All About Bamboo

July 2009
What is it about bamboo? If you haven’t already, get a feel for the “hand” of bamboo fabric by reaching out and touching it. (You can feel bamboo towels at Bed Bath & Beyond and bamboo sheets at Target, bamboo is now that mainstream.) You’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. It is soft, inviting, restful. Even the bamboo floor I had installed in one room feels soft against my bare feet, even though it is in fact a very hard wood. There seems to be a compelling energy about it that you feel when you touch it.
If you're interested in green products, or even if you're not, you've probably seen some bamboo products in the stores or heard about them in relation to home improvement products, bedding and even clothing. Bamboo is literally everywhere, and with good reason.
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world. The woody grass grows one-third faster than the fastest-growing tree and can reach heights of up to 150 feet in a few months (it would take 100 years for a Douglas fir to get that tall). It takes only 3 to 6 years for a fully mature grass to grow to harvest. There are about 1,200 species of bamboo in the world, with some growing up to 3.3 feet per day. And even better, the root system sends up new shoots after the grass is harvested, so it doesn't need to be replanted.
Highly durable and inexpensive to grow because it doesn't require much water, bamboo doesn't even need fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides to thrive. All this adds up to bamboo being one of the world's most naturally renewable and sustainable resources. It surely doesn’t hurt that its aesthetic is so pleasant. Its many uses include clothing, bedding, furniture, flooring and more.
Grown primarily in China and Japan, bamboo is a good source of nutrients and protein and is used in numerous Asian dishes and broths. It is also used to treat infections and for healing in Chinese medicine. But this wonder plant is also used to create durable goods throughout the world.
When it is treated, bamboo forms a very hard wood that is both lightweight and exceptionally durable, unlike many other woods, which can be heavy and soft. Bamboo's strength-to-weight ratio is so good that it is even used for structural roof applications! In tropical climates it is used in elements of house construction, construction scaffolding, as a substitute for steel reinforcing rods in concrete construction, etc. In the United States and France, there are houses made completely out of bamboo, and because it is so flexible the houses are earthquake- and cyclone-resistant.  Bamboo is also not very flammable, which makes it an attractive building material.
Bamboo is used to make a variety of furniture -- chairs and tables, sofas and loveseats, cabinets, dressers and entertainment centers, and more. Bamboo wicker is also a popular choice. Inexpensive and durable, bamboo furniture is great for everyday use and is far more resistant to damage than traditional hardwoods. It's also a great choice for outdoor furniture because it won't swell or shrink due to atmospheric changes.
When shopping for furniture, make sure you're getting real bamboo and not just a look-alike material. Also, if the furniture has veneers check to see that the glue used is non-toxic and that the furniture is made with a water-based stain. To care for your bamboo furniture, wash it with a water and light detergent solution regularly, at least every few months. Spray with straight white distilled vinegar for outdoor and indoor furniture once every six months or more to eliminate mildew if you live in a humid climate. Vinegar has anti-fungal properties. Don’t rinse. The smell will dissipate in several hours.
In the Kitchen
Bamboo is a popular choice for cutting boards because of its ability to withstand more damage than traditional hardwoods. It can take the beating of repeated knife use and still remain beautiful, and bamboo is gentler on knife blades than other woods. You will also see a wide variety of bamboo cooking utensils, serving bowls and even plates available. All are great choices if you're in the market for new "china."
If you've ever seen any kind of home renovation show, you know that bamboo flooring is very popular these days. Besides being an eco-friendly product, it is durable and costs up to 50 percent less than wood floors with a similar look. It's also very easy to install over many types of subfloor.
If you have a bamboo floor, invest in a natural fiber cloth dust mop and use it frequently. Avoid alkaline cleaners such as baking soda and soap, and water based solutions because the water can dull the finish. As a rule, wax should never be used on bamboo.
Bamboo Fabrics
Amazingly, bamboo is also made into sheets, towels and even clothing. And unlike its wood-like products, these products are unbelievably soft to the touch. There are many benefits to this cotton alternative. Bamboo towels are naturally antibacterial and odor-resistant, even after numerous washings. Bamboo sheets are hypoallergenic and breathable and bathrobes and towels made from bamboo are super-absorbent and luxuriously soft. And these days, you can get these products just about everywhere. Even Target has bamboo sheet sets for the budget-minded!
Clothing is a little harder to find, but one source is Bamboosa ( There you can find men's and women's clothing, baby stuff, socks, tote bags etc. -- all made from certified organic bamboo. Bamboo clothing doesn't pick up the odor of perspiration as readily as other fabrics. It is also naturally hypoallergenic and naturally more wrinkle-resistant than cotton.
If you have seen the movie House of Flying Daggers you know how beautiful a bamboo forest can be. I was recently in a small bamboo forest in Grounds for Sculpture, a sculpture park in Trenton, NJ. Being surrounded by the bamboo was absolutely breathtaking and serene. Serene. What is it about bamboo?
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