What Is Modal? What You Need to Know

Close up of modal fabric

What is Modal?

Modal is a lightweight, stretchy, and breathable semi-synthetic fabric made from beech tree pulp that makes an excellent fabric for clothing like underwear and pajamas and household essentials like bedsheets. Modal is a type of rayon fabric, but it is generally more durable, flexible, and softer than regular rayon, it is also more expensive. The popularity of modal stems from it being naturally soft, breathable, and eco-friendly.

Modal fabric can be knit or woven into a very soft fabric. The fibers are often mixed with other fibers like cotton or spandex to make it more durable or give it more stretch. Because modal is both absorbent and breathable, it can feel cool to the touch.

Most of the world’s modal is produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG, which has the fabric’s trademark. Lenzing produces a few different modal types, including MicroModal and MicroModal Air, which are lighter weight and more luxurious than regular modal.

How is Modal Made?

Beech trees are harvested and broken down and then cellulose is extracted from the pulp of the trees. The cellulose is then put through a chemical process that involves being soaked in sodium hydroxide then in carbon disulfate. This creates liquid cellulose xanthate that gets put through devices to create fibers that are eventually formed into yarns that are knitted or woven into the modal fabric.

What Does Modal Feel Like?

Modal has a luxuriously soft, cool, and cozy feel to it, either on its own or in a blend with other fabrics. Since modal is a type of rayon and rayon was designed as an alternative to silk, you can expect it to have a silky feel. It is also stretchy and lightweight, making it ideal for athletic wear.

How to Clean and Care for Modal

Modal clothing should be washed regularly after each wear. For most modal garments, you can wash them in the same way you would wash cotton clothes, although you should always check the label for washing instructions. Generally, you can wash with a regular detergent and most garments can be washed with cold water on a gentle cycle. You can dry modal clothes on a low heat dryer cycle.

Knitted modal won’t wrinkle, so you shouldn’t have to iron it if you remove it from the dryer right away.  Modal that has been woven may need to be steamed or ironed on a low heat on the wrong side to eliminate any wrinkles that have appeared. Do not bleach or dry clean modal garments.

Is Modal Environmentally Friendly?

Modal is generally considered a more eco-friendly alternative to cotton and other fibers because beech trees don’t require much water to grow. Therefore the production process uses about ten to twenty times less water than cotton.

Even though the material is from Beech trees that are regenerative plants, the production process includes soaking the fabric in chemicals like sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfate which come with environmental concerns about workers’ health and possible environmental impacts on local communities. However, there are fewer chemicals used in the production process of modal than with other types of rayon. Modal is also completely biodegradable.