Modal-based fabric is a semi-synthetic, bio-based material created from beech tree cellulose. Modal is seen as an environmentally friendly option for making clothes and housewares compared to cotton and other materials. Its qualities include being lightweight, breathable, and stretchy.
But how much of an environmentally-friendly textile option is it? Modal has transformed the fashion industry as the next great sustainable material, but is it sustainable?
What is modal? (definition)
Modal is made of a semi-synthetic fabric that is made from beech-tree pulp. It's mainly used for clothing items, such as pajamas and underwear, and household items, such as towels and bedsheets.
This natural fabric is a form of rayon, which is another plant-based textile, except it's more flexible and durable than the standard version.
Modal is given added strength when it's blended wither fibers like spandex and cotton. The fabric is viewed as a luxury textile because of its high cost and soft feel.
It's one of the more expensive fabrics, costing more than viscose and cotton. It was first in Japan in the 1950s.
Currently, modal is made by Lenzing AG, which is an Austrian company that has a trademark for the material.
MicroModal and Modal Air are lighter versions of modal that exist. This material is different in that the knit is finer, which makes the product softer. This style of fabric is viewed as being more luxurious.
How is modal made?
A process of spinning reconstituted beech tree cellulose is how Modal is created. The fabric is an environmentally-friendly alternative to cotton since beech trees require little water to grow.
As a result of not needing much water, the production process uses 10-20 times less water. Another part of producing the fabric is soaking the material in carbon disulfate and sodium hydroxide.
Since the material has to be soaked in these chemicals, modal is classified as semi-synthetic.
While Modal is a rayon fabric, it's more durable than typical rayon material and has a softer feel similar to cotton.
Modal production process
1. Beech trees get harvested and chipped, then cellulose is taken out from the pulp.
2. Sheets of cellulose are soaked in sodium hydroxide.
3. After breaking the sheets of cellulose into smaller pieces, they're soaked in carbon disulfate, which creates cellulose xanthate.
4. A liquid solution is created by soaking the cellulose xanthate in the sodium hydroxide. The solution gets put through a spinneret. This device creates fibers through the use of multiple holes.
5. Yarn is then formed by soaking the fibers into the sulfuric acid. The yarn is then washed, bleached, dried, and loaded onto spools.
6. In the final step, the yarn is knit or woven into a fabric to form the modal.
Modal Pros and Cons
There are many advantages to wearing fabric that's made out of modal, from durability to low cost. There are also disadvantages you should be aware of as well.
One of the primary benefits of Modal is it can be blended with other fabrics to create a light and soft feel that gives off a high-end vibe. Here are some additional upsides to using modal.
1. Stretchy.The material has a flexibility that’s suitable for creating athletic wear or t-shirts.
2. Breathable. Another reason modal is suitable for athletic wear is that the fabric is breathable
3. Soft. The softness of modal is one reason why it's been used to make pajamas, underwear, and sheets.
4. Durable. The long fibers and tight weave make modal strong and hard to rip. Designers can use the material to make houseware or clothing that has to be used frequently.
5. Water absorbent. Compared to cotton, modal absorbs 50% more cotton. Water and sweat are absorbed by micropores in the fabric.
6. Eco-friendly. Regenerative plants are used to make modal-based fabrics. Additionally, the production process requires fewer chemicals than other kinds of rayon.
7. Drapes well. Many consider the fabric to be beautiful for decorating
8. Color quick. Dye doesn't bleed during the laundering process. In warm water, modal absorbs the dye.
9. No pilling. Modal is able to avoid pilling and also has a smooth finish that makes it ideal for everyday wear and use.
10. Biodegradable. Modal is more biodegradable than cotton
11. No creasing. Modal doesn't need to be ironed much as it avoids wrinkling well.
12. No shrinking. When mixed with other materials, modal decreases the likelihood of clothing shrinking.
13. Affordable. The cost of purchasing modal is affordable, with prices ranging from $14 to $20 per yard.
- Allergic reactions. Some who wear modal for the first time may end up having an allergic reaction to it. Those who have allergies to trees, sap, or pollen might need to avoid this material.
2. Retains less body heat. While modal can be cool and comfortable during the warmer months of the year, it, unfortunately, doesn't hold in body heat well during colder months.
3. Material may need to be dry cleaned. – Chlorine bleach can weaken the fibers of the material, so you'll dry clean them unless it's 100% pure beechwood fibers.
4. No guarantees of sustainable practices. Unfortunately, clothing items made with this material may be produced in China and be using wood pulp that came from Indonesia. There may be little documentation proving the clothes were harvested in an environmentally friendly way.
5. Mislabeling issues. The US Federal Trade Commission issued letters to several companies that were mislabeling their products as having been produced with natural materials rather than the conventional rayon process.
6. Chemicals in modal. As mentioned earlier, chemicals are required to create modal-based fabrocs. It's because of this that products made with this material will decompose slower than others.
Is modal better than cotton? (modal vs cotton fabric)
Most find that modal is more durable and soft than cotton but less breathable. One is more suitable than the other depending on the use.
Cotton might be better for bedding, and modal might be better for underwear. Additionally, if you want the clothes you wear to be silky and soft, modal's your best bet. Lastly, modal-based fabrics will probably last you longer than cotton, rayon, and other materials.
Modal vs polyester fabric
Polyester is not a natural or regenerated material, making it more harmful to the environment than modal.
Is modal-based fabric bad?
Modal is one of the most sustainable materials to use. It's viewed as less toxic compared to other options because it's produced in a closed-loop system. That means fewer harmful byproducts are emitted into the environment.
Is modal-based fabric warm in winter?
Is modal good for hot weather?
One source listed modal as one of the top 5 fabrics for keeping cool in the summer. It was praised for its ability to wick away moisture.
Does modal breathe like cotton? Is it as breathable?
Modal is said to be very breathable, but some sources note that it's less breathable than cotton. The best way to know for sure would be to test it out for yourself.
Is modal safe and okay for sensitve skin?
Most sources describe modal as good for sensitive skin because of its softness and breathability. Every person's skin, of course, may respond differently.
Which is better modal or bamboo?
Modal and bamboo share a lot of the same traits. They're both very strong and breathable. Determining which one is better may just be a matter of preference.
Does modal shrink in dryer?
According to The Spruce, modal clothes are more resistant to shrinkage in comparison to cotton. Because it can maintain its shape, you can wash and dry it by machine.
Does modal retain odor?
There wasn't any source that stated modal retains any odor. Given it's breathable and you're less likely to sweat in it, you might not have to worry about leaving any odor.
Is modal good for working out?
Given how well the modal absorbs moisture, it's great for workouts. The fabric will help you be less sweaty.
Is modal a natural fabric?
Modal is a natural fabric as it's made from cellulose, which is a natural material. Being manufactured from a renewable crop makes it more eco-friendly compared to other materials.
Can you iron on modal-based fabric?
Low to medium heat is best for ironing modal-based fabric. Be mindful that the fabric can potentially wrinkle a lot after washing.
Can you bleach modal-based fabric?
Most sources recommend not using chlorine bleach on modal. The concern is that it can discolor the fabric and weaken it over time.
Can modal be handwashed?
Modal can be handwashed, and some sources even recommend doing that. It's best to handwash the fabric in cold water.
Modal vs viscose
Modal is also known as a high wet modulus rayon. In contrast to viscose, this material is stronger when it's wet and avoids losing its shape.
Modal also doesn't use as much concentration of sodium hydroxide compared to viscose. Lastly, the modal-based clothes are more breathable, light, and strong.
Modal vs lyocell
While modal and lyocell are both luxury fabrics, lyocell happens to be more environmentally friendly than because it's made with an organic solution.
Proper modal care – how to maintain modal clothes
Set water to cold. If the item you own is made from pure modal, the temperature of the water can be hot or cold. Cold is the ideal temperature.
Keep drying heat at low to medium. A good way to avoid wrinkling is by taking the item out of the dryer while the modal clothing is slightly damp. Be sure to hang it.
Use bleach that's oxygen-based. Avoid using chlorine bleach as it will weaken the fabric.
Final thoughts on modal
Modal has both its advantages and disadvantages. While it's not perfect, it can be a useful alternative to other materials that cause more harm to the environment.
Be sure to do your research to see if the companies you're purchasing modal clothing from making their products sustainably and ethically.
Take care of the material according to the care instructions so it can last a long time.
If you have enough to get clothing made with modal, you'll enjoy the benefits of having a very soft and durable item to wear.