Tencel 101: What is it? Feels Like? Stretchy? Breathable?

Tencel is a cellulose fiber derived from the Eucalyptus tree. It’s soft, smooth, drapey, has a soft sheen, and absorbs moisture quickly. It’s ideal for bed sheets, summer garments, and underwear.

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Contents list:

  • What is Tencel?
  • Feeling
  • Characteristics
  • Pros/cons
  • Uses
  • Tencel sheet Q’s
  • How it’s made
  • Sustainability
  • Fabric care: wash, dry, iron
  • How does Tencel compare to other fabrics?
  • History
  • Quick Q&A’s

Definition – What is Tencel fabric?

Tencel is the brand name for a reconstituted cellulose fiber called “Lyocell” – a fabric made from Eucalyptus trees that’s manufactured in a closed-loop process that reclaims 99% of the solvents used to make it (source). Tencel is a trademark of the Lenzing company in Australia.

What does Tencel feel like?

Tencel feels soft, smooth, drapey, and cold to the touch. It can be woven into a variety of different types of fabrics that may change the texture, but ultimately the fiber itself is silky smooth. It feels similar to viscose fabrics.

Characteristics/properties of Tencel:


Tencel is breathable, making it a good choice for activewear and workout fabrics as well as sheets and summer garments. In addition, it has moisture-wicking properties to help you feel dry.

Not waterproof:

Unless it’s treated with a waterproofing agent, Tencel isn’t waterproof. That said, as one of its qualities is excellent absorption, it’s not a good candidate to be waterproofed either.

Can sometimes be stretchy:

The Tencel fiber itself doesn’t have any elastic properties, but there are a few ways to give Tencel fabric stretch if required. It can be blended with elastic fibers like Elastane, Lycra, or Spandex to provide mechanical stretch, or it can be knit (as opposed to woven) to take advantage of the stretch properties of a knitted construction. A garment that has added elastic fibers will (in general) be stretchier than a Tencel knit.

Wrinkles less than other fibres:

Tencel doesn’t have any specific wrinkle-proof properties, but it is more resistant to wrinkling than fibers like cotton or silk. I find that wrinkles tend to ‘fall out’ of tencel garments as they’re worn, but some stubborn wrinkles may require a cool iron or a gentle steam to release them (source).


The base tencel fiber is bright white and opaque when it’s produced (source) – unless it’s woven into a sheer fabric, you won’t be able to see through it. In general, most Tencels are woven into fabrics that are opaque so you’re unlikely to be able to see through it.


Tencel is silky smooth and soft – a great option for delicate items and anything that will be worn directly against your skin.

Feels cool – Not warm / hot / sweaty:

Tencel is known for its cool feeling and breathability, as well as its ability to quickly absorb moisture, so you won’t feel warm or sticky when you wear Tencel items the way you may do wearing polyester.

No static:

Tencel doesn’t generate a static charge, so you won’t have static issues with this fabric (source).

Different thicknesses and weights:

The thickness of a fabric depends on how it’s woven and what it’s intended for. Tencel can be woven into very thin fabrics for summer dresses and breezy shirts, but it can also be made into denser fabrics like twill meant for pants and jackets. Compared to cotton, Tencel is a heavier fiber which usually translates to a beautiful, fluid drape.

Pros and cons of Tencel:

Tencel is a good all-round fabric with excellent absorption and moisture-wicking properties. It’s soft, smooth, and durable as long as it’s laundered gently, and it retains color from dye well over time.

You’ll want to be careful about avoiding stains though and treating spills quickly before they set in. You’ll also want to make sure you wash it according to the care instructions on the tag. Tencel is prone to shrinkage in its first wash and doesn’t fare well in high heat settings so cool washing temperatures help your garment live a longer life.

Uses of Tencel:

  • Lightweight, summery dresses
  • Flowy blouses
  • Baby garments
  • Underwear and lingerie
  • Bed linens and sheets
  • Drapey pants and skirts
  • Activewear (commonly blended with a stretch component like spandex and/or a strength component like nylon)

Tencel fabric for sheets:

Are Tencel sheets good?

Tencel has many desirable qualities when it comes to sheets. It’s breathable, moisture-wicking, silky soft, and smooth. Compared to cotton (the traditional contender for a quality bed sheet) it is either equal or better in all of the above categories – the biggest disadvantage with Tencel is that it can’t withstand quite the aggressive washing regimen that cotton can. Tencel shouldn’t be bleached or washed in hot water, and it will shrink and degrade more quickly over time if exposed regularly to the high heat of your dryer. If you’re one to set your sheets on a high-intensity wash, cotton sheets are still the better choice as they’ll last much longer (source).

Are Tencel sheets durable?

Tencel is a durable fabric that’s well-suited to bedsheets, but it shouldn’t be washed in hot water or regularly dried in a hot tumble dryer because this could shrink and degrade the fabric more quickly. If you wash and dry your sheets like this then cotton will be a more durable and longer-lasting choice.

Are Tencel sheets cooling?

Tencel sheets are cooling – Tencel’s absorbance and moisture wicking properties keep you feeling cool and dry as you sleep, and natural fibers like Tencel feel cool to the touch. They’re a great option for summer sheets, or year-round sheets if you tend to feel hot when you sleep (source).

Is Tencel hot to sleep on?

Tencel does not feel hot. It will keep you cooler when you sleep than a synthetic fiber like polyester, or a blend containing polyester.

Are Tencel sheets better than bamboo sheets?

Tencel and bamboo are both made using very similar processes – the biggest difference is the substrate at the start. Bamboo is made from the bamboo plant, and Tencel is made from Eucalyptus. Both are a good option for sheets – Bamboo contains a naturally occurring antimicrobial substance that can make it a great option for sheets as well as baby items – but in general, Tencel is more wrinkle-resistant and a little bit softer, and has a subtle but beautiful sheen that many people appreciate (source).


What is Tencel made of?

Tencel is made from the wood of the eucalyptus tree. It’s sustainable, grows quickly, and can be farmed free of chemical pesticides. Lyocell, however, can be made of any other wood products as well (Tencel is a trademarked type of Lyocell).

Is Tencel natural or synthetic?

Tencel is a ‘semi-synthetic’ fiber. It’s not directly spun from its natural state, as are natural fibers like silk, cotton, wool, or linen – but it’s also not a truly synthetic product, like polyester which is made from petroleum. Tencel walks a line between both, as it’s made from a natural source but goes through a vast molecular shift in order to arrive in its finished state (source).

How is Tencel made (step-by-step)?

Tencel starts its life when the eucalyptus tree is harvested and cut into approximately 1” cubes. These are chemically dissolved in a vat to separate the cellulose, and the resulting wet, papery pulp is dried in large sheets and rolled up for the next stage of the process.

Once dried, these sheets are dissolved again in an organic compound called n-methylmorpholine-n-oxide – abbreviated to NMMO – this non-toxic and recoverable compound is what makes Tencel unique, as it’s 99% recoverable and usable in the next batch of Tencel.

Using high temperature and pressure, the slurry is pumped through spinnerettes to produce long strands of fiber, after which the solvent is recovered. Depending on the end use of the Tencel, these fibers are treated in various ways before being sent off to fabric mills to be woven or knit into the final fabrics. (Source: Fabric for Fashion the Complete Guide, p.251)

Is Tencel sustainable & good for the environment?

Tencel is a member of the rayon/viscose family, although there are some notable differences in its production that make it more sustainable than traditional viscose production.

First – the manufacturing process has undergone some significant improvements. While viscose manufacturing produces hazardous chemical byproducts, Tencel is manufactured in a closed loop process where 99% of solvents used are recovered (source). Additionally, Tencel is made from sustainable wood sources, unlike traditional viscose where an estimated 30% of wood used comes from endangered forest sources.

Compared to viscose, it’s absolutely a more sustainable choice – but what about other fibers? Tencel manufacturing uses less energy and water than traditional cotton, and also requires less dye than cotton. Although less dye is used, the chemicals in these dyes for Tencel can be environmentally harmful (source).

Lyocell (Tencel’s off-brand sibling) is a better option than traditional viscose, but the manufacturing process recovers closer to 90% of solvents rather than Tencel’s impressive 99%.

Tencel does not produce microplastics, unlike polyesters and other synthetics.

And like cotton, it is biodegradable.

Tencel is nontoxic.

Fabric care: wash, dry, iron

Does Tencel shrink? Eg. in the dryer, by how much does it shrink, does it shrink more than once?

Tencel will shrink if it’s exposed to high temperatures when wet, which is essentially what a dryer does. Generally, Tencel fabric can shrink between 3-5% on its first wash – but in some cases you can purchase ‘prewashed’ or ‘preshrunk’ garments or bedsheets. It’s very unlikely that these will continue to shrink in subsequent washes, unless they’re exposed to a higher temperature when wet.

Can Tencel be washed? How to wash? Washing temperatures.

You should always follow the care instructions that come with your garment, fabric, or bedsheets – but in general, Tencel fabric performs best if it’s washed on a cool setting (30 degrees celsius or less) and hung out to dry (source). The dryer is the leading contributor to shrinkage, so keeping your Tencel out of the dryer is a good way to remove this risk. That said, you can dry your Tencel on the lowest temperature setting in your dryer if needed – especially if it’s already been dried in a dryer or you’re not worried about shrinkage. The heat and agitation of a dryer will break your garment down eventually, but Tencel has a long life and will also soften over that life (source).

Can you use fabric softener on Tencel?

Fabric softener isn’t required on a fabric as soft as Tencel – and furthermore, it can block its breathability and absorption properties. Fabric softener works by coating fibers in a layer of the chemicals it deposits. While this can be helpful in some cases, it’s best to avoid softener if you want to take advantage of Tencel’s moisture wicking and cooling properties (source).

Can Tencel be dry-cleaned?

While it can be dry cleaned, this is not necessary unless your Tencel garment contains an additional fiber, or has an internal structure (such as a blazer or suit jacket) that can’t be washed in a machine or by hand. Follow the care instructions that come with your item for the best results.

Can Tencel go in the dryer?

Dryers can shrink Tencel, but the good news is this will likely only happen once. Tencel can be dried in a dryer but be sure to choose the lowest heat setting to help it stay looking new and give it a long life.

Does Tencel need ironing? How to iron it? Iron settings?

Tencel is more resistant to wrinkles than fabrics like silk or cotton, but it’s not wrinkle-resistant. You’ll find – especially in heavier Tencel garments like pants and jackets – that wrinkles have a tendency to “fall” out of a garment as it’s being worn. This means you can put a garment on in a wrinkled state and the wrinkles can work their way out. This, of course, doesn’t happen immediately and some wrinkles (and fabric weaves) can be more stubborn. So if a wrinkle-free presentation is important to you just iron your Tencel from the back using a cool-to-warm iron setting. Ironing from the back prevents damage from direct contact with your iron. You can use steam to help eliminate wrinkles if desired.

Fabric comparisons:

Lyocell vs Tencel

Tencel and Lyocell are the same thing. Tencel is a name brand for lyocell produced by the Lenzing company in Australia. While the two fabrics themselves are identical, the manufacturing process for Tencel results in a 99% solvent recovery percentage, which is the highest of any manufacturer (source).

Viscose vs Tencel

It’s easiest to think of Viscose as ‘first generation’ and Tencel as ‘second generation’. Both are semi-synthetic fabrics made from reconstituted cellulose fibers, but Tencel is more durable and silkier than viscose, and its manufacturing process is much more eco-friendly (Source: Textilepedia, p.46).

Modal vs Tencel

Virtually identical, the biggest difference between Modal and Tencel is that Tencel is made out of eucalyptus trees while Modal is made from beech wood. Like Tencel, Modal is a more durable and all-around better alternative to viscose, but the change in substrate results in a fabric that’s even smoother and silkier than Tencel. Modal is frequently used for lingerie and underwear (Source: Textilepedia, p.46).

Cotton vs Tencel

Cotton and Tencel are both plant-based: cotton comes from the cotton plant and Tencel comes from the eucalyptus tree, but they’re still quite different. Cotton fibers are spun from the cotton plant without additional chemical processes needed to create fibers, whereas Tencel undergoes a solvent-based process to create a slurry that’s extruded and spun. Despite this process, Tencel actually takes less energy and water to produce than cotton. Cotton is crisper and makes an excellent structured blouse, whereas Tencel is drapier, silkier, more absorbent, and a little more breathable than cotton (Source: Textilepedia, p.46 & p.19).

Polyester vs Tencel

Polyester is a synthetic fabric made from petroleum. It’s less expensive, stain resistant, pill-resistant, and highly durable, but one of the least environmentally friendly fibers available. Tencel, on the other hand, is quite high on the sustainability scale. Tencel is more static-resistant, breathable, and absorbent. Both absorb and retain dyes very well (Source: Textilepedia, p.46 & p.47)

Linen vs Tencel

Linen is made from the flax plant. The resulting fabric is nubby, can look rustic, and has those signature wrinkles that are so hard to get rid of. While it’s stiff and a bit coarse at the start of its life, linen softens beautifully over its life. Tencel starts out softer, drapier, and with a much more pronounced sheen, but it also softens up over time.

Bamboo vs Tencel

In 95% of cases, “Bamboo” fabric refers to viscose made from bamboo as opposed to fabric woven directly from the bamboo plant. In this way, it’s quite similar to Tencel, which is made from the Eucalyptus plant. Both fabrics are silky, drapey, absorbent, and breathable. Bamboo is more frequently available in knit form – often used for underwear and baby garments – whereas Tencel is favored in bedding and adult garments for its sheen and ability to retain a crisp yet wrinkle-free finish, (Source: 1, Textilepedia p.24)

Silk vs Tencel

Silk is made from the cocoon thread produced by the silkworm. This thread is incredibly fine and strong, and can be woven into a huge variety of fabrics. Silk and Tencel both have a delicate sheen, neither is particularly prone to wrinkling, and both are gorgeously soft and drapey – but some say that Tencel is even softer than silk. Tencel is heavier – less suited to sheer, floaty chiffons and gauzes that silk is known for – and Tencel is a more economical choice for larger items like bedsheets and heavier items like pants.

What fabric is Tencel most like?

Tencel is advertised as “Softer than silk and cooler than linen”. It’s most similar to the rest of the fibers in the cellulose family – viscose/rayon, bamboo, cupro, and Modal. Outside of that, it’s similar to heavier silks in the way it drapes (source).

History of Tencel:

Tencel was developed by a British chemicals company called Courtaulds. It was in direct response to the high pollution levels that were being produced by the fashion industry – its key differentiator at the time was the non-toxic and recyclable solvent used to dissolve the cellulose. It became known for its softness and was first used to make “soft denim” – the idea was that you could purchase a brand new pair of jeans feeling as soft and worn in as your old favorites (source). The fiber grew in popularity and today it’s used to make a vast range of items from garments like summer dresses and lingerie to bedsheets and baby clothes. It’s also used in the medical field because it can inhibit bacterial growth (Source: Fabric for Fashion the Complete Guide, p.250).

When and where was Tencel invented?

Tencel was invented by a British company called Courtaulds in the 1980s – it’s an infant compared to the cottons and linens that humans have been using for centuries! The key development that led to Tencel’s creation was a new method that allowed the cellulose fibers to be dissolved directly in a non-toxic and recyclable solvent – unlike its predecessor, viscose. The rights to this process were purchased by the Lenzing company and the fiber was released to the public in the 1990s (Source: Fabric for Fashion the Complete Guide, p.249).

Quick Q&A’s:

Is Tencel a good material?

This depends on the qualities you’re looking for in a garment, bedding, or fabric – Tencel wouldn’t make a terribly good rain jacket! Tencel is a high-quality fabric manufactured to strict eco-focused guidelines and the resulting fabric has many desirable qualities. Tencel is good in uses where its properties – absorbancy, beautiful drape, soft sheen, and moisture wicking abilities – can shine.

Is Tencel fabric good quality?

Tencel is a name-brand fabric from a reputable company with a long history of producing quality fabrics. As long as you’re certain you’re purchasing Lenzing Tencel, then you’re purchasing a good-quality fabric.

Is Tencel breathable?

Tencel has excellent breathability – even better than cotton – which makes it ideal for sheets, summery garments, and workout gear.

Does Tencel wrinkle?

Tencel is more wrinkle-resistant than viscose and cotton, but it isn’t impervious to wrinkles. They are, however, easy to remove with a warm iron and lighter wrinkles can fall out of a garment on their own (source).

Does Tencel shrink?

You can expect Tencel to shrink around 3-5% in its first wash, but it’s unlikely to shrink more after this. That said, line drying is better than machine drying as this can further contribute to shrinkage (source).

How does Tencel wear?

It will wear over time and can pill, but it’s slower to pill than cotton and actually gets softer the more it’s washed. It’s also more fade resistant than cotton. (source)

Is Tencel fabric better than cotton?

Tencel is drapier, more absorbent, and more breathable than cotton. It also uses less energy and water to manufacture. However, if you’re looking for a crisp white work shirt or a light, floaty dress, cotton is still a great option.

Is Tencel as breathable as cotton?

Tencel is actually more breathable than cotton. This will help keep you cool when sleeping on tencel sheets, and also makes it a great choice for activewear, summer garments, and underwear (source).

Does Tencel feel hot and sweaty?

No, Tencel feels cool to the touch, and its absorbent properties make it ideal for activewear. It’s great for wicking sweat away from the body to keep you feeling cool and dry (source).

Does Tencel keep you warm in winter?

Tencel is breathable and absorbent, which makes it better suited to summer clothing rather than insulative winter clothing. You may find it as a lining in a winter coat, but wearing all tencel in the winter won’t keep you very warm.

Does Tencel feel like silk?

Tencel is sometimes marketed as being “softer than silk and cooler than linen” – especially in the bed linens market. It is supple, silky, and has a smooth finish with a lovely sheen. You most likely wouldn’t mistake it for silk outright as it’s heavier and drapier (silk is generally light and floaty), but their surface feelings are definitely comparable.

Is Tencel scratchy?

No. Tencel is known for its soft and supple hand.

Does Tencel stain easily?

In my experience, Tencel doesn’t hang on to stains any more or less than any other natural fiber. You should take the usual precautions by stain treating spills immediately to prevent them from becoming permanent. Some people report that Tencel is more likely to stain since it’s more absorbent (source).

Why is Tencel so expensive?

In the grand scheme of textile history, Tencel is a very recent invention. It’s also exclusively manufactured by one company using an eco-conscious process that was painstakingly developed over years of research. These expenses and the lack of competitors contributes to Tencel’s higher cost.

Is Tencel good for underwear?

Traditionally, cotton is the primary choice for underwear, due to its absorption and breathability. Tencel is an improvement in both of these categories. That said, it’s worth noting that another Lenzing product – Modal (which is made from beech trees, not eucalyptus trees like Tencel) is an even better option for underwear, as it’s smoother, silkier, and even better on the absorption and breathability scale (source).

Is Tencel hypoallergenic?

While humans can have contact dermatitis reactions to just about anything, Tencel is very unlikely to cause a reaction.

Is Tencel safe?

Tencel is non-toxic, and it (as well as the chemicals used in its manufacture) are completely safe (source). It’s worth noting that the dyes used to color Tencel contain much harsher chemicals than those used in the manufacturing process, so it’s worth purchasing your Tencel from reliable sources and if you’re worried about toxicity, look for an OEKO-TEX certification.

Is Tencel vegan friendly?

Yes. Tencel is made from trees – it is plant based and contains no animal products.

What is Tencel twill fabric?

Tencel is a fiber and twill is a weave or construction method. Twill weaves have a fine diagonal texture that slants at a 45 degree angle to the edge of the fabric. The twill weave makes a fabric strong and dense, yet lightweight – perfect for jackets and pants, but equally lovely in a lighter weight with dresses. For comparison, Denim is another example of a twill weave fabric.

What is Tencel cotton?

Tencel and cotton are both fibers – Tencel cotton is a blend of both of these fibers. The blend could be an even 50/50 split, or be majority one or the other, depending on the desired characteristics of the fabric.

What to read next:

  • Denim Fabric 101: Types, How It’s Made, Care
  • 28 Types of Fabric for Dresses (Names, Pics, Uses)

This article was written by Kat Waters and edited by Sara Maker.

Kat Waters (author)Kat has been sewing since her feet could reach the pedals, starting with quilts she made with her mom and eventually graduating to garments. She now makes everything she wears, occasionally teaches classes, and shares her projects on social media. Highlights include her wedding dress, shoemaking, and a love for almost any fabric that comes in hot pink! Read more…

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