Modal is made from semi-natural fibers. The original source (beech trees) is natural, but the process of turning wood pulp into yarns is chemical. Modal fibers are therefore also called “regenerated cellulosic” fibers because of this combination. Modal fabric belongs to the “rayon” family (see Viscose (Rayon)) and is a successor of the fabric viscose. Originally, modal was developed in order to refine viscose by imitating the properties of cotton.
Modal was developed in Japan in 1951. The company Lenzing Fibers in Austria began selling modal fibers in the year 1964. After some years, in 1977, the company invented a process in which they could bleach wood pulp in an environmentally friendly way. Now, Lenzing Modal ® is made of wood pulp coming from beech trees which are harvested in sustainable forests, called the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes).
The characteristics of modal are quite similar to those of the other members of the rayon family. Since rayon was originally made to imitate silk, modal shows some similarities with silk such as its softness, breathability and luxurious appeal. Modal is even called the softest fiber in the world. The texture of modal is almost the same as that of cotton. The fabric is therefore highly absorbent and comfortable to wear. It is around 50% more water absorbent than cotton. However, modal shrinks and pills less than cotton because of its flat surface.
Lots of modal spinning mills moved to Asia. India is a large producing country of modal. The biggest company which produces modal in Europe is the Lenzing company in Austria.
Modal is made from beech trees. Beech trees grow easily and less water is needed. The environmental impact of modal on soil is relatively low. Lenzing Modal ® is made of beech trees which are cultivated in responsibly managed forests.
There is not much water needed during the harvesting of beech trees. However, the process of turning wood pulp into modal fibers needs plenty of water.
In its base, the production process of modal is almost the same as that of viscose. However, Lenzing Modal ® is made in a more environmentally friendly way than the traditional viscose process. The production process of modal ® has a closed loop which means that the chemical solvent is re-used again. Besides, the lenzing company uses a non-toxic solvent during the process. In general, less toxics and water is used than during the viscose process. Furthermore, modal fibers are biodegradable and can easily be decomposed in the soil.
Just like cotton, modal easily absorbs and holds dyes. The fabric is very colorfast. Dyestuffs easily remain on modal fibers. The process of graying which often happens with cotton does not occur with modal. Whitening is therefore usually not necessary. The environmental impact, however, depends upon the kind of dyestuff which is used.
Modal is a relatively expensive fabric. In general, it is more expensive than viscose or cotton. However, it is often cheaper than tencel for example.