What is Modal and How to Wash Modal Clothes

Stack of fabric
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What Is Modal Fabric?

You may have seen the word "modal" listed as fiber content on clothing and linens labels. While the word may be new to shoppers looking for new pajamas, underwear and other clothes, modal is actually just a type of rayon fabric made from the fibers of the beech tree.

The term rayon applies to fabric/fiber made of the wood pulp from any tree. Modal uses only beechwood. It is not usually considered as a totally natural fiber because the wood pulp from the tree is heavily processed using a number of chemicals.

Modal is classified as a bio-based textile and is a registered trademark of Lenzing AG, an Austrian company specializing in textiles and fibers. The concept of modal fibers was developed in Japan in 1951. Lenzing started selling its version of modal fibers commercially in 1964. Brand names include Lenzing Modal, China Modal and Formatex. Lenzing has also created MicroModal and MicroModal Air creating a lighter weight microfiber fabric from the beechwood fibers.

Modal fabric can be a knit or a woven fabric. It is very soft, drapes well, resists creasing and has a smooth lustrous finish. The fibers are often blended with cotton, spandex or other fibers because of its qualities.  Because modal is both absorbent and air permeable or breathable, it is cool to the touch. The fibers take and hold dye easily resulting in deep, brilliant colors and produces no dye bleeding during cleaning. Modal is less resistant to shrinkage than cotton and tends to pill less as a result of friction on the surface.

Modal is growing in popularity in the United States and can be found in activewear, underwear, shirts, towels, bed linens and bathrobes. The items may be made from 100% pure modal or from fabrics made by blending modal fibers and other fibers like cotton or spandex.

How to Wash and Dry Modal Clothes and Linens

One hundred percent modal fabric should be cared for following the guidelines for cotton clothes and linens.

Modal can be washed in any water temperature - just always read and heed the care tag labels for your specific garment or accessory.

You should avoid using full strength chlorine bleach because it can not only bleach out the color it will weaken the fiber. Dilute solutions can be used for stain removal and whitening of white modal clothes. However, even dilute solutions will weaken fibers causing them to rip and wear out if used too often.

Instead, opt for an oxygen-based bleach like OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach. Mix a solution of the powdered oxygen bleach and water following the package directions and allow the stained modal garment to soak for several hours - at least two - to remove most types of stains and to whiten or brighten.

Modal should be dried on a low to medium-high temperature and taken from a clothes dryer while slightly damp to reduce wrinkling. Knitted modal fabrics are resistant to wrinkling if removed from the dryer immediately and folded or hung. Woven modal fabrics, like cotton, most often need a bit of ironing to look crisp. 

For modal fabric blends, such as silk/modal or wool/modal, follow the care instructions for the most delicate fibers in the blend.

How to Iron Modal Clothes

Some modal garments depending on how they are woven and constructed may wrinkle excessively when washed and will require ironing. Use a medium hot iron and always iron on the wrong side of the fabric. For extra protection, use a pressing cloth between the iron and the modal fabric. Extremely high temperatures when ironing can scorch cellulosic fibers. The scorching or yellowing occurs as the fibers begin to burn. Burned modal fibers cannot be revived.