Tencel™ lyocell vs polyester clothing: It’s like comparing apples and meat pie

Tencel™ lyocell is the new kid on the block. It’s expensive and most big fashion brands (aka fast fashion brands) don’t use it.  

Polyester has been used to make anything and everything you can think of. Everyone has polyester clothes in their wardrobe and are pretty happy with them. 

So why the debate?

Because Tencel™ lyocell is like organic apples – they might be a bit expensive but are good for you. Polyester is like meat pie – cheap, fast food that is sold on every corner but bad for your health.   

To understand why, we need to answer two basic questions:

  1. Is Tencel™ lyocell better for the planet than polyester?
  2. Is Tencel™ lyocell better for you than polyester?

Is Tencel™ lyocell better for the planet than polyester?

In a nutshell, Tencel™ lyocell is a semi-synthetic fabric sourced from sustainable Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified forests. It’s processed using low-toxicity chemicals in a close-loop process. It’s also biodegradable.

Polyester is a fully synthetic fabric made from petrochemicals. It’s manufactured from chemicals and finished with more chemicals. It’s also not biodegradable.

So yes, there is no doubt that Tencel™ lyocell is better for the planet than polyester. 

* Recycled polyester and plant-based polyester are better for the environment than PET polyester.

Read: Is recycled polyester safe to wear?

Is Tencel™ lyocell better for you than polyester?

While polyester clothing has many benefits, Tencel™ lyocell is just as durable and wrinkle-resistant. Tencel™ lyocell is also moisture-wicking, naturally anti-body odor and anti-bacterial. 

But the best thing about Tencel™ lyocell is that it is non-toxic and is known to be hypoallergenic. Polyester fabric contains many harmful chemicals that have been linked to allergic reactions, cancer and kidney or liver damage.

Don’t you agree that Tencel™ lyocell is better for you than polyester?  

Easy face-off

Tencel™ lyocell is obviously the better fabric especially when it comes to comfort and safety for people and planet. Polyester needs to evolve to be more planet and people-friendly to keep up. 

Check out my favorite Tencel™ lyocell clothing brands and some ethical clothing brands producing clothes with recycled polyester. And if you want to take a deep dive into the Tencel™ lyocell vs polyester debate, scroll down for heaps more information. 

My favorite Tencel™ lyocell clothing brands


Check it out on Amazon

Read my detailed review of Prana’s sustainability.


Check it out on Amazon


Check it out on Amazon

This is what Synergy is doing to be sustainable.

Further reading: The best plus size Tencel™ lyocell clothing brands

My favorite recycled polyester clothing brands


Check it out on Amazon

Patagonia is known for their Capilene range of recycled polyester clothing. 


Check it out on Amazon

Ecoalf uses discarded fishing nets, post-consumer plastic bottles, worn-out tires, post-industrial cotton, and even coffee grinds to create their outerwear and swimsuit lines. 


What is Tencel lyocell?

Lyocell is a form of rayon made using the lyocell process. Eucalyptus wood pulp is dissolved using N-methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMNO), a low-toxic chemical.

Tencel lyocell refers to a specific brand of lyocell fabric produced by the Lenzing Group in Austria.

This is why I am bias towards  Tencel™ branded lyocell.

What is polyester?

Polyester is a fully synthetic fabric made from petrochemicals. It’s made by melting and reacting chemical elements to create a plastic. This molten plastic is then extruded through spinnerets to create long fibers. The fibers go through more chemical processing to become polyester fabric. Sometimes, the polyester clothes are finished with perfluorochemicals (PFCs) to protect from stains and wrinkles. In some countries, formaldehyde is used. PFC has been linked to skin reaction, cancer, liver and kidney damage. Formaldehyde is used to embalm the dead. Enough said.

China is the biggest producer of polyester fabric in the world. Only a small proportion of polyester is produced in the U.S where laws against using toxic chemicals in clothes are a lot stricter. Unfortunately, due to lax laws and lack of transparency, it’s not surprising to find toxic chemicals in polyester clothing made in China.

In other words, there’s so much toxic chemicals used in polyester from start to finish that I’m surprised it’s not banned.

Fortunately, now there’s plant-based polyester and recycled polyester. Unfortunately, there is still the issue of microplastics leaking into our oceans and water supply with each wash. 

What are the similarities between Tencel lyocell and polyester?

  • They are both silky fabric that can be used to make a wide variety of clothes, underwear, bedding and anything else you can think of
  • Both are durable material
  • Both are resistant to shrinking in the wash
  • Both dry quickly after washing
  • Both Tencel lyocell and polyester clothing don’t wrinkle easily, making them great options for travelling

This is where the similarities end.

What is the differences between Tencel lyocell and polyester?

Features Tencel™ lyocell Polyester
Raw material eucalyptus trees from FSC-certified forests petrochemicals
Chemicals used low-toxicity N-methylmorpholine N-oxide ethylene glycol, PFCs, formaldehyde etc.
Manufacturer Lenzing Group in Austria various manufacturers, mostly in China
Certifications USDA-biopreferred, OEKO-TEX certified OEKO-TEX certification possible for some polyester, GRS and Intertek certification for recycled polyester
Eco-friendliness Good- manufactured in closed-loop process Bad – polyester is one of the worst fabrics for the environment and for us
Cost relatively expensive cheap
Maintenance cold-wash and line-dry
can be washed in any temperature and tumbled dry
Stretchable No No
Moisture-wicking Yes No
Anti-bacterial Yes No
Anti-body odor Yes No
Biodegradability Yes No
Durability Very durable Very durable
Recommended for everyone, especially eczema-sufferers, those with sensitive skin No one (personal opinion) but very popular with outdoor sports enthusiasts

*FSC – Forest Stewardship Council

*PFCs- perfluorochemicals  

*GRS-Global Recycling Standard

Further reading: How to take care of Tencel™ lyocell clothing the eco-friendly way

What about Tencel™ lyocell/polyester blends?

Tencel polyester fabric takes advantage of the best characteristics of both fabrics. This blended fabric is stronger, more durable, elastic in both wet and dry conditions and super comfortable. It’s popular in sportswear and casual clothing. 

However, it is not biodegradable and will leak microplastics into the environment when washed. If you are choosing Tencel polyester clothes, make sure they are OEKO-TEX certified so you know there are no harmful chemicals still present in your clothes.   

To wrap up

Tencel™ lyocell is obviously the more eco-friendly and people-friendly fabric. It will take a while to phase polyester out of fashion but it’s good to see many fashion brands starting the journey.  


Sharon James
Latest posts by Sharon James (see all)

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