What is Modal Fabric? A Comprehensive Guide

What is Modal Fabric? A Comprehensive Guide

Let’s say you have a modal fabric in your hands. You’ll notice instantly how it’s soft to the touch, yet tough as nails, and breaths like a relaxing walk through a forest. No wonder its nickname is “artificial silk”. Naturally, it is excellent for making clothes with, and best of all, it’s affordable. What’s more, it’s an eco-friendly fabric. 

Sounds way too good to be true right? Everyone else thinks so too, which is why modal isn’t just a trend right now, it has solidified itself as one of the cornerstone fabrics that currently make up the clothing industry. 

But what exactly is modal fabric? The short answer is that it’s fabric made from beech tree pulp. Now, what does that really mean? How does a beech tree get turned into a fabric, and why is it more eco-friendly? And why is it better than cotton or polyester? 

In this article, let’s find out all about what modal fabric is, how it’s made, why it’s the better fabric when it comes to making clothes. 


What is Modal?

Like we said, modal is fabric made from beech tree pulp. But of course, it’s not as simple as that. Modal does go through chemical treatments in order to turn beech tree into a fiber. Which makes it a semi-synthetic fiber rather than being natural. 


So let’s first go over all the steps required for a beech tree to get turned into modal. 


How Modal is made

1. Harvest:

It all starts with harvesting beech trees that are to be turned into cellulose. 

 

2. Cellulose extraction: 

Next, the beech trees are mulched into small chips, and then they are purified in order to extract the cellulose. 

 

3. Immersion of sheets: 

After that, the cellulose is arranged into sheets, and these sheets are submerged in vats of sodium hydroxide, otherwise known as caustic soda. 

Important note here is that the concentration of sodium hydroxide for making modal rayon is much lower than that for viscose rayon. So there’s a lot less chemical waste when it comes to making modal. 

 

4. Conversion to cellulose xanthate: 

After the sheets are sufficiently steeped, they are broken down into crumbs. And right away they are immersed in carbon disulfide, which turns the crumbs into sodium cellullose xanthate. 

 

5. Spinning: 

This cellulose xanthate is immersed in caustic soda again, which transforms it into a viscous solution. Then the solution is extruded through a spinneret to form fibers. 

 

6. Weaving: 

Finally, the fibers are immersed yet again, this time in sulfuric acid. The fibers are stretched into yarn. Once it goes through the appropriate treatment to be spooled, the yarn is woven into a fabric. Keep in mind that before the weaving the fabric may also go through a number of treatments such as for fire resistant and wrinkle resistance. 

If you feel like you just saw quite a number of chemical names being involved, you don’t have to worry. Once the fabrics go through the proper treatment, they are pretty much non-toxic to the body, and even if there are chemical residues it’s most likely negligible. 

 

Characteristics of Modal

So after all of that treatment, you end up with the modal fabric which has the following characteristics: 

  • Superior softness: Modal fabric boasts unparalleled softness, akin to natural fibers like silk and cashmere. This is why modal is often used as a more affordable alternative to those luxury fibers. 
  • High breathability: Modal offers exceptional breathability, allowing air to circulate freely and regulate body temperature. This is the reason modal is so favored for creating high performance sports gear. 
  • Moisture-wicking: Modal fabric effectively absorbs and dissipates moisture, keeping the wearer dry and comfortable. It prevents sweat buildup so you don't get into nasty situations like swamp ass
  • High durability: modal is tough. It can go through a lot of wear and tear, as well as stretching and bending and not lose its form. 

 

Applications of Modal

Due to its qualities, modal isn’t just used for clothing. In fact, modal is favored for a wide range of applications including the following: 

  • Apparel: This is the application of modal that you likely know best. Modal fabric is widely used in clothing, including shirts, dresses, skirts, activewear, and loungewear, thanks to its softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties.
  • Home textiles: Modal is also used in various home textile products such as bedding, towels, and curtains, offering great comfort and durability.
  • Upholstery: Modal blends are increasingly being used in upholstery fabrics for furniture, combining style with a luxurious feel. 
  • Medical and hygiene products: Modal fibers are used in medical textiles and hygiene products like surgical gowns, wound dressings, and sanitary pads due to their softness and absorbency.

 

Environmental Impact

An important note about modal is that compared to many other common fabrics, modal is much more eco-friendly due to the following three factors: 

  1. Sustainable sourcing: Modal is made from beech tree pulp, a renewable resource that requires minimal water and land usage compared to cotton cultivation.
  2. Biodegradability: Modal fabric is biodegradable, meaning it naturally decomposes over time, reducing environmental pollution and waste.
  3. Closed-loop production: Modal production often employs a closed-loop system, where chemicals used in the process are recycled and reused, minimizing environmental impact and resource consumption.

Of course, modal does involve some chemical processes, since it is a semi-synthetic fabric. But it’s important to remember that it still has less environmental impact than various other petroleum-based fabrics like polyester as well as fabrics that stress the environment more in its production like cotton. 

 

Modal vs Other Fabrics

When compared to traditional materials like cotton and polyester, modal fabric stands out for several reasons.

 

Modal vs Cotton

Aspect

Modal

Cotton

Softness

✔️ Exceptionally soft, akin to luxury fibers

❌ Less soft than modal

Breathability

✔️ Excellent breathability and moisture-wicking

❌ Breathable but holds water 

Durability

✔️ High durability, resistant to shrinkage and pilling

❌ Durable but prone to shrinking and pilling

Cost

❌ Slightly higher cost due to production process

✔️ More affordable and widely available

Wrinkling

✔️ Modal is very wrinkle-resistant.

❌ Prone to wrinkling, requiring extra care. 

Environmental Impact

✔️  Involves chemical processing, though efforts are made to minimize impact. Uses less water than cotton cultivation. 

❌ Environmental impact from water and pesticide usage in cultivation

 

Modal vs Polyester 

Aspect

Modal

Polyester

Softness

✔️ Much softer than polyester.

❌ Typically less soft and can feel synthetic

Breathability

✔️ Excellent breathability and moisture-wicking

❌ Less breathable, can trap heat and moisture

Durability

✔️ High durability, resistant to shrinkage and pilling. 

✔️ Very durable and has high elasticity. It holds its shape well. 

Cost

❌ Slightly higher cost

✔️ More affordable and widely available

Wrinkling

❌ May wrinkle more easily than polyester

✔️ Resistant to wrinkles

Environmental Impact

✔️ Sourced from renewable beech trees, with minimal environmental impact

❌ Derived from fossil fuels, contributes to environmental pollution

 

Modal vs Nylon

Aspect

Modal

Nylon

Softness

✔️ Much softer than nylon

❌ Typically less soft and can feel synthetic

Breathability

✔️ Excellent breathability and moisture-wicking

❌ Less breathable, can trap heat and moisture

Durability

✔️ High durability, resistant to shrinkage and pilling. 

✔️ Durable and resistant to abrasion and tearing. 

Cost

❌ Slightly higher cost

✔️ More affordable and widely available

Wrinkling

❌ May wrinkle more easily than nylon

✔️ Resistant to wrinkles.

Environmental Impact

✔️ Sourced from renewable beech trees, with minimal environmental impact

❌ Derived from fossil fuels, contributes to environmental pollution

 

Modal vs Silk

Aspect

Modal

Silk

Softness

✔️ Exceptionally soft. Used as alternative to luxury fibers

✔️ Luxuriously soft and smooth

Breathability

✔️ Excellent breathability and moisture-wicking

✔️ Breathable and regulates body temperature

Durability

✔️ High durability, resistant to shrinkage and pilling. 

❌ Delicate and requires careful handling

Cost

✔️ More affordable than silk 

❌ Generally expensive due to labor-intensive production

Wrinkling

❌ May wrinkle more easily than silk

✔️ Naturally resistant to wrinkles, holds shape well

Environmental Impact

Involves chemical processing, though efforts are made to minimize impact.

✔️ Labor-intensive production, but natural and renewable

 

Why Modal is Perfect for Underwear 

As an underwear company, we searched high and low to find the perfect fabric that is comfortable, breathable, and durable all at the same time. Modal was the one fabric that met our goldilocks requirements. 

Want to try it yourself? See the difference with the Manmade Boxer Brief. 

Remember, if you don’t like your pair, the first one’s on us!

 

Care and Maintenance of Modal Fabric

Modal isn’t like any other fabric. Proper care is essential to maintain the luxurious feel and longevity of modal fabric garments. 

Here are five tips to ensure your modal clothing stays soft, fresh, and looking its best for years to come.

 

1 Gentle Washing

Machine wash modal fabric garments in cold water on a gentle cycle to prevent excessive wear and shrinkage. Avoid using hot water, as it can damage the fibers and cause fading.

 

2. Place them in a Mesh Bag

Modal garments, while durable, will get damaged if they get tangled and stretched excessively in the wash. So keep them separated in a mesh washing bag.

 

3. Mild Detergent

Use a mild, eco-friendly laundry detergent formulated for delicate fabrics. Harsh chemicals can weaken the fibers and strip away the fabric's softness and color vibrancy.

 

4. Avoid Bleach

Even if your modal fabric is white, do not use bleach or harsh chemical additives when washing modal fabric, as they can cause discoloration and damage the fabric's integrity.

 

5. Skip the Dryer

Air dry modal fabric garments by laying them flat or hanging them on a clothesline. Avoid using the dryer, as high heat can shrink modal fabric and cause it to lose its softness and drape.

 

6. Ironing

Modal fabric is naturally wrinkle-resistant, but if ironing is necessary, use a low heat setting and place a cloth or towel between the iron and the fabric to prevent direct contact.


Modal up your closet 

Now you know everything about modal. With its superior softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties, modal fabric offers unparalleled comfort and performance, rivaling even the most coveted natural fibers. Its durability ensures longevity, making it a reliable choice for a wide array of applications, and mostly importantly, a perfect fabric for making underwear. 

And of course, we can’t forget about modal fabric's environmental benefits.. By choosing modal, consumers can make a conscious decision to reduce their environmental footprint without compromising on style or quality.

So go ahead and modal up your closet and experience the perfect blend of luxury, performance, and sustainability firsthand. And if you want to start that transition with your underwear, we’ve got you covered. 

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