First developed as an alternative to silk, modal is a soft, luxurious fabric that can be used on its own or combined with other fibers to create an incredibly long-lasting material. In recent years, modal has gained popularity among sustainable clothing brands and the slow fashion industry.
What is modal fabric?
Modal is deemed a semi-synthetic because its raw material (cellulose) is a naturally-occurring substance, found in the walls of plant cells. It is used primarily in the production of clothing (like activewear and pajamas), but is frequently found in household textiles (like bed sheets and towels), as well.
While modal is a form of rayon, it is generally more durable than the standard version and has a smoother feel overall. In addition to being resistant to shrinking or pilling, modal is also engineered not to lose its color with extended washing or wear.
How is modal fabric made?
Although originally created in Japan during the 1950s, modal is now predominantly produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG (who also owns the trademark for the fabric).
Modal’s manufacturing is centered around harvested beech trees; an advanced purification system converts the trees’ wood chips into cellulose, which is later transformed into the fabric itself. Once the beech trees have been collected and chipped, the reconstituted cellulose is extracted from the pulp and spun into fibers. After bleaching, washing, and drying, those fibers are ready to be woven into your favorite t-shirt or new pair of leggings.
How does modal impact the environment?
It’s carbon neutral
Since modal is made from regenerative plants, there are fewer chemicals and emissions involved with its production as compared to other types of rayon. Modal is produced without most of the harmful and wasteful practices typical of the fashion industry, thanks to Lenzing’s innovative and sustainable processes for environmentally responsible manufacturing. At the end of their life cycle, Lenzing’s fibers decompose back into their original water and carbon components, preparing the ground to nurture new plants and living things.
Lenzing is on track to become the first carbon neutral fiber producer in the world, with reduction of carbon emissions by 50 percent until 2030, and a net-zero CO2 target by 2050.
It requires significantly less water
Modal is largely considered an eco-friendly alternative to cotton, especially with regards to its water consumption. Since beech trees require fewer resources to grow, 10 to 20 times less water is used in the production of modal as compared to traditional cotton. And not only is its growth more sustainable, but the fiber yield per acre of beech trees is up to 10 times more than what’s harvested from an average cotton field.
What’s more, water is saved just by wearing modal clothing. Because the material doesn’t call for heavy laundering, you can avoid whitening agents or fabric softeners, and use less water with each wash cycle.
Synthetic materials like spandex and nylon are unfortunately not biodegradable, and have led to major problems in wastewater treatment plants and marine pollution. This situation has an obvious impact on fish and birds, but it also affects other marine life and us as human beings. In contrast to these dangerous synthetics, modal is certified as biodegradable in all natural and industrial environments: in the soil, in compost, and in both freshwater and marine conditions.
Biodegradable textiles like modal are a much better choice over single-use plastics, because they fully convert back into nature without the need for recycling or further action.
8 benefits of wearing modal
1. Super soft
Modal is super soft and smooth to the touch, which explains why it’s commonly used to make bed sheets, pajamas, and underwear. Since modal is such a delicate fabric, it won’t leave you with that scratchy feeling you sometimes get while wearing wool or cotton. Modal is sure to help you stay comfortable no matter how active or busy your lifestyle.
When the weather warms up, breathable fabric is a must. Fortunately, modal’s weave was designed to be extra breathable, allowing for complete comfort and ease of wear. The natural properties found in beechwood pulp encourage tons of breathability, as well, and is the reason modal is often used in yoga pants, bike shorts, and even swimwear.
Modal has an impressive durability due to its tight weave and long fibers, making it a great option for housewares and garments that get a lot of use. This strength helps modal resist potential damage from long-term wear, and it’s what keeps the fabric’s colors brighter for longer than most other natural materials.
Modal’s flexibility is another feature that makes it the ideal fabric for athleisure and workout wear. Clothing made from this material can withstand years of consistent wear and tear. This stretchy element goes hand-in-hand with modal’s comfort and durability, ultimately creating a textile triple-threat you’ll want to wear for every occasion.
5. Highly absorbent
Cotton tends to be the fabric of choice to absorb moisture, but the truth is, modal is actually 50% more absorbent than cotton -- crazy, right? The micropores inside modal absorb any water or sweat they come in contact with, so you’ll never have to deal with clammy clothing during your exercise routine or as you naturally sweat throughout the day.
6. Color fast
Because modal has such excellent absorbency, its fibers accept and hold dyes remarkably well. Rarely will modal bleed color when laundered, even if the item is new and has never been washed. With that said, you’ll still want to wash modal garments with like colors, since it is possible they’ll absorb dyes from your other articles of clothing.
7. Drapes well
Modal fabric can be knit or woven, but either method gives it a lustrous finish that also drapes quite well. Just like rayon and other silk substitutes, modal drapes beautifully in any number of silhouettes. Now more than ever, modal is being used in dresses, jumpsuits, and rompers for an easy fit that flatters every shape.
8. Won’t wrinkle, shrink, or pill
The fact that modal won’t wrinkle, shrink, or pill makes it a dream for daily wear. Unlike most forms of rayon, modal is significantly less likely to shrink in the wash, and is resistant to that annoying pilling so many knitted fabrics develop. Additionally, modal prevents wrinkles and will stay smooth with minimal ironing, which is perfect for people who are always on the go.
Why SiteSee uses modal
Speaking of people who are on the go, SiteSee always has digital nomads’ needs in mind, which is why our line utilizes a lovely modal blend. The fabric we use for our Everywhere Jumpsuit is 70% modal and 30% polyester, with the polyester helping to reduce wrinkles and make traveling with our garments a breeze.
This material is incredibly soft and versatile, and is definitely a smart option for all those women who are going places!
Modal fabric FAQs
Is modal breathable?
Yes - because of the fabric's weave, it's very breathable and is great for everyday clothes when you're on-the-go.
Modal fabric vs. cotton: what's the difference?
Compared to cotton, you can think of modal as the more 'luxurious' option. Modal is 50% more absorbent than cotton, but has an even softer feel that's silky smooth.
Does modal shrink in the dryer?
Modal is significantly less likely to shrink in the dryer, unlike other forms of rayon. To avoid shrinkage, it's recommended that you either hang dry your modal garment or if you prefer to use a dryer, use a low setting and avoid high heat.
Is modal a natural fiber?
Modal is soft man-made fiber that is made from natural materials and is completely biodegradable. Considered a sustainable textile, modal is commonly used as an alternative to cotton.
Is modal good for sensitive skin?
Because modal is made from cellulose found in the walls of plant cells, it is incredibly soft to the touch and is a good solution for those that have sensitive skin.