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Highlights

  • Modal is a type of rayon fabric made from organic and synthetic materials, also known as HWM rayon.
  • It is derived from cellulose sourced from hardwood trees like birch and oak.
  • Modal fabric offers a luxurious feel and is known for its softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties.
  • It is used in various products, including sportswear, bed sheets, pajamas, and undergarments.
  • Modal is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional viscose rayon due to its simplified production process with reduced waste.
  • It is highly resistant to pilling and color fading, making it a durable choice for clothing and linens.
  • Modal comes in various blends, such as modal-cotton or modal-spandex, which may have different care requirements.
  • It’s essential to check care labels for specific washing and drying instructions.
Fabric spun in a circle

What Is Modal Fabric?

Modal fabric, or HWM rayon, is a semi-synthetic textile made from cellulose extracted from hardwood trees like birch and oak. It was developed in 1951 as an improvement over traditional viscose rayon. Modal fabric is lightweight, breathable, and popular for sportswear and bed sheets due to its moisture-wicking properties.

It has a luxurious feel with high thread counts and is resistant to pilling compared to cotton. Modal fabric is considered more eco-friendly than viscose due to a simpler manufacturing process with reduced waste. However, its sustainability depends on individual manufacturing practices, and it competes with lyocell as an alternative rayon material.

How Is Modal Fabric Made?

The production of a modal fabric involves several key steps:

  • Harvesting: Trees are harvested, and their wood is broken down into small chips.
  • Cellulose Extraction: Cellulose is extracted from these chips and purified.
  • Sheet Formation: The extracted cellulose is formed into sheets.
  • Steeping: Sheets are immersed in a sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) solution, using lower concentrations than viscose rayon.
  • Sodium Cellulose Xanthate: Crumbs are immersed in carbon disulfide, creating sodium cellulose xanthate.
  • Syrup Creation: Sodium cellulose xanthate is mixed with caustic soda to form a syrupy solution.
  • Fiber Production: The syrupy solution is forced through a spinneret to create fibers.
  • Acid Treatment: Fibers are immersed in sulfuric acid, stretched, and transformed into yarn.
  • Processing: Yarn undergoes processes such as washing, bleaching, rinsing, and drying.
  • Spooling: The yarn is loaded onto spools for further treatment or weaving into fabric.

Modal fabric can receive additional treatments like pre-shrinking or wrinkle resistance before becoming the final product.

Cones of modal yarn in a factory.

What Are The Types?

Modal rayon is one variant of rayon, and while it’s unique in its own right, it’s important to distinguish it from other members of the rayon family due to their similarities. Here are some related types of rayon:

  • Viscose Rayon: Viscose rayon was the initial mass-produced form of rayon, preceding modal. The viscose process simplified rayon production but involves more complex chemical treatments than modal. This complexity can have environmental and worker safety implications. Some factories have transitioned to more advanced rayon types, but viscose rayon is still in production.
  • Lyocell: Lyocell is another rayon derivative with distinct advantages. It’s the only rayon type considered purely organic because it doesn’t undergo chemical alteration during production, relying on pure tree fibers. The lyocell production process utilizes a closed-loop solvent system, ensuring minimal chemical waste disposal. Lenzing AG, an Austrian corporation, is a prominent producer of lyocell worldwide.

These variations within the rayon family offer different properties and environmental impacts, making it essential to differentiate modal rayon from its counterparts.

Properties Of Modal Fabric

  • Elasticity: Modal fabric is stretchy, making it suitable for t-shirts, athletic wear, and underwear.
  • Softness: It has a remarkably soft touch, often used for bed sheets, pajamas, and undergarments.
  • Breathability: Modal’s weave is highly breathable, making it great for sports and everyday clothing.
  • Absorbency: It is 50% more absorbent than cotton, effectively absorbing water and sweat.
  • Durability: Modal is strong due to tight weaving and long fibers, making it ideal for regular use in garments and housewares.
  • Drape: Modal has a beautiful drape, making it suitable for clothing and decoration.
  • Eco-friendliness: Made from regenerative plants, Modal produces fewer chemicals than other rayon types.
  • Pilling Resistance: Modal resists pilling, maintaining a smooth finish for everyday wear.
  • Color Fastness: It absorbs dye without bleeding during laundering in warm water.
  • Shrink Resistance: Modal is less likely to shrink in the wash than most rayon fabrics.
  • Biodegradability: Modal is completely biodegradable, reducing environmental impact.
  • Wrinkle Resistance: Modal resists wrinkles and stays smooth with minimal ironing.

The Downsides

  • Discoloration with Heat: Modal, a plant-based synthetic textile, can turn yellow when exposed to high heat, potentially affecting its appearance.
  • Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience allergic reactions to fabric, leading to symptoms like itching, rashes, redness, and, in severe cases, skin blistering.
  • Higher Cost: Modal is relatively expensive compared to fabrics like viscose or cotton despite its lower production costs. The consumer price of modal fabric tends to be on the higher side.
seamstress sewing modal fabrics

Is Modal Fabric Eco-Friendly?

Modal fabric is relatively more eco-friendly than some rayon types due to its lower use of caustic soda during production. However, the manufacturing process still involves carbon disulfide, a toxic substance harmful to the environment and workers. Efforts have been made to mitigate its impact, such as installing chemical scrubbers and using absorption machines. Additionally, sustainability depends on cellulose sourcing practices, with some rayon manufacturers using trees from less fertile land, like bamboo. Still, significant waste occurs as only cellulose is used, and the rest of the tree material is discarded.

FAQs

1. What Is Micromodal Fabric?

Micromodal fabric is a rayon fabric known for its exceptional smooth texture and comfort. It is composed of a variant of modal rayon, a semi-synthetic cellulose fiber derived from beechwood trees. The “micro” in Micromodal refers to the fineness of the fibers used in its production, which are finer than those used in standard modal fabrics. This results in a fabric that is incredibly soft, lightweight, and comfortable to wear. Due to its premium qualities, Micromodal is often used in high-end fashion and intimate apparel.

2. Does Modal Fabric Shrink?

Modal fabric is known for its resistance to shrinking, unlike other fabrics, particularly rayon, which can lose shape or shrink when laundered. Modal typically maintains its size and shape, offering greater durability and ease of care for clothing made from this material.

3. How To Care For Modal Fabric?

Modal fabric is generally washing machine-friendly, but it’s wise to check care labels, especially for modal blends. Cold water is recommended for washing, and avoid using chlorine bleach, as it can weaken the fabric. When drying, opt for low to medium heat and promptly remove items to prevent wrinkles, hanging them up immediately if necessary. Dry cleaning is usually unnecessary for pure modal, distinguishing it from other rayon fabrics.

Conclusion

Modal fabric is a versatile textile known for its luxurious softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties. It stands out for its comfort and eco-friendliness, as it involves a more environmentally conscious manufacturing process than other rayon types.

If you want to bring your fashion ideas to life with modal fabric or other textiles, consider partnering with a custom clothing manufacturer like Arcus Apparel. They offer comprehensive services, including cut and sew production, apparel development, and production management, ensuring a seamless journey from fabric sourcing to delivering a finished high-quality product.

Whether you’re a designer or entrepreneur, such collaborations can help bring your clothing designs to the market with expertise and efficiency.

Underwear on a tile floor