The first time you hear about bamboo boxers and bamboo underwear, you might have your doubts. This exotic grass produces a timber as hard as oak or maple. So how would you expect that material to feel around your tender privates? Whatever assumptions or expectations you might have had, the experience of bamboo underwear will change everything you once thought. I put on my first pair of bamboo boxers back in 2006, and life has never been the same.
For softness and comfort, nothing comes close to bamboo boxers. Viscose from bamboo is even softer than silk, but holds up far better after multiple washings. And the fabric has other amazing properties, making it more breathable and odor resistant. The Spun Bamboo undies that I like also come in two styles, to satisfy those who want looser fitting boxers and those who prefer the snugger fit of a boxer brief. And finally, bamboo grows much faster and more sustainably, without the considerable quantities of pesticides and herbicides required by conventional cotton.
To make this article as helpful and useful as possible, we’ll examine both the pros and cons of bamboo boxers. Although I’m convinced that the advantages far outweigh any drawbacks. We’ll also explain how they make hard bamboo stalks into such a deliciously soft textile. And if you’re wondering how to wash and care for your bamboo undergarments, we’ll address that as well.
How do they make underwear from bamboo?
Bamboo has been in use for thousands of years for crafts, weapons, paper and construction. But the bamboo clothing available today is the result of a relatively modern development. If you look on the label of your bamboo garments, they probably say viscose from bamboo, or sometimes rayon bamboo. They both mean the same thing.
It starts with Phyllostachys edulis, or Moso bamboo, a variety of giant timber bamboo indigenous to China. It’s the same species of bamboo used to make flooring and a huge variety of commercial products for export, as well as scaffolding for use in construction within China. They take the entire plant — leaves, culms and all — and reduce it to chips, which are then turned to pulp. Through this process, they extrude the cellulose from the bamboo and turn it into fiber. Then they spin it into a soft but sturdy yarn, which can then be woven into fabric.
The pulping of the bamboo requires a solvent, typically caustic soda, also known as lye. The same solvent is used in a wide range of industrial applications, including soap making. The transformation of bamboo involves a closed-loop process in which about 98% of the solvent gets recaptured and reused. This results in far less waste than the production of other manmade fibers, such as nylon and polyester, which are synthesized from a petroleum base.
Moreover, the cultivation of bamboo is extremely sustainable and eco-friendly. Once it reaches maturity, which takes about 5 or 6 years, a bamboo crop can be harvested continually, without the need for replanting. It grows right back, like the grass that it is. And unlike cotton, it doesn’t require any pesticides or fertilizers. Conventional cotton, while covering only 2.4% of the world’s cultivated land, accounts for about 16% of the world’s insecticides and 11% of the world’s fertilizers (Source: Pesticide Action Network), plus the harmful effects of cotton defoliants.
What are the benefits of bamboo boxers?
If I were to tell you what I love about my bamboo boxers, I could sum it up in 7 simple points.
- Softness: The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up an article of bamboo clothing is the softness. The feel of it against your skin is like nothing else, and it may be the next best thing to wearing nothing at all. A lot of people tell me it feels like a second skin. I would say it’s like silk, but more buttery. And since we’re talking about underwear, shouldn’t softness be one of the most important criteria?
- Breathability: The next amazing thing about bamboo underwear, and bamboo clothing in general, is the breathability. Something about the bamboo fibers allows the air to flow in and out in the most satisfying way. This, I believe, is what gives the clothing, and especially the bamboo sheets, their temperature regulating property. Keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
- Antimicrobial, antibacterial and odor resistant: I’m not sure how the bamboo does this, but anyone who’s worn bamboo clothing, and bamboo socks in particular, can tell you that it doesn’t harbor odors the way cotton or synthetic fabrics do. A lot of people with sensitive skin or allergies tell me that bamboo is one of the only materials they can wear without suffering from irritated skin.
- Choice of styles: Whether you like the snug fit of a boxer brief or the loose fitting comfort of some baggy boxer shorts, the Spun Bamboo boxers have you covered. Personally, I prefer the boxers, but the boxer briefs actually seem to be more popular. The choice is up to you. They also come in three colors: black, natural (off-white), and steel blue.
- Durability: Before I discovered the pleasure of bamboo underwear, I used to sometimes treat myself with silk boxers. They felt incredible for the first few wears. But after just a handful of washes, the fabric would get all messed up. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to put them in the dryer? I’m not sure, but the novelty soon wore off. The bamboo boxers hold up great in the washer and the dryer. They’re easy to care for, as we’ll explain below.
- Sustainability: As mentioned above, bamboo has great advantages over conventional cotton and synthetics as a renewable crop that doesn’t need pesticides, fertilizers and defoliants. My bamboo boxers are actually made with a blend of 70% bamboo and 30% organic cotton, for the best of both worlds.
- BONUS feature: My wife loves the look and feel of my bamboo boxers, too. Sometimes, like when she feels like lounging around after a shower, she’ll even borrow a pair for a while.
Are there any disadvantages with bamboo boxers?
If you’re skeptical that my assessment of the bamboo boxers may be too good to be true, I’d like to offer full transparency. So what are the downsides, if any, to bamboo underwear? I can only think of a couple, and they are nothing catastrophic, but here they are, just so you know.
- Price: If you want superior comfort, you should expect to pay a little bit more. The bamboo boxers I love go for about $22. That’s right on par with the silk boxers I used to like wearing. But I’ve seen other bamboo brands that run up to $30 or $40 a pair.
- Drying time: If you’re traveling and want to wash your boxers in the hotel bathtub and line dry them overnight, you might have a hard time with the bamboo. They do take a little longer to dry out. But under most circumstances, this really isn’t a problem.
How do you wash and care for bamboo clothing and underwear?
Washing and caring for bamboo clothing is easy. Most every bamboo garment I’ve worn or sold simply says, “Wash cold, dry low.” That’s the same policy on bamboo sheets, bamboo towels, and bamboo underwear. The greatest wear and tear on most clothing happens in the dryer. You can totally put your bamboo items in the dryer, but just don’t crank it up to high temperature.
Some people prefer to dry their clothing on the line. Certainly this is the best method for reducing your electric bill, and your carbon footprint. You can definitely do that with bamboo, although it does take a little longer than drying your other cotton things. But on a sunny day with a gentle breeze, it all dries out quickly enough.
Another popular technique is to put the things in the dryer and take them out just a few minutes early. Then lay them flat to finish drying. This prevents them from tumbling too long in the dryer, and drying them when they’re already dry, which can cause some wrinkling. Although bamboo generally wrinkles less than most other fabrics.
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