MicroModal is a fabric first produced by Lenzing from semi-synthetic polymers in 1990. It's a type of modal, a regenerated cellulosic fiber, similar to viscose rayon, acetate, cupro, and lyocell.
Lenzing MicroModal fabric is often used in the fashion industry to make affordable clothing. It's considered an eco-friendly material, even if more healthy and sustainable alternatives exist.
MicroModal fabric has a very soft hand feel and luxurious appearance. It's manufactured using natural and renewable raw materials, filaments of cellulose made of wood pulp extracted from trees.
The main advantages of Lenzing MicroModal compared to natural fibers such as cotton are very low costs and water requirements.
Here is everything you need to know about Lenzing MicroModal fabric, its uses, manufacturing, properties, downsides, environmental impact, and sustainable alternatives.
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What is Lenzing MicroModal?
MicroModal is a man-made cellulosic fiber in the family of rayon and the finest cellulose fiber at the time of its conception. It's considered a semi-synthetic material and is very cheap to produce.
Lenzing produces MicroModal fibers by solubilizing high-quality cellulose extracted from plants or wood. MicroModal is a special material, an even softer version of modal fiber.
Modal is the second generation of man-made cellulosic fibers. It's a modified version of viscose with higher tenacity. It's stronger when wet, higher quality, more durable, and flexible.
But modal is more expensive than viscose rayon or cotton. It's manufacturing process also uses more energy than processing natural fibers.
Modal was first discovered in 1951 in Japan. However, the first commercial sale of modal fabrics occurred in 1964 by the Austrian company Lenzing AG.
In 1990, Lenzing used technological innovation to enhance textile products to a new quality standard. It made the first MicroModal fabric by improving modal production processes.
Today, Lenzing is one of the most well-known manufacturers of MicroModal. MicroModal is a trademark of Lenzing, similar to Lenzing Modal, Modal COLOR, and MicroModal AIR.
Other widely used fibers produced by Lenzing are Tencel lyocell, Tencel Modal, and EcoVero, a type of viscose rayon.
But many other manufacturers make their modal versions in Europe, as well as in many East-Asian countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Japan, and China.
Lenzing MicroModal fabric uses
Lenzing MicroModal fabric is used in the fashion industry to produce clothing and accessories as it's smooth, sheen, and affordable. MicroModal resembles luxurious silk.
In the textile and apparel industry, MicroModal fabrics make knitwear, sportswear, hats, suits, blouses, evening dresses, formal shirts, coats, sweaters, pajamas, and undergarments.
Lenzing MicroModal is also used in homeware, furniture, upholstery, carpets, bathrobes, towels, drapes, bed sheets, curtains, and home decor, like other soft and luxurious fabrics.
Man-made cellulosic fibers like modal, acetate, viscose, cupro, or lyocell are slowly replacing petroleum-based synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester.
The market for Lenzing Modal and MicroModal fabrics is expected to slightly rise in the coming years, as new apparel and home furnishing applications develop, especially in China.
Although MicroModal can be used alone, it's often blended with other types of fibers such as polyester, nylon, cotton, wool, silk, spandex, and more to lower raw material costs.
Many fashion brands around the world choose Lenzing MicroModal fabrics to create affordable clothes. Modal is used in cheaply produced garments as the primary fiber content or a substantial part of the fiber composition.
Every year, 6.7 million tons of man-made cellulosic fibers are produced globally, according to Lenzing. They account for 6.2% of all fiber production worldwide.
Viscose rayon is the most widely used semi-synthetic fabric. It has around 79% market share with 5.3 million tons produced in 2018, as reported by the Textile Exchange.
How Does Lenzing produce MicroModal fibers?
Lenzing invests heavily in MicroModal and Modal manufacturing processes to make them one of the most sustainable fibers in the textile industry.
MicroModal is made with beech wood, a replenishable raw material, and during production, up to 95% of the chemicals used are recycled.
Since the production process is integrated with cellulose recovery, Lenzing MicroModal production is also CO2-neutral.
MicroModal is manufactured by deconstructing wood pulp into a purified fluffy white cellulose using sodium hydroxide or caustic soda, carbon disulfide, an acid catalyst, such as sulfuric acid, and more.
The resulting cellulosic solution is extruded by spinning. Spinnerets transform the viscous solution into filaments that are finally spun into MicroModal fibers.
A lot of chemicals and water are needed to condition wood pulp, treat and dissolve cellulose fibers, and wash the regenerated fibers.
Spinning is a manufacturing process used to create polymer fibers like modal and MicroModal fibers.
It's a specific form of extrusion that employs a spinneret to produce multiple continuous filaments. The various types of spinning are wet, dry, dry jet-wet, melt, gel, and electrospinning.
Lenzing produces MicroModal fiber via wet spinning, the oldest type of spinning. Many polymers use this manufacturing process as they need to be dissolved in a solvent to be spun.
During the wet spinning extrusion process, the polymer is dissolved and extruded through several thousand holes into a large spin bath, washing rolls, and drying rolls.
After being purified and extended to make long filaments, MicroModal fibers are ready to be spun into threads. Making extended filaments is an important step in fiber production.
Fiber extension is a crucial process to make commercial textiles. It creates MicroModal fibers many times longer than their original length, which increases production efficiency and lowers the overall cost.
Once spun into yarn, Lenzing ships MicroModal fibers to textile manufacturers who weave them into various fabrics to create apparel and other applications.
Lenzing MicroModal fibers are smaller than Modal fibers. To spin thread and make textiles out of them, manufacturers use more of them and weave them together incredibly tightly.
Lenzing MicroModal fabric properties
Lenzing MicroModal is a unique material with unique properties. It's a finer fiber than Lenzing Modal. It's even more comfortable, soft, lightweight, and feels like luxurious silk.
MicroModal fibers are very pleasant to the touch, water-absorbent, and dry quickly. And they are also resistant to moths and mildew.
Lenzing MicroModal fabrics drape and hang well. They have good resistance to wrinkling and pilling, multiple sheens, and color options.
Since MicroModal is soft, breathable, comfortable, and durable, it's a great material for everyday clothing, as well as sportswear.
However, MicroModal fabrics don't resist high temperatures. They have low thermal stability and will lose longevity when exposed directly to UV and sunlight.
MicroModal fabric advantages and disadvantages
Here are some of the best advantages of Lenzing MicroModal fabrics:
- Easy to wash
- High comfort and softness
- A luxurious look and hand feel
- Good elasticity
- Good tensile strength
- Good resilience
- Good durability
- Good pilling resistance
- Good wrinkle resistance
- Moth and fungus resistance
The main drawbacks of using Lenzing MicroModal fibers are:
- Low chemical protection
- Low heat resistance
- Low thermal stability
- Low abrasion resistance
- Low resistance to UV and sunlight
Lenzing MicroModal fabrics certifications
Some of the best certification standards for textiles apply to Lenzing MicroModal fabric.
Standards for textiles are important to ensure that each piece of clothing has been produced in sustainable processes under environmentally friendly and socially responsible working conditions.
They guarantee that fabrics have been manufactured with the least possible impact on people, the environment, the animals, and with responsible use of resources.
Lenzing MicroModal is a certified biobased fiber under the BioPreferred designation of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It's also certified with the internationally recognized EU Ecolabel and Oeko-Tex standard.
The fibers are compostable and biodegradable under industrial, home, soil, and marine conditions, as certified by the Belgium certification company Vinçotte.
Lenzing uses wood and pulp that comes from natural forests and sustainably managed plantations. Lenzing MicroModal fabric is available PEFC or FSC certified.
The BioPreferred Program managed by the USDA aims to increase the purchase and use of biobased products. It was created in 2002 to promote economic development, create jobs, and provide new markets for farm commodities.
The BioPreferred Program wants to limit reliance on petroleum and increase the use of renewable agricultural resources. It offers a voluntary labeling initiative to companies manufacturing biobased products.
The USDA certified biobased label makes it easy for consumers to identify biobased products. It ensures that products contain a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients.
The EU Ecolabel (EC Regulation n. 66/2010) is a reference for consumers who want to help reduce pollution by buying more environmentally friendly products.
It's a trademark of the European Union that certifies environmental quality and ecological performance. The standard is awarded to products and services that have a lower environmental impact than comparable products.
The EU Ecolabel makes it easier for consumers to choose high-quality, environmentally friendly, and healthier products. It certifies that the product has a low impact on the environment throughout its entire lifespan.
The Oeko-Tex certification is one of the world's best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. It certifies high product safety and is widely used in the global apparel and footwear industry.
The Oeko-Tex certification guarantees that products are harmless to the human environment. It takes into account many regulated and non-regulated substances, which may be harmful to human health.
The Oeko-Tex certification also ensures in some cases that textile products have been manufactured in sustainable processes under environmentally friendly and socially responsible working conditions.
Oeko-Tex is a widely recognized textile standard around the globe. It's a great label ensuring the safety of fabrics, clothing, garments, accessories, and more.
If a textile product bears the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex certification, customers can be sure that all components, zips, studs, threads, labels, prints, buttons, and other accessories have been tested for harmful substances.
All textile articles in every stage of processing can be certified Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex. The certification applies to every single component and ingredient before the final article.
Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex takes into account many regulated and non-regulated substances potentially harmful to human health. The test criteria are globally standardized.
Textile production is often responsible for massive deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, and carbon emissions.
Sustainable forest management is necessary to improve the eco-friendliness of man-made cellulosic fibers.
Founded in 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international member-led organization that sets the FSC standards for responsible forest management and chain of custody.
The FSC is currently working with key players in the industry to achieve complete certified textile supply chains to allow FSC labels on apparel.
FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that benefits the lives of local people and workers and preserves biological diversity while ensuring it sustains economic viability.
Any forest operation must adhere to ten principles before it can receive FSC forest management certification. These principles have been developed to be relevant to all kinds of forest ecosystems and applicable worldwide.
They ensure the monitoring of forest management environmental and social impacts, as well as high conservation values to community relations and workers’ rights.
PEFC international standards are another certification for sustainable forest management. Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization providing third-party certification.
FSC forest management certification is often too expensive for small forest owners. They choose the PEFC certification system as it differs in the way inspections are carried.
PEFC aims to save forests for the future and protect them against destruction. The organization is composed of various stakeholders, including industry associations, trade unions, nature, and environmental organizations.
FSC is the more common certification, but both are reputable and very similar. Some forests carry both FSC and PEFC forest management certifications.
How to care for Lenzing MicroModal fabrics
Taking good care of your clothes is one of the best ways to live more sustainably and ensure that they last longer. Give special attention to Lenzing MicroModal fabrics, as they are delicate and easily melt.
Extend the life of your clothes and the time you can wear them by taking good care of them and avoiding common mistakes. You can limit pressure on natural resources, reduces waste, pollution, and emissions.
Before washing MicroModal fabrics, read the care instructions that can be found on the care tag. This way, you can easily determine if the MicroModal fabric is washable.
The washing instructions may vary depending on the fabric’s blend. Pure MicroModal fabrics generally need to be hand washed. Cleanse and rinse MicroModal fibers in cold water.
Semi-synthetic MicroModal fabrics made with blends of MicroModal with other fibers are usually easier to wash. They can be washed in the washing machine on the cool wash setting.
To save water, energy, and preserve the quality of your garment, it's best to wash clothes made of MicroModal in cold temperatures. It saves energy and prevents fabrics from melting.
You can place Lenzing MicroModal fabrics in the washing machine but with a temperature lower than 40 degrees Celcius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Don't use any chlorine-based or strong detergent and use a gentle cycle to avoid high spin speeds. Make sure the washing speed doesn't exceed 600 revolutions per minute. Otherwise, MicroModal fabrics may become very creased.
To avoid dye bleeding, make sure to soak the fabric for the least amount of time.
The more sustainable way of drying your clothes is to hang them to dry.
Do not dry MicroModal fabrics in a tumble drier. They have very low thermal resistance and will melt under high temperatures.
Place them on a line in fresh air rather than using a dryer. It preserves the quality of your garments and saves an enormous amount of energy, carbon emissions, and money.
You can also lay the fabric down on a towel for a while, then flip it over. Or you can hang it up on a hanger to help it dry naturally.
Iron your clothes only when it's necessary. If you decide to iron MicroModal fabrics or MicroModal blends, select the lowest temperature possible to prevent any damage.
Iron the fabric through a damp cloth if possible. Lenzing MicroModal fibers can easily melt and too much ironing will eventually damage the fabric.
MicroModal doesn't resist chemicals very well. Keep chemical-based glues, perfume, and nail polish remover, and alcohol-based solvents far away from clothes made of modal textiles.
Don't use acetone or organic solvents to remove stains either. They will dissolve MicroModal fibers and cause irreversible damage to the garment.
Are Lenzing MicroModal fabrics sustainable?
Like modal, MicroModal production involves toxic solvents. In Europe and the United States, environmental regulations have made MicroModal production more expensive than it used to be.
The global non-profit organization Canopy reports that modal fiber production is associated with massive deforestation and isn't eco-friendly in many cases.
However, Lenzing MicroModal is arguably the most sustainable modal fiber. But many modal fibers on the market are less transparent. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Out of Fashion campaign is actively working to stop rainforest destruction and human rights abuses.
Many modal fabrics come from logging in tropical rainforest areas. Every year, 120 million trees are logged for fabrics including rayon, viscose, modal, and other trademarked textiles.
If the trend continues, deforestation due to man-made cellulosic fiber production could double by 2025, as stated in Canopy's Hot Button Report.
Even if cellulose comes from natural renewable materials unlike petroleum-based fibers, modal production can be very polluting and wasteful.
Modal production in poorly regulated facilities not only damages the nearby environment but also endangers workers' health. Acids and other toxic chemicals can easily leak into waterways and pollute water sources.
Manufacturing fabrics from plants or wood requires heavy processing. A lot of modal fabrics are created with chemically-intensive processes harmful to people and the environment.
MicroModal production requires a lot of energy, water, and toxic chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide or caustic soda, carbon disulfide, sulfuric acid, and more.
Unless chemicals are handled carefully, workers can be seriously harmed by most chemicals used in MicroModal manufacturing.
They are highly corrosive substances that severely burn the skin and eyes. They irritate the nose and throat, harm the nervous system, and cause severe lung damage at high concentrations.
Through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation, these highly dangerous substances can lead to dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, nausea, and headaches.
Luckily, Lenzing produces MicroModal under an environmentally friendly process. During production, up to 95% of the chemicals used are recycled.
However, MicroModal fibers contribute to microfiber pollution that escapes through our plumbing and sewage systems.
A study published in 2011 by the American Chemical Society reveals that man-made cellulosic fibers account for an important share of microfiber pollution.
Microfibers facilitate the transfer of pollutants, monomers, and additives to organisms with uncertain consequences for their health.
The water expelled from our washing machines transports these fibers to rivers, lakes, and oceans. The amount of microfibers entering the world's oceans is increasing at an alarming rate.
Because of the various processing stages during MicroModal production, MicroModal fibers can take between a few weeks to a few years to biodegrade depending on the environmental conditions.
Cellulose biodegrades quickly under six weeks with optimal soil moisture of -33 kPa and soil temperature of approximately 25 ºC, as pointed out by recent research.
However, researchers also report that the more fabrics are treated, the slower they decompose. And a lot of semi-synthetic fabrics like MicroModal receive heavy treatments to make them softer, stronger, and elastic.
Sustainable alternatives to Lenzing MicroModal
Making MicroModal fabric in highly regulated and sustainable production facilities could improve its eco-friendliness.
The MicroModal manufacturing process developed by Lenzing involves high recovery rates of chemicals. It reduces wastewater and air emissions significantly.
A better alternative to MicroModal fabric is lyocell. Tencel, a very popular brand of lyocell, is an environmentally friendly cellulosic fiber produced sustainably.
Tencel lyocell is made of cellulose from wood pulp like Lenzing MicroModal fabrics. It's a semi-synthetic fiber made from renewable materials.
Lyocell isn't natural but its impact on the environment is very low compared to other synthetic fibers. It's the third generation of cellulosic fibers after modal and viscose rayon.
Lyocell is even more eco-friendly than Lenzing MicroModal and Modal because lyocell production doesn't require sodium hydroxide used in MicroModal manufacturing.
And closed-loop processes can almost fully recover and reuse all water and chemicals used during the manufacturing of lyocell.
Lenzing has developed an environmentally responsible closed-loop production process that transforms wood pulp into Tencel Lyocell with high resource efficiency and low environmental impact.
This solvent-spinning process recycles process water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.
The main ingredients used in lyocell fabrication are N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO) and water. NMMO, also commonly called amine oxide, is considered non-toxic and is easily regenerated.
Lyocell is extremely soft, breathable, lightweight, durable, anti-bacterial, and remains odor-free much longer than cotton.
Lyocell is arguably the most environmentally friendly cellulosic fiber. It's usually made from beech trees, pine trees, or eucalyptus. But it can also be produced out of bamboo, soy, seaweed, or coconut.
Seacell by Smartfiber is another Lyocell brand worth mentioning. It reduces the environmental impact of textiles by using sustainable dried seaweed.
Ethical clothing brands using lyocell
Many sustainable fashion brands now use lyocell in their new collections.
They design, manufacture, and market high-quality clothing made of environmentally friendly materials such as Tencel lyocell.
But sustainable fashion isn't only about material sourcing. It's also important that brands and retailers guarantee substantially fair, ecological, and resource-efficient manufacturing conditions.
Here are some sustainable fashion brands that produce eco-friendly clothing from Tencel lyocell:
- Thought, a clothing brand making classic shirts and dresses from natural and sustainable fabrics.
- Reformation, a fashion label making sustainable women's clothing and accessories.
- Everlane, a transparent brand offering modern and beautiful essentials, at the best factories, without traditional markups.
- prAna, an outdoor brand that creates clothing for positive change, to inspire new generations to thrive and stay active.
- Patagonia, an industry leader in ethical and sustainable active and outerwear.
- People Tree, a fair trade fashion pioneer, and online garment retailer making clothes from environmentally-friendly materials.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.