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Modal Fabric Guide: Characteristics, Uses, Types & More

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Zilingo Editorial Team
Modal is a semi-synthetic fabric that is often used in the fashion industry to make breathable and affordable clothing items. Many fashion brands market it as an eco-friendly fabric and a substitute for viscose and cotton, but is modal fabric really sustainable?

This article explains what is modal fabric, its characteristics, its uses, how it is made, and its environmental impact.


What is Modal Fabric?



Modal is a bio-based fiber that is made from the cellulose of beech trees. Modal fabric is a type of rayon and is very durable and strong because of the long fibers and tight weave. It blends with other fibers, such as spandex and cotton for more comfort and strength.

First developed in Japan in the early 1950s, modal is commonly used to make underwear, pajamas, towels, bedsheets, and more. It was up for commercial sale for the first time in 1964 by Lenzing AG, an Austrian company.

Modal fabric is absorbent, breathable, and is used as an eco-
friendly alternative to cotton because beech trees don’t
require much water to grow. However, the modal fabric does have some environmental concerns, which we will cover in the latter part of this article.


Characteristics of Modal Fabric



The following are the properties of modal fabric:
  • Soft – Modal fabric is soft to touch.
  • Breathable – Due to its excellent breathability, modal is used to make sports clothing.
  • Water absorbent – Modal fabric is up to 50% more absorbent than cotton.
  • Drapes well – Modal is a luxurious fabric that gives a beautiful drape.
  • Wrinkle-resistant – It does not crease.
  • Holds dye well – It does not bleed dye during a wash.
  • Blends well with other fibers – It is blended with other fabrics, such as cotton, spandex, and lycra for added strength, more flexibility, and lower raw material costs.
  • Biodegradable – Modal fabric decomposes naturally.


Disadvantages of Modal Fabric



Modal fabric has some disadvantages as well. The following are some of them:
  • Low heat resistance.
  • Modal fabric may cause allergic reactions on the skin.
  • Low abrasion resistance.



Uses of Modal Fabric



Modal fabric is widely used to make garments and home furnishings. Here are some of the top uses of modal:
  • Apparel: Shirts, evening wear, dresses, sportswear, undergarments, pajamas, blouses, coats, and more.
  • Home Furnishings: Bedsheets, curtains, towels, carpets, bathrobes, and upholstery.


Modal Fabric Production Process



Modal fiber is produced by using the viscose process. The steps involved in its production are mentioned below:
  • Cellulose is extracted from the wood chips of beech trees. Before extracting cellulose, the chips go through processing to remove impurities.
  • The cellulose is dissolved in sodium hydroxide solution to produce alkali cellulose.
  • The alkali cellulose solution is passed through high-pressure rollers. In this step, the excess sodium hydroxide is removed and a sheet of alkali cellulose is obtained.
  • The sheets obtained are shredded to produce smaller pieces called white crumbs.
  • Now, the small pieces of alkali cellulose are made to react with carbon disulfide to produce cellulose xanthate.
  • The resultant cellulose xanthate is dissolved in a solution of sodium hydroxide. The resulting viscose solution is ripened and filtered to remove undissolved particles.
  • The viscose solution goes through a degassing process to remove air bubbles.
  • In the next step, the viscose solution is extruded through a spinneret. The resulting fibers coming from the spinneret are passed through sulphuric acid to produce fine filaments of modal fibers. They also go through a drawing process in which fibers are stretched.
  • The filaments obtained after extruding are washed, bleached, dried, and loaded onto spools. Now, the yarn is woven or knit into modal fabric.


Modal vs Viscose vs Lyocell: What is the Difference Between Modal vs Viscose vs Lyocell?



Viscose, modal, and lyocell are often compared with each other. These are all plant-based materials and are variations of the same viscose fiber. They are known as regenerated cellulosic fibers as they are derived from cellulose that goes through chemical processing to make fibers.

The main difference between modal, viscose, and lyocell is their manufacturing process and structure of the filament. Modal and viscose involve similar manufacturing processes and chemical usage but modal fibers go through different steps after spinning, which make the filaments stronger. Lyocell is similar to modal and viscose but it is produced slightly differently.

Let us learn more about viscose and lyocell:


Viscose rayon



Viscose rayon is a human-made fiber that was originally called artificial silk. Its production involves the use of chemicals that are more harmful to the environment and workers compared to modal. However, nowadays, manufacturers are updating their processes and using eco-friendly chemicals to make more sustainable types of viscose.


Lyocell



Lyocell is considered a sustainable fabric because of various reasons. It is mostly made from eucalyptus trees (bamboo, oak, and birch trees are also used). Eucalyptus trees don’t need a lot of water or any pesticides to grow.

To produce lyocell, a non-toxic organic compound called N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO) is used instead of sodium hydroxide to extract the cellulose. This compound can be reused in a closed-loop for sustainable manufacturing. Lenzing AG is a renowned producer of the lyocell fabric, called TENCEL.


Where is Modal Fabric Made?



According to the Textile Exchange, with a production of around
0.2 million tonnes, the modal fabric had a market share of around 3 percent of the total Manmade Cellulosic Fiber (MMCF) market in 2020.

Austria-based Lenzing AG is the largest manufacturer of modal fabric. The company’s production sites are located in various countries, including Austria, China, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Lenzing follows strict standards and a circular business model to provide sustainable modal fibers. Modal fabric is also produced in some other countries without following the strict standards used by Lenzing.


What is Lenzing Modal?



The Lenzing modal is known to be more sustainable and eco-friendly than cotton. Lenzing modal is derived from beech trees that are grown using sustainable methods in natural forests and sustainably managed plantations.

The yield of fibers from this process produces up to ten times higher content than that obtained from a cotton field. This
process also requires 20 times less water compared to cotton. Lenzing Modal is produced in a CO2-neutral environment.


Modal Fabric Environmental Impact



Modal is a plant-based fabric that is derived from beech tree cellulose. However, its production process involves soaking the fabric in harsh chemicals, due to which modal fabric classifies as a semi-synthetic material or regenerated fiber. The two main environmental concerns associated with modal fabric are:


1. Deforestation



Cellulose for modal fabric production is derived from beech trees, resulting in the destruction of forests.

According to the Canopy Planet, “over 120 million trees are
cut every year for fabrics including rayon, viscose, modal and other trademarked textiles. This number is projected to double by 2025”.


2. Harmful Chemicals



Another environmental issue associated with modal fabric production is the use of harsh chemicals. During the production of the modal, cellulose is made to pass through chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. These chemicals, if leaked into the environment through air or water can be damaging to the health of humans and animals.


Wrapping Up



Many fashion brands are using modal fabric to accelerate their sustainability transformation. With its incredible properties, including breathability, lightweight, and stretchability, it is making the situation better for consumers as well as for the environment.

Plant-based fabrics are considered sustainable but not all of them are produced following strict environmental standards. Thus, it is important to consider the transparency of the fabric manufacturers and suppliers before buying modal fabric.

Want to buy modal fabric for your clothing line? Just
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Zilingo Editorial Team
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