When you’re reading the care tag on your laundry garments prior to washing, you may come across the phrase “modal fabric.” If you haven’t hear of the term before don’t feel alone. Although it’s been around for over half a century, it’s not a name that is used as frequently as cotton or bamboo, polyester or rayon, but it’s a real thing. Although modal fabric sounds like an exotic or perhaps even a new space age material, in reality, it’s simply a kind of rayon material that is made from the fibers that are harvested from one specific kind of tree. It’s a type of rayon fabric. There are several types of modal fabric and it offers a host of benefits. To help you become familiar with what modal fabric is, where it comes from along with its pros and cons, here is everything you need to know about modal fabric.
What is modal fabric?
Modal fabric is a kind of material that is made from the beech tree. It is classified as a rayon type and it was first manufactured by an Austrian company called Lenzing AG. Although manufactured in Austria, it was first developed in 1951 in Japan, so the Austrians cannot take full credit for its development. They are however the first to develop modal fabric for commercial sale and they began marketing of the product in 1964. To understand a bit more of the origins of modal fabric, it is made from the pulp of the beech tree and the fibers undergo a series of processes to turn them into a textile/fabric. Modal is considered to be a biologically based textile and it falls under three different sub-types or brands which include Lenzing Modal, Formatex and China Modal which are the brand names which they are sold under.
The natural/synthetic debate
Although modal fabric is made from the fibers of a tree, many believe that it an be classified as a natural or more organic type of fabric, but when the processes for turning the fibers into fabric are analyzed, it’s widely accepted that this is not a natural fabric but rather a synthetic. The wood pulp is treated with a variety of different chemicals and heavy industrial processes. Although the basis of this material is organic, after processing it can no longer legitimately be considered a natural fabric.
Is modal fabric safe for the environment?
Some consumers take environmentalism seriously and they prefer to purchase clothing and other textiles which are made from natural or organic materials made with eco-friendly methods. Modal fabric is made from wood pulp that is turned into a liquid, and then sieved through machinery with tiny holes to create the fibers. Once the small fibers are created, they are woven together to convert the pulp into a fabric that is used to make a variety of different textiles with the rayon fabric that is produced. On one hand, cutting down trees to make the material uses more forest/wood resources. The Lenzing Modal company claims a commitment to leaving the smallest possible carbon footprint on the other hand, which is considered to be carbon neutral. Their unique processing system outshines the methods used to produce cotton fabrics when it comes to the carbon footprint left as it consumes between ten to twenty times less water and less land area is used in the growth of their base materials. In addition, Lenzing AG’s processes claim that their processes reduce emissions put into the environment over other fabric manufacturers and that they conserve natural resources by using materials that are 95 percent reclaimed. This goes far beyond the natural/synthetic debate and delves into the processes and how they may impact the planet. It is worth noting that modal fabric is one of the top choices of fashion designers who are eco-conscious.
The use of materials that would otherwise be considered waste is environmentally responsible because it uses valuable resources which would otherwise be discarded. Two benefits of these actions are that it keeps waste products out of landfills and it cuts down on the number of trees being harvested for the purposes of manufacturing. There are two very different schools of thought when it comes to the question of whether or not modal fabrics are a good choice for naturalists. There are some very good reasons why it is better for the planet than some other material types but the processes involved in its production are not completely natural, so it’s a decision that each person must make for themselves based upon the available information on the processes involved. Understanding the processes used to make modal fabric can help you to decide if it is a material that is right for you.
The manufacturers differ in their production practices
We’ve discussed the manufacturing process involved in the trademarked Lenzing Modal fabrics, however, it is important to note that there are other companies throughout the world who also produce modal fabric. Before we leave the topic of environmental responsibility, some modal fabrics which are produced in Indonesia as known to be taken from trees that are harvested from rain forest areas in which clear cutting has taken place to clear the land, resulting in destructive practices in these areas. Many of the modal garments which are produced in the country of China are made with the Indonesian modal fabric that has been harvested without regard to the environment. Does brand matter? To those who refuse to support the companies who are causing damage to the ecosystem, where the modal fabric comes from certainly makes a very big difference. It makes sense that the Lenzing AG company offers a product that takes the earth into consideration, but the other manufacturers do not offer transparency in their processes.
Characteristics of modal fabric
The name modal means “high wet modulus rayon.” This material was created to provide certain features which are highly beneficial for the consumer. When you try on a new garment often, you make the decision whether or not to purchase it based upon how well it fits and how comfortable you feel when you’re wearing it. Modal fabric offers a silky softness against the skin. One of the greatest benefits of the material is that it’s comfortable when used to make clothing. It has a somewhat shiny appearance and it drapes naturally and moves with you without causing restrictions in your movement. This fabric is wonderfully breathable. It allows perspiration to flow away from the body an it absorbs moisture very well, wicking it away from the skin, but it does not trap the moisture due to its viscosity. It is highly resistant to clinging because it doesn’t build up static and it is a very tough and durable material. Modal is typically blended with cotton fibers when used to make fabric for clothing. It is more lightweight than cotton fabric alone and it has a tendency to keep the skin cooler. It is also highly resistant to shrinkage and it drapes evenly.
Types of modal fabric blends and their uses
Modal fabric is rayon that is often blended with other materials and it has a variety of different uses. When used for clothing, modal fibers are usually blended with a mix of cotton for garments. Modal blends with spandex and lycra materials give it stretchable characteristics which make it ideal for leisure wear and active wear such as yoga and other sports clothing. Modal fabric is also ideal for medical and hygiene products because of its absorbency and it is used to make underwear. Because it is so durable and strong it is also used in the manufacture of car tires as reinforcement in the rubber. Modal fabric actually improves the qualities of cotton when the fibers are blended together because it resists shrinkage and adds strength and durability. Modal cotton blends have a wonderful ability to drape, but one major improvement over cotton alone is that it keeps its shape and it highly resistant to twisting and wrinkling. There is little pilling of the fabric which makes it easier to maintain and care for. It takes on fabric dyes very well and when washed, the colors do not bleed as easily so they stay new looking for longer.
How to care for modal fabric
Modal fabric which is made purely of beech wood fibers may be washed in water that is any temperature but the best option is cold water. Modal fabric has different care requirements than most other rayon types. While the majority of rayons call for dry cleaning, it isn’t necessary for pure modal. The one peculiarity of this fabric is that chlorine bleach causes the fibers to weaken and it should never be used. If modal fabric clothing articles need to be bleached you an use one that is oxygen based and that contains no chlorine. After washing the item, it can be machine dried with the heat setting at low to medium. It’s important to remove modal fabrics from the dryer immediately after the process is completed or it may wrinkle. Simply fold or preferably, hang the garment up right away. Since the fabric is resistant to pilling it’s easier to care for because you don’t have to take the time to remove small lint balls that can form on other rayon type materials.
What is the best use of modal fabric?
We’ve looked at the different uses of modal fabric and it’s found in everything from the tires that carry our vehicles down the road to the underwear beneath our clothing. One special characteristic of modal fabric that is blended with cotton that is worth discussion is that it is not a warm fabric. The coolness of this blend makes it one of the best possible materials for spring and summer clothing. It naturally cools the body, it’s breathable, absorbent, soft and comfortable. It’s not the kind of material that you want to use for fall or winter clothing though.
If you had never heard of modal fabric before, now you’re somewhat of an expert on the topic. It’s one of the most versatile materials that is made commercially and distributed throughout the world. Modal fabric that is manufactured by the Lenzing AG company in Austria is responsibly sourced from beech wood fibers which would otherwise be considered as waste products and although the material is processed with a variety of chemicals an mechanical processes, the company is committed to keeping carbon emissions to a bare minimum as well as protecting the environment by using lower areas of land and less water than most other fabric manufacturers. The Lenzing AG company maintains a high level of transparency that shows their commitment to protecting the fragile environment of our planet, and this is one of the reasons why their brand of modal fabric is so popular as well as being the preferred choice of designers and consumers who are like minded.
Before you can make an educated choice about which fabric is the best choice for supporting environmental causes, it’s important to understand how each is made, what the base of the product consists of and how the manufacture of this textile impacts the environment. Not all modal fabric producers follow earth friendly guidelines, but those who do produce a product that is worthy of supporting. Modal fabric makes some of the best summertime clothing and underwear on the planet. It’s easy to care for and to maintain and purchasing from the right vendors is in essence supporting the manufacturers who are doing their very best to responsibly source natural materials without causing damage to our delicate environment. With this knowledge, you have the information that is necessary to decide if modal fabric is the right choice for you.