What is Modal Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

Fabric nameModal fabric
Fabric also known asHigh-wet-modulus rayon, HWM rayon
Fabric compositionCellulose from trees and synthetic ingredients
Fabric possible thread count variations150-300
Fabric breathabilitynVery breathable
Moisture-wicking abilitiesHigh
Heat retention abilitiesLow
Stretchability (give)High
Prone to pilling/bubblingLow
Country where fabric was first producedJapan
Biggest exporting/producing country todayChina
Recommended washing temperaturesCold
Commonly used inSportswear, underwear, T-shirts, bed sheets
made from soft as can be modal fabric and generously sized scarves
Made from soft as can be modal fabric and generously sized scarves

What Is Modal Fabric?

Modal fabric, also known as HWM rayon, is a popular textile in the fashion industry. It is considered semi-synthetic as it is made from a blend of organic and synthetic materials. The fabric’s source material is cellulose extracted from hardwood trees like birch and oak. However, before it can be woven into fabric, it undergoes an intricate manufacturing process. Modal fabric is a soft, breathable, and absorbent material that is widely used in the production of clothing, beddings, and other consumer textiles. Its eco-friendliness, durability, and color retention make it a top choice for fashion designers and textile procurement agents in trendy cloth factories.

This version of rayon represents a significant evolution in the history of this fabric. The original forms of rayon that were developed toward the end of the 19th century were expensive to produce, and many of them were flammable. With the development of viscose rayon in the early 20th century, the majority of the cost and safety concerns regarding rayon were solved, but the process of making viscose rayon is unnecessarily complicated, and it produces a large amount of waste.

Modal rayon was first developed in 1951 in Japan and is very similar to viscose rayon in many ways. However, the process used to make modal rayon is simpler and generates less waste. Many consumers also note a significant difference in the feel of modal rayon compared to viscose rayon.

mixed design modal fabric v neck neckline contrast panels long sleeve
Mixed design Modal fabric V-neck neckline Contrast panels Long sleeve

Modal rayon is often perceived as more lightweight and breathable than viscose rayon, making it a popular choice for sportswear. The fabric’s high moisture-wicking profile also makes it a popular choice for bed sheets. Modal rayon is available in high thread counts, up to 300, which makes it a luxurious bedding material. Additionally, modal rayon is highly resistant to pilling, which is when individual fibers tangle and form knots that reduce the fabric’s structural integrity and appearance. This resistance to pilling makes modal rayon a durable and long-lasting option for bedding and clothing alike. Compared to cotton, modal rayon is a popular choice for its unique texture and properties.

Lyocell is the primary rival of modal rayon in the consumer textile industry. Unlike modal, lyocell is a fully organic form of rayon that is produced using cellulose extracted from sustainably sourced eucalyptus trees. Modal’s emergence has resulted in the decline of viscose rayon production worldwide. This is because modal is a more affordable alternative to viscose, and its production requires fewer steps, which has a reduced environmental impact. Modal fabric is a preferred choice for environmentally-conscious fashion designers and procurement agents in trendy cloth factories due to its sustainable production, durability, and superior quality.

It is essential to inform consumers and textile manufacturers that modal rayon is not inherently sustainable or eco-friendly. While modal can be produced sustainably, it depends on the manufacturing processes used by individual manufacturers. It is crucial to prioritize environmentally-friendly methods to ensure sustainable production of modal fabric. The production of this fabric requires the use of chemicals, energy, and water, which can have adverse effects on the environment if not handled properly.

How Is Modal Fabric Made?

how is modal fabric made

The process of creating modal fabric is closely related to the production of viscose rayon. Modal is, in fact, an updated version of viscose that eliminates some of the wasteful and harmful aspects of the traditional viscose manufacturing process. Despite the similarities, modal is considered a superior product to viscose in terms of its structure and properties. This fabric is renowned for its softness, breathability, and durability, making it a popular choice for clothing, bedding, and other consumer textiles. Modal’s manufacturing process requires fewer steps than viscose, resulting in reduced environmental impacts, making it an eco-friendlier option.

The process of producing modal fabric starts with the harvesting of hardwood trees, which are then chipped into small pieces roughly the size of postage stamps. These chips are then transported to the manufacturing plant, where they undergo purification to extract the cellulose content. During the process, the remaining tree products are discarded.

After extracting the cellulose from the hardwood trees, it is converted into sheets and soaked in vats of sodium hydroxide, commonly known as caustic soda. This process is called steeping. However, the concentration of sodium hydroxide used to make modal rayon is much lower than what is used in the production of viscose rayon, resulting in the production of less toxic waste.

striking light green embroidered modal fabric kurti
Striking Light Green Embroidered Modal Fabric Kurti

Once the steeping process is complete, the cellulose sheets are broken down into crumbs. Unlike the production of viscose rayon, these crumbs are not aged, and instead of air drying, they are directly immersed in carbon disulfide. This process transforms the white crumbs into an orange substance called sodium cellulose xanthate. It is important to note that, at this stage, the tree-derived cellulose can no longer be considered purely organic, as it has been chemically altered. However, the production of modal rayon uses less carbon disulfide than the production of viscose rayon, which contributes to its lower environmental impact.

After the cellulose xanthate is formed, it is immersed once again in a caustic soda solution, creating a syrupy substance. In contrast to the traditional viscose production process, modal fabric manufacturing bypasses the aging process that typically occurs at this point. Instead, the syrupy solution is immediately forced through a spinneret to create fibers, which are then stretched, wound into spools, and processed into yarn. This yarn is then woven into fabric to create the final product.

After the fibers have been spun, they are immersed in sulfuric acid, stretched, and formed into yarn. The resulting yarn is then washed, bleached, rinsed, and dried before being loaded onto spools. At this stage, the modal yarn is ready to undergo pre-shrinking, fire resistance, wrinkle resistance, or other treatments that may be applied before it is woven into fabric.


How Is Modal Fabric Used?

how is modal fabric used

Modal rayon is a popular alternative to silk or cotton in the textile industry. Rayon, in general, was initially developed as a cheaper alternative to silk, and earlier forms were known as “artificial silk.” These fabrics were popular for their silk-like texture and were widely used in scarves and nightwear before their flammability was discovered.

Modal rayon, among other technically developed forms of rayon, is still widely used as an alternative to silk due to its similar texture and appearance. However, instead of being used as a replacement for silk, modal rayon is often blended with silk to create a fabric that combines the best of both worlds. This combination results in a fabric that is softer and more durable than pure silk, yet still retains the luxurious feel and drape of silk. It is rare to find scarves and similar products made entirely from modal rayon, but it is commonly used in the fashion industry to add a touch of softness and comfort to silk garments

glistening orange embroidered modal fabric kurti
Glistening Orange Embroidered Modal Fabric Kurti

Due to its softness, thinness, and breathability, modal rayon is highly popular in sportswear. For instance, it’s common to see this fabric used for yoga pants, bike shorts, and even swimwear. Modal rayon wicks sweat effectively, it is easy to clean, and it is also surprisingly durable and long-lasting.

Modal rayon’s softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties have made it a popular choice for sportswear. It is commonly used in the production of yoga pants, bike shorts, and even swimwear due to its thinness and comfort. Modal rayon is highly effective at wicking away sweat, making it an ideal choice for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It is also easy to clean and maintain, making it a convenient choice for those who require frequent washing. Despite its soft texture, modal rayon is surprisingly durable and long-lasting, making it a versatile fabric that can withstand frequent use and wear.

While modal rayon is not highly absorbent, it is still a popular choice for household textiles that come into contact with the skin for extended periods. Due to its soft, silky texture, modal is often used in the production of bed sheets, pillowcases, and other bedding materials. Its breathability and moisture-wicking properties help to regulate body temperature, making it ideal for use in bedding. However, due to its low absorbency, it is not typically used in household textiles like bath towels and hand towels. Modal fabric is also popular for use in curtains, draperies, and upholstery, adding a touch of luxury to the home environment. Its eco-friendliness, durability, and ease of care have made modal fabric a preferred choice for consumers who prioritize sustainability and comfort in their household textiles. As such, it is widely used by fashion designers and procurement agents in trendy cloth factories to create luxurious and eco-friendly household textiles.

Where Is Modal Fabric Produced?

modal fabric in the world

Lenzing AG is the world’s leading producer of modal fabric, with decades of experience in producing rayon fabrics. The company is based in Europe but has factories located around the world. Some of Lenzing’s most significant modal fabric factories are situated in China, where the demand for sustainable and eco-friendly textiles is rapidly increasing.

While Lenzing AG is the world’s leading producer of modal fabric, many other companies produce modal rayon, and most of these companies are based in China. While modal rayon produced in China is typically cheaper than similar fabrics made in other locations, it is essential to consider the potential environmental and workplace safety risks associated with working with Chinese companies. The government of China is notoriously lax in its environmental and safety standards, which increases the likelihood of contributing to environmental degradation and worker harm.

Modal fabric is produced in several countries worldwide, including India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom. These countries have varying degrees of regulation and oversight over their textile industries, so it is important to research individual companies’ practices and policies before engaging in business with them. In addition to these countries, modal fabric is also produced in small quantities in the United States and, to a limited degree, in Japan


How Much Does Modal Fabric Cost?

Compared to viscose rayon, modal fabric is generally slightly more expensive due to its higher quality and eco-friendliness. The cost of modal rayon is on par with the cost of lyocell, which is also a sustainable and organic form of rayon. Modal fabric is roughly equal in cost to cotton, making it a more affordable alternative to silk. However, it is often slightly more expensive than purely synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester due to the higher cost of production and the eco-friendly manufacturing process.

The price of modal fabric can vary significantly depending on the manufacturing processes used and the location of production. While modal rayon produced in developed countries may be more expensive, it is also more likely to have been produced in a sustainable and worker-friendly manner.

It’s important to be cautious of unscrupulous manufacturers who may prioritize cost-cutting measures over the quality and sustainability of their products. Although opting for cheaper modal fabric may seem like a good financial decision, it could lead to subpar quality or even environmental harm. It’s crucial to prioritize the long-term benefits of investing in high-quality and sustainable materials to ensure the best outcome for your business and the environment.

What Different Types of Modal Fabric Are There?

different types of modal fabric

While modal rayon is a distinct type of rayon, it shares many similarities with other textiles in the rayon family. Therefore, it’s essential to differentiate modal from other types of rayon. Some examples of rayon fabrics that are closely related to modal include:

dress is made from a soft and smooth modal fabric
Dress is made from a soft and smooth modal fabric
  • Viscose rayon is the first type of cellulose-based textile that entered into mass production globally. Its invention made rayon a more affordable fabric to produce based on simple formulas. Viscose rayon shares many similarities with modal rayon, and it could be seen as a predecessor to modal fabric. However, the process of creating viscose rayon involves more complex chemical treatment processes than modal rayon, making it more harmful to the environment and workers. While some factories still produce viscose rayon, many others have updated their processes to manufacture more advanced forms of this semi-synthetic fabric.
  • Lyocell is an updated form of rayon that offers unique benefits. Unlike other types of rayon, lyocell is considered purely organic because the cellulose used to make the fabric isn’t chemically altered during production, and it’s made from pure tree fibers. The process of producing lyocell uses a closed-loop solvent system, which means that no solvent is wasted or dumped into the ecosystem. In contrast, even the modal rayon production process uses a solvent system that introduces chemical waste into the environment. Lenzing AG, an Austrian international corporation, produces almost all of the world’s lyocell.

How Does Modal Fabric Impact the Environment?

Compared to the viscose rayon production process, the manufacturing of modal fabric is slightly more environmentally friendly. This is mainly due to the lower concentrations of caustic soda used to dissolve and purify the cellulose used in making this fabric. The reduced use of caustic soda in modal production results in lower chemical waste and less water usage in the production process. While the modal production process still involves chemical treatments, the lower chemical usage makes it a more sustainable option than viscose rayon.

Despite the lower concentrations of caustic soda used in modal fabric manufacturing, the process still involves the application of carbon disulfide to cellulose through the step called “xanthation.” Carbon disulfide is a well-known neurotoxin and is introduced into the environment through the air and contaminated water produced during the rayon manufacturing process. While the amount of carbon disulfide used in modal production is relatively small, it is still a cause for concern regarding the environmental impact of the fabric. Therefore, it’s important to consider the sustainability and eco-friendliness of modal fabric in comparison to other fabrics.

When carbon disulfide is introduced into the environment, it can harm animal life in the area around the factory or waste station. In addition, it can cause serious medical problems in humans, especially those who work in the rayon production process. Workers who are exposed to carbon disulfide during production may experience liver or kidney damage, blindness, psychosis, coma, or even death. The health risks associated with exposure to this toxic chemical make it crucial to monitor and reduce the amount of carbon disulfide used in the production of rayon fabrics like modal. It’s essential to prioritize the health and safety of workers and the environment in any manufacturing process.

lularoe unicorn rose irma 2xl! modal fabric
Lularoe Unicorn Rose Irma 2xl! Modal Fabric

In recent years, rayon manufacturers have taken steps to reduce the impact of carbon disulfide on workers and the environment. For example, some companies have installed chemical scrubbers in their factories, which help to remove harmful chemicals like carbon disulfide from the air. Additionally, some manufacturers use absorption machines to trap carbon disulfide before it has the chance to come into contact with workers or the surrounding ecosystem. By implementing these measures, companies are taking important steps to reduce the environmental and health impacts of the rayon production process.

such as bamboo, are more environmentally sustainable than others.

The environmental sustainability of acquiring cellulose for rayon production depends on the cultivation and harvesting processes used. Some rayon manufacturers only use cellulose from trees grown on land that isn’t suitable for other agricultural purposes. However, it’s important to note that certain types of wood are more environmentally sustainable than others.

It’s important to note that the vast majority of the tree material harvested for use in rayon production is wasted. Only the cellulose from the trees is used to make the fabric, while the rest of the tree material is discarded.

Modal Certifications Available

modal fabric certifications

While it’s impossible to certify modal fabric as organic since it’s a semi-synthetic material, Lenzing, one of the largest producers of modal fabric globally, sources its cellulose from sustainably harvested forests certified by the PEFC. This means that consumers and textile manufacturers who use modal fabric from Lenzing can be confident that the trees used to make the fabric were harvested sustainably. By sourcing materials from sustainably managed forests, Lenzing is taking an important step towards reducing the environmental impact of its products. As consumers, we can also support companies that prioritize sustainability by choosing products made from sustainably sourced materials


    Author's Bio:
    Sherry Lin

    Sherry Lin

    Sales Director of fabricstrades.com, a GRS-certified manufacturer of sustainable stretch fabrics. She love sharing fabrics procurement insights.

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