What Is Modal Fabric: Complete Guide | All You Need to Know

Modal fabrics have become pretty popular in the clothing and fashion industries. If you haven’t yet heard of its name, you’re not alone. Although it’s been around for almost half a century, the name isn’t as frequently used like cotton, silk, or polyester.

What Is Modal Fabric

Even if it sounds like an exotic material, it is actually a simple, lightweight fabric used in your everyday clothing. The purpose of this article is to inform you what is modal fabric, its properties, application, and everything else you need to know about it.

What Is Modal Fabric?

Modal fabric is a type of eco fabric that acts as a second-generation viscose rayon fiber. However, it is generally perceived as more lightweight than viscose. This prompted modal to be used in sportswear as well.

Also known as HWM rayon, the modal is harvested from a specific kind of hardwood tree. The base material of Modal is cellulose from trees like oak, birch, and beech tree. The raw material from these trees undergoes a complex procedure creating this semi-synthetic material called modal.

You’ll notice this fabric is often blended with other fabric types like spandex or cotton, adding strength to them. Its soft feel and high cost make it a luxurious fabric combining both aesthetics and utility performance.

History

Originally developed in Japan in the early 1950s, Modal is now mostly produced in Austria by a company named Lenzing AG. They possess the trademark for this fabric name now. Lenzing imports the product from countries like Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, India, and Germany catering it themself.

However, the version of the Modal we see today came a long way since its original discovery. Its first form was developed towards the end of the 19th century. But it didn’t gain traction as it was too expensive to produce and was flammable.

But later on, with the development of viscose rayon, this high-cost issue was solved. That’s why modal nowadays is almost identical to viscose rayon. Nevertheless, the process of its production is still a bit complicated.

How Modal Fabric Is Made?

The production of the modal fabric is a bit more complicated than most other natural or artificial fabrics. That’s why it also costs more than others. The whole manufacturing process of this fabric can be explained into seven steps for easy understanding.

Step 1: Harvesting of Trees

As we’ve previously mentioned, Modal is a type of fabric that is harvested from beech trees and its like. The process begins when these trees are harvested to be rendered into cellulose.

Step 2: Cellulose Extraction

The trees are then broken down into chips. These small chips are almost the size of postage stamps. The chips are then transferred to the manufacturing floor, where they are purified to extract the cellulose. The leftover tree products are discarded as waste.

Step 3: Stepping into Sheets

Next, these extracted cellulose is converted into sheets. The sheets are then submerged into sodium hydroxide. The sodium hydroxide is also popularly known as caustic soda.

It is, however, important to mention that the concentration of this caustic soda is far lesser than what is used for creating the viscose rayon. This means there is less toxic waste from the modal fiber.

Step 4: Breaking into Crumbs

The sheets are then broken into smaller pieces and crumbs. These crumbs are then immersed into carbon disulfide to bypass the aging process. It turns the crumbs into a type of orange substance. This substance is known as sodium cellulose xanthate.

Due to the extensive reaction to these chemicals, the resulting sodium cellulose xanthate can no longer be called a purely organic substance. It has reached a point where it has become a semi-synthetic substance, even though its base is totally derived from plants.

Step 5: Fiber Creation

In this step, the sodium cellulose xanthate is again steeped into sodium hydroxide. This turns the semi-synthetic substance into a syrupy liquid. The liquid solution is then moved through a spinneret having many holes. This helps create fibers out of the thick liquid.

Step 6: Forming the Yarn

To form the yarn, the fibers are immersed into sulfuric acid, and then voila! You have got yarn.

Step 7: Finishing

The yarn is ready to be woven into the fabric after a series of bleaching, washing, and drying. It becomes the final fabric that we see, wear and use in our everyday lives.

How Is Modal Fabric Used?

In the beginning, the modal fabric was thought of as an alternative to silk. That’s why people also called it “artificial silk” and used it in scarves and nightwear. But later on, when they discovered its flammability, they discarded it for the time being.

Currently, the advanced form of the modal is available. This modal rayon can become an alternative to silk without the safety hazard of flammability. However, it is most commonly used by blending with other fabrics to give them extra strength.

Modal is highly popular in sportswear like bike shorts, yoga pants, and swimwear for its thinness, softness, and breathability.

However, it doesn’t soak water due to its silky texture. So you won’t see it as towels or handkerchiefs. Rather pajamas, workout wears, t-shirts are where it is used generally.

Modal Fabric Pros and Cons:

Now, if you’re thinking of adding this fabric to your wardrobe choice, then think again. Weigh the pros and cons of it before you decide.

Benefits of Modal

The major benefits of modal production and its uses are as follows:

 High Yield

The yield of modal per acre is higher than cotton. Modal is produced from beech trees, and its production process produces no less than ten times more content per acre than the cotton field.

 Consumes Less Water

The production process of Modal also consumes much less water. Besides, on a day-to-day needs, you can also wash them without wasting too much water. The washing cycle per laundry is also considerably shorter.

 Soft and Smooth Texture

Modal is known for being super soft. One of the reasons the fabric is gaining popularity is because of its incredible soft touch. If you’ve ever slept in silk clothing or on silk bedding sheets, you can easily compare the differences in softness. Modal makes you comfortable whenever and wherever you use it.

 Improves Other Materials

Another great advantage of the modal is its versatility and usability with other fabric materials. Because of its durability and strength, you’ll often find it in a mixture of other fabrics. Modal improves on how other materials operate. It also brings the strength of other fabrics and resists their shrinking.

 Minimal Ironing

Modal resists wrinkles even when you clean them in washing machines or by hand. However, it doesn’t mean modal never creases. Rather the weave and construction of the material will sometimes create some creases.

In that case, you can iron it easily without worrying. And the best thing is that it becomes smooth with minimal ironing.

Color Fastness

Modal tends to hold dyes exceptionally well in warm water. It is also reported that modal doesn’t bleed during the laundering process, even if the item is brand new. Still, you should be careful while washing and only wash modal with clothing of similar color.

Durable

Modal is also very strong and durable. Although not as strong as nylon, still you’ll find modal exceptionally stable, resisting damage under most circumstances. Due to its tight weave and longer fibers, Modal has the power to hold up the active lifestyle of sportspeople and kids.

Eco-Friendly

We already mentioned before that the production process of modal requires far less concentration of chemicals, and as such, it produces less toxic waste. Besides, all modal types are totally biodegradable, making them more eco-friendly.

Cons of Modal

Reading the list of benefits, you must be wondering, Modal is the best fabric in the world! But hold on, there are some drawbacks to modal as well, just like any other fabric in the world.

Allergic Reactions

The number of people having allergic reactions to modal is more than other types of fabric. The reason may be twofold. One is because it is made from beech wood and some people are extremely allergic to that. The other reason could be the use of many chemicals that render the fabric allergenic.

Doesn’t Retain Body Heat

Another disadvantage of the modal is that it is only suitable for summer use and in temperate climates. Although it is very comfortable during warmer months of the year, the textile doesn’t retain much of the body heat during winter. It works great for workout sessions and during hot summer days only.

Turns Yellow in Heat

Some of the modal products tend to turn yellow under too much heat and sunlight exposure. Since it is a plant-based synthetic textile, the dye tends to turn yellow upon heat exposure. So it would be wise not to use totally white modal products.

Expensive

Since the process of modal rayon production is complicated and the processing uses more energy than other natural fibers, it sides on the expensive side of the fabric spectrum.

 Requires Gentle Washing

Even though the fabric is durable and strong, its smooth texture and natural softness require you to wash it gently with mild detergents.

Modal Clothes Environmental Impact

Some people call modal a sustainable fabric of the modern age, while others question its ethical production and environmental impact. Both have strong bases for their views.

As for the fabric itself, it can be said as an extremely eco-friendly product. But its production process is what raises some questions in people. Let’s talk about it first.

Deforestation

The main raw material for modal production comes from beech and softwood trees. And so, unregulated production of it may act as one of the reasons for deforestation.

Chemicals

The next objection raised is the use of various chemicals in the process. Not only does modal production uses many toxic chemicals, but it also can impact the workers involved in the process, like sulfuric acid.

However, the good thing is the modal manufacturing process is a closed-loop system. This means any chemical used once in the process is not discarded in the environment, instead, it’s reused. And the only small amount that is discharged is also non-hazardous.

Biodegradable

Although semi-synthetic, modal fiber is completely biodegradable. Due to this, it is often touted as a sustainable textile as well. The production chemicals that are used are also biodegradable.

Low Water Consumption

Another important aspect of modal production is the surprisingly low consumption of water during its production. Compared to cotton, its water consumption is about 20 times less. This means the Modal’s carbon footprint is also much less than other fabrics. In its final stage as well, modal clothes don’t require too much water to clean.

Modal Clothes Material Care Guide

Modal is a highly versatile fabric and can be easily washed in the washing machine. It is better to use cold water while washing. Although you can wash it at any temperature, cold water prevents any shrinking.

Dry cleaning is not necessary for modal fiber, and it can tumble dried. If you need to use the dryer, use a low to medium-high temperature. Ironing is also not a problem for Modal if you need it.

Finally, we wouldn’t suggest using bleach on modal. But there come times when you cannot avoid bleach at all. So if you need to bleach your modal clothing, make sure to use the oxygen-based bleach, not the one that contains chlorine.

Modal vs. Other Fabrics

How does modal stand against other common alternatives? Let’s have a look.

Modal vs Cotton

When compared with cotton, it can easily be said that modal is more expensive. However, the final product is also more environmentally friendlier than cotton since it requires less water and is also biodegradable.

On the other hand, cotton production requires a lot of water. In fact, cotton is called the ‘thirsty crop’ for its water consumption which is more than 20000 liters for producing a single kilogram of fiber.

Modal also dries faster than cotton in the drier or at normal temperature. It doesn’t cling to the skin either when wet. That’s why modal is becoming more popular as sportswear.

However, modal does not retain body heat as well as cotton during the winter. That’s why it is only used as a wearable cloth during summer and for workout or sports sessions.

Modal vs Viscose

Viscose is actually the first form of cellulose-based textile that was mass-produced worldwide. But before its introduction, the modal rayon production was too expensive to be used in daily lives. However, the viscose invention made it easy for modal producers to create its fabric with simple formulas.

However, the irony is that the production process of viscose is far more complicated and harmful to the environment and the workers than modal rayon. Because it involves more chemical treatment processes than modal. Essentially, modal rayon has an updated version of viscose production that is more eco-friendly.

As for modal, it is named as such because it is a high wet modulus rayon. It means it doesn’t lose its shape and is stronger in wet conditions. Unfortunately, the viscose doesn’t have this property.

Modal vs Lyocell

The main competitor of the modal is Lyocell in the industry. Many people prefer this to modal due to its fully organic formation. Unlike modal, it can be produced from a variety of trees like eucalyptus in addition to beech trees.

Some people confuse Lyocell for Modal since the same company produces both. However, there is a slight difference in the textures. Modal is softer and more delicate than Lyocell.

But the production process of Lyocell is far more eco-friendly and produces almost no toxic waste. It uses mostly non-toxic cellulose solvents that replace the sodium hydroxide required for modal production.

Like Modal, Lyocell also uses the close loop solvent system that introduces minimal chemical waste to the environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is modal made of?

A modal is a form of semi-synthetic plant-based fabric. It is softer and stronger than cotton and consumes far less water in production and cleaning.

The fabric is made from pulp-based cellulose fiber that is extracted from beech trees like European Schneider Zelkova trees.

What is micromodal?

Micromodal is a lighter version of modal produced by Lenzing. It is a more specialized type of modal rayon with a finer knit and softer fabric. It is, therefore, more expensive than modal rayon. Micromodal is a popular choice for underwear and sportswear.

Is modal breathable?

Modal has a weave that is extremely breathable and is more water-absorbent. Additionally, due to its soft and smooth texture, it is a popular choice for sportswear as well as for undergarments.

Is modal stretchy?

Modal is also a stretchy fabric but still retains its shape perfectly. It is soft and elastic, offering freedom of movement while keeping its shape for a long time. Due to its stretchiness and breathability, it feels very comfortable to wear.

Final Words

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and learned something new about modal fabric. It is nowadays getting more popularity as a semi-organic fabric. However, its eco-friendliness is not entirely undisputed. But none can deny its usability and versatility in everyday clothing and sportswear.

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