Modal fabric is a semi-synthetic product that comes from beech tree pulp. This textile is primarily used for undergarments, such as pajamas and underwear, but it is useful for some household items like towels or bedsheets too. It is technically a form of rayon, which is another plant-based option, with more flexibility and durability compared to the standard product.
You can mix modal fabric with other fibers to create hybrid clothing products with tremendous strength. You’ll find it mixed with spandex and cotton most often because it will have a softer feel against the skin while promoting more comfort.
Most modal fabric today is produced by Lenzing AG in Austria, although the textile was originally invented in Japan in the 1950s. You’ll find it sold under the brand names of Formatex, Lenzing Modal, and China Modal. It comes in a lighter version that is sometimes referred to as “MicroModal.”
If you’re thinking about adding this textile to your wardrobe choices, then here are some of the modal fabric pros and cons that you’ll want to review.
List of the Pros of Modal Fabric
1. Modal fabric is exceptionally absorbent.
When you use fabric to absorb moisture, cotton tends to be the item of choice because of how absorbent the material tends to be. If you use modal fabric instead, then you can boost the absorbency rate by up to 50%. That means you don’t need to deal with clammy clothing if you’ve been sweating throughout the day. Your kids will stay drier and more comfortable during their playtimes as well. Since the material comes from beechwood pulp, you’ll find that its natural properties encourage a lot of breathability.
2. The fiber yield per acre from the trees used is higher than cotton.
When you look at the Lenzing version of modal fabric, the textile is made from beech trees that grow through the use of sustainable methods. The yield of fibers from this process produces up to ten times more content than what can be taken from the typical cotton field. It also takes much less water to produce the fibers for use, as cotton requires up to 20 times more than the beech trees to produce a crop.
3. Modal fabric uses less water in other ways as well.
When you use modal fabric for your daily needs, then you don’t need to use any whitening agents to clean your clothing. There isn’t a need to use fabric softener in the load either. You can even use a shorter washing cycle because of the nature of this material, which means you’re saving water and energy with every load of laundry you do. That makes this material one of the most eco-friendly options that is available today when you’re shopping for specific apparel items.
4. It provides a texture that is soft and smooth.
If you have ever slept in silk or satin sheets, then that is the only authentic comparison to what it is like to wear modal fabric. The texture is very smooth, providing a natural softness that is almost beyond compare in the textile industry today. These features mean it is a delicate fabric that requires gentle washing and mild detergents for proper care, but it won’t usually have that scratchy feeling like you can get with wool or some forms of cotton. It is a versatile material that will help you to stay comfortable in a variety of conditions.
5. Modal fabric can improve other materials.
You’ll find a mixture of fabrics that use modal because the nature of this product improves how several other materials operate. It is ideal for hygiene-related products, including medical items, because of its high absorbency rate. This material brings out the strengths of cotton when blended to resist shrinking over time while adding strength to the product. Modal even blends with lycra and spandex well to give the stretchable characteristics better flexibility and strength.
6. You can iron modal fabric if necessary.
Some modal fabric garments will wrinkle excessively when you put them through the wash, even if you clean the textile by hand. The weave and construction of the material tends to create bunching that can leave creases in the material. You can use an iron to correct this issue, but you will want to make sure that you’re doing the work on the opposite side of the material to create a shine. It helps to press a cloth between the modal fabric and the iron to prevent scorching the fibers in the material. You cannot revive burned modal once it has received too much heat.
7. Modal fabric dyes well without excessive bleeding.
Modal fabric can be woven or knit, which is why it tends to drape well while featuring a lustrous, smooth finish. Because it has such an excellent absorbency rate, the fibers tend to take and hold dyes used to create colors for clothing exceptionally well. It is rare for this material to produce bleeding during the cleaning process, even if the item is brand new and has never been washed before.
You’ll still want to wash most modal fabric items with products of a similar color not because of what it can do to other clothing, but because of what those items can do to it. The absorbency characteristic means that it can take on the dyes that release during the washing cycle from other items.
8. This material doesn’t rip easily.
Although modal fabric is nowhere as durable as a material like rip-stop nylon, you will find that this textile is exceptionally stable. It has the power to hold up to the active lifestyle of your family, moving with kids as they explore the world around them. Since the material resists damage under most circumstances, you’ll find that the prints and colors remain brighter for longer when you compare it to cotton or similar natural materials. It can be hard to know the difference between the two materials when you’re looking at them without tag information, so you’ll want to look at the blending to know what the care habits should be – or if you have a 100% modal product.
9. The cost of modal fabric is competitive with other materials.
If you want to create materials from modal fabric, then you’ll find that the cost-per-yard is quite competitive when you compare it to other materials. This advantage increases if you use a MicroModal product as well. Most jersey materials that contain modal will sell at $13.99 per yard, providing you with a variety of colors that can help you to create the perfect item. If you want textiles that are closer to a 100% product, then you can pay up to $19.99 per yard for the material.
MicroModal often retails at $11.99 per yard if you purchase the materials online. You may find it at a lower price when shopping at your local retail outlet or discount store.
List of the Cons of Modal Fabric
1. More people have allergic reactions to modal fabric than other textiles.
It is not unusual for someone to have an allergic reaction to the material when they wear modal fabric for the first time. Itching, redness, and rashes are the most common experiences reported when using this textile, but there have been severe issues in rare cases as well. Some have reported skin blistering, while headaches, swollen glands, and disorientation are possible as well. If you have allergies to other trees, pollen, or sap, then you may want to avoid using modal fabric until you know for certain that you won’t react to it.
2. The durability of modal fabric is not as good as other materials.
Modal fabric is prone to issues with pilling and stretching. You’ll want to hand-wash your items made with this textile to avoid significant changes to the structure of the material. This disadvantage can also lead to runs in the fabric if you catch it with a sharp fingernail, a doorknob, or any common household hazard. That’s why you often see the products made with this material designed to be underwear or pajamas.
3. There is no guarantee of sustainable practices with modal fabric.
Lenzing promotes the sustainable use of beech trees for the creation of modal fabric, with the goal of creating a carbon-neutral process of creating textiles. When you look at the low-cost items that are made with this material, you’ll find that many of the garments are produced in China using wood pulp that comes from Indonesia. There is no documentation regarding the harvesting methods used, so there is no guarantee that you’re using a sustainable, eco-friendly product unless the tag says that the product came from Austria.
The Rainforest Action Network accuses some of the less reputable manufacturers in this space of forest destruction to create this textile. Some of the product has come from plantation Woodstock growing in clear-cut areas that were then used for monocrop timer plantations.
4. You might need to dry clean your material.
Modal fabric has several different care requirements to consider over other types of rayon textiles. Unless you are using a material that is 100% pure beechwood fibers, then you may need to have the item dry cleaned to ensure that it can maintain its characteristics. Chlorine bleach will weaken the fibers in the material, so it should never be used – only use oxygen-based items. Your authentic modal can then be placed in the dryer on the low heat setting. The preferable method of managing the material is to hang the garment.
5. It does not retain a lot of body heat.
Modal fabric tends to be comfortable and cool during the warmer months of the year, but this textile does not do a good job of retaining body heat. That means you’ll feel colder when wearing it if the weather turns. It isn’t the kind of material that you’ll want to have when you’re facing a blustery autumn day or trudging through some snow to get to school or work. Many of the advantages that you’ll find with this product are good for your workout sessions or during a hot summer day only.
6. Modal fabric tends to turn yellow when exposed to too much heat.
There are some modal fabrics that you can place in your dryer, but any heat that goes beyond regular body temperatures and sunlight creates a risk for damage with this plant-based synthetic textile. It has the tendency to turn yellow, no matter what dye is used to create the item, when it receives heat exposure. You can remove this discoloration on some materials if you catch it early, but once it’s scorched, the product will be beyond recovery. This disadvantage is why it is imperative to follow the exact care instructions that you will find on the label.
7. Several chemicals are used to create modal fabric.
The only way to create rayon-based textiles is to dissolve the cellulose from the wood in a caustic soda. It is then pressed between rollers to remove the excess liquid. It also goes through a ripening, filtering, and degassing process before it goes through a bath of sulfuric acid so that the rayon filaments form. Although the material is more biodegradable than cotton, the water-repellent nature of the material means that it will decompose more slowly than others. Rayon fibers actually contribute to almost 60% of the fibers found in the deep ocean areas of contamination.
8. There may be issues with mislabeling with this material.
The Federal Trade Commission in the United States issued letters to over 100 companies that informed them that they were mislabeling products as being made from the natural materials instead of the traditional rayon process. It was an accusation that suggested the retailers were deceiving customers who wanted to shop in an environmentally conscious way. Four large retailers were required to pay penalties that totaled $1.3 million for this behavior, and a similar result occurred in Canada as well.
Whether you decide to classify modal fabric as a natural material or a synthetic option, you’ll find that the pros and cons of using it generally lean toward the positive side of things. Once the small fibers are created from the trees, they’re woven together to convert that pulp into a usable textile with the rayon fabric. The goal is to leave the smallest carbon footprint possible with this product, and the manufacturers are doing an excellent job of reaching that goal.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.