane out of dryer. More on floor. What a mess! Hopefully that does not happen each time I launder them.

    • Hi Cathy,

      The quality of the yarn used to make the sheets can effect the amount of lint created. Fine combed ring spun yarn will will produce the least amount lint but will cost more.

      Hope this helps!

    • Hi Phil,

      The Tencel process is a Lenzing process. Since we do not make Tencel, we have no idea what organic solution cellulose it is dissolved in.

  3. Is there a way to set knots in Tencel. I’m knitting a sweater in an alpaca-Tencel mixed fiber yarn and find that knots simply slide out even when tied very tight. i’ve been advised by the retailer that this is due to the 35% Tencel content. I’d like to make sure my knots don’t come undone. Is there a treatment (heat? a chemical?) which will alter the slipperiness so my knots stay tied?

    Please reply by e-mail.
    Thank you.

  4. Hi Matthew,
    Can you tell me which of the type of lyocell fiber that is regular, low and zero fibrillated is used the most in industry.


    • Hey Harneet,

      Typically it is regular. The low and fibrillated are specialty fibers used in hydroentangling process to create more surface area for wiping and filtration.

  5. Hi,
    Just wondering what is more gentle on the skin or breathable.
    Ie light pure cotton tops are great to wear. I noticed that these fabrics are used on bed mattresses. Which would be a good breathable option?

    • Fabrics made with finer yarns and more open knits of weave (lighter) breathe better. Sheeting fabrics can be made with fine yarns (higher count) but the weave is very tight.

  6. Hello I’m considering buying a tencel area rug should I have it stain treated or not? Concerned about the inevitability of spot treating at some point. Any advice is welcome… the other rug I like is a viscose wool mix which is easier to clean ?

    • I would stain treat both the Tencel and the Tencel/wool blend rugs. They will both absorb stains without any treatment. Remember if you clean them they need to be retreated. The wool/Tencel blend rug will be more durable.

    • Tencel is just a stronger (both dry and wet) viscose rayon fiber. Both are cellulose polymers. Not sure what process you are referring to but both should card, spin into yarn and dye the same.

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