Lenzing Modal fabric is often used in the fashion industry to make affordable clothing. It's an eco-friendly material, even if more healthy and sustainable alternatives exist.
Modal fabric has a very soft hand feel and luxurious appearance. Lenzing produces Modal from natural and renewable raw materials, cellulose filaments made of wood pulp extracted from trees.
Many people don't know the truth about Modal and the impact of its production. Apparel brands market Modal as an eco-friendly material, but it isn't always the best for your skin and the planet.
Although made from a natural and renewable raw material, wood pulp, Modal is a semi-synthetic or chemical fiber textile. The main advantages of Lenzing Modal compared to natural fibers such as cotton are low costs and water requirements.
Here is everything you need to know about Lenzing Modal fabric, its uses, manufacturing, properties, downsides, environmental impact, and sustainable alternatives.
In this article:
- What is Lenzing Modal?
- Lenzing Modal fabric applications
- How does Lenzing produce Modal fibers?
- Lenzing Modal fabric properties
- Modal fabric advantages and disadvantages
- Lenzing Modal fabric certifications
- How to care for Lenzing Modal fabrics
- Is Lenzing Modal sustainable?
- Sustainable alternatives to Lenzing Modal
- Sustainable clothing brands using Tencel
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What is Lenzing Modal?
Modal is a cellulosic fiber in the family of rayon. It's considered a semi-synthetic material and is very cheap to produce.
Lenzing produces Modal fibers by solubilizing quality cellulose extracted from plants or wood. Tencel Modal is a material produced under strict environmental standards.
Japan discovered Modal first in 1951. However, the first commercial sale of Modal fabrics occurred in 1964 by the Austrian company Lenzing.
Modal is the second generation of cellulosic fibers. It's a modified version of viscose with higher tenacity. It's stronger when wet, more durable, and flexible.
But Modal is more expensive than viscose rayon or cotton. Its manufacturing process also uses more energy than processing natural fibers.
Lenzing is one of the most well-known manufacturers of Modal in the world. Some Modal fiber types produced by Lenzing include:
- Lenzing Modal Eco Soft
- Lenzing Modal Micro
- Lenzing Modal Eco Color
- Lenzing Modal Indigo Color
Lenzing Modal fabric applications
Lenzing Modal fabric is used in the fashion industry to produce clothing and accessories. It is smooth, sheen, and affordable. Modal resembles luxurious silk.
Modal fabrics make blouses, evening dresses, formal shirts, and knitwear. Many apparel brands use Modal to create sportswear, suits, coats, sweaters, pajamas, and undergarments.
You can also find Lenzing Modal in homeware, towels, drapes, bed sheets, curtains, furniture, upholstery, carpets, bathrobes, and home decor, like other soft and luxurious fabrics.
Cellulosic fibers like Tencel Modal have become very common and replace petroleum-based synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester.
The market for Lenzing Modal fabrics will slightly rise in the coming years. New apparel and home furnishing applications will develop, especially in China.
Garment manufacturers often use Tencel Modal with other fibers, such as polyester, nylon, cotton, wool, silk, spandex, and more to lower raw material costs.
Many fashion brands around the world choose Lenzing Modal fabrics to create affordable clothes. Modal makes cheap garments as the primary fiber content or a substantial part of the fiber composition.
How does Lenzing produce Modal fibers?
Lenzing invests heavily in Modal manufacturing processes to make them one of the most sustainable fibers in the textile industry.
Modal is made with certified and controlled wood sources such as beech wood and produced with significantly lower fossil energy use and water than generic cellulosic fibers such as viscose rayon.
Chemicals and water are required to condition wood pulp, treat and dissolve cellulose fibers, and wash the regenerated viscose fibers. However, during Tencel Modal production, Lenzing recycles up to 95% of the chemicals used.
Lenzing Modal fibers are derived from sustainable wood pulp and meet high environmental standards throughout their life cycle: from raw material extraction to production, distribution, and disposal.
Tencel Modal is manufactured by deconstructing wood pulp into a purified fluffy white cellulose using chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide, caustic soda, carbon disulfide, an acid catalyst, such as sulfuric acid, and more.
Wet spinning is the manufacturing process that dissolves polymers in a solvent in a large spin bath, washing, and drying rolls.
It uses spinnerets and extrusion through several thousand holes to transform the resulting viscous cellulosic solution into multiple continuous filaments of Modal fibers.
After being purified and extended to make long filaments, Modal fibers are ready to be spun into threads.
Making extended filaments is a crucial step in fiber production to create commercial textiles. They are many times longer than their original length to increase production efficiency and lower costs.
Once spun into yarn, Lenzing ships Modal fibers to textile manufacturers who weave them into various fabrics to create apparel and other applications.
Lenzing Modal fabric properties
Lenzing Modal is a unique material with unique properties. The fine fiber is comfortable, super soft, lightweight, breathable, durable, and feels like luxurious silk.
Tencel Modal fibers are very pleasant to the touch, water-absorbent, and dry quickly. And they are also resistant to moths and mildew.
Lenzing Modal fabrics drape and hang well. They have good resistance to wrinkling and pilling, multiple sheens, and color options.
Tencel Modal is flexible, breathable, easy-to-wear, and long-lasting. It makes ideal fabrics for everyday clothing, as well as sportswear and underwear.
However, Modal fabrics do not resist high temperatures. They have low thermal stability and will lose longevity when exposed directly to UV and sunlight.
Modal fabric advantages and disadvantages
Here are some of the best advantages of Lenzing Modal fabrics:
- 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
- Easy to wash
- Moth and fungus resistance
The main downsides of using Lenzing Modal fibers are:
- Low chemical protection
- Low resistance to UV and sunlight
- Low thermal stability
- Low heat resistance
- Low abrasion resistance
Lenzing Modal fabric certifications
Some of the best certification standards for textiles apply to Lenzing Modal fabric.
Textile standards are crucial to ensure that manufacturers use sustainable processes to produce fabrics under environmentally friendly and socially responsible conditions.
They guarantee that fabric production has the least possible impact on people, the environment, animals, and responsible resource usage.
Lenzing Modal is a certified biobased fiber under the BioPreferred designation of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Tencel Modal is also certified with the internationally recognized EU Ecolabel and Oeko-Tex standard.
Lenzing Modal fibers are biodegradable in natural and industrial environments, including soil, compost, fresh, and marine water.
Lenzing Modal received certifications of biodegradability conducted by the independent research laboratory Organic Waste Systems (OWS) and issued by TÜV Austria.
Lenzing uses wood and pulp that come from natural forests and sustainably managed plantations. Lenzing Modal 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 is a trademark of the European Union that certifies environmental quality and ecological performance. The standard rewards 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 best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. It certifies high product safety 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 that textile manufacturers use sustainable processes under environmentally friendly and socially responsible working conditions.
Oeko-Tex is a widely recognized textile standard around the globe. It is a great label ensuring the safety of fabrics, clothing, garments, accessories, and more.
Customers know that all components, zips, studs, threads, labels, prints, buttons, and other accessories are free from harmful substances if a textile product bears the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex certification.
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 product.
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 semi-synthetic 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.
The FSC forest management certification confirms forest management that benefits the lives of local people and workers. It also 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 are relevant to all kinds of forest ecosystems and applicable worldwide.
They reduce forest management environmental and social impacts. And they ensure 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 certifiers carry inspections differently.
PEFC aims to save forests for the future and protect them against destruction. Various stakeholders run the organization, 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 Modal fabrics
It is best to wash pure Lenzing Modal fabrics by hand with cold water at a temperature lower than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoid cleaning Modal in the washing machine.
Taking good care of your Modal clothes is one of the best ways to ensure that they last longer. Give special attention to Tencel Modal fabrics, as they do not resist high temperatures.
Before washing Modal fabrics, read the care instructions found on the care tag. This way, you can determine if the garment is washable. The washing instructions may vary depending on the fabric's blend.
Semi-synthetic fabrics made with blends of Modal with other fibers are usually easier to wash. You can put them in the washing machine with the cold wash setting.
Use a gentle cycle to avoid high spin speeds. Make sure the washing speed doesn't exceed 600 revolutions per minute. Otherwise, Tencel Modal fabrics may become very creased.
Do not use any chlorine-based or strong detergent when cleaning Lenzing Modal. Use a gentle and natural soap instead.
Do not dry Modal fabrics in a tumble dryer either. Since they have relatively low thermal resistance, the dryer reduces their durability and risk damaging the garments.
A more sustainable way of drying your Tencel Modal clothes is to hang them to dry. Place them on a line in fresh air rather than using a dryer. It preserves their quality and saves energy.
You can easily lay Lenzing Modal fabrics down on a towel for a while, then flip them over. Try to avoid hangers. Instead, place the garments on a flat surface to help them dry naturally.
Is Lenzing Modal sustainable?
Lenzing Modal production involves toxic solvents. In Europe and the United States, environmental regulations have made Modal production more expensive than it used to be.
The global non-profit organization Canopy reports that Modal production is associated with massive deforestation and isn't eco-friendly in many cases.
However, Lenzing Modal 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 works against rainforest destruction and human rights abuses.
Many Modal fabrics come from logging in tropical rainforest areas. Every year, manufacturers log 120 million trees to make fabrics such as rayon, viscose, Modal, and other trademarked textiles.
If the trend continues, deforestation due to cellulosic fiber production could double by 2025, as stated in Canopy's Hot Button Report.
Even if cellulose comes from natural renewable materials, 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. And producers create Modal with chemically-intensive processes harmful to people and the environment.
Modal production requires a lot of energy, water, and toxic chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide or caustic soda, carbon disulfide, sulfuric acid, and more.
Unless manufacturers commit to handling chemicals carefully, they can seriously harm workers.
Chemicals used for Modal production 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 dangerous substances can lead to dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, nausea, and headaches.
Thankfully, Lenzing produces Modal under an environmentally friendly process. During production, the company recycles up to 95% of the chemicals used.
However, Modal 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 semi-synthetic cellulosic fibers account for a large 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 Modal production, Lenzing Modal 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 receive treatments, the slower they decompose. And a lot of semi-synthetic textiles like Modal undergo heavy processing to make them softer, stronger, and elastic.
Sustainable alternatives to Lenzing Modal
Making Modal fabric in highly regulated and sustainable production facilities could improve its eco-friendliness.
The Modal manufacturing process developed by Lenzing involves high recovery rates of chemicals. It reduces wastewater and air emissions significantly.
A better alternative to Modal fabric remains lyocell. Tencel by Lenzing, a brand of lyocell, is an environmentally friendly cellulosic fiber produced sustainably.
Tencel Lyocell contains regenerated cellulose from wood pulp like Lenzing Modal fabrics. It's a semi-synthetic fiber made from renewable materials.
Lyocell isn't natural, but its impact on the environment is low compared to other synthetic fibers. It's the third generation of cellulosic fibers after modal and viscose rayon.
Tencel Lyocell is even more eco-friendly than Lenzing Modal because lyocell production doesn't require sodium hydroxide used in Modal manufacturing.
And closed-loop processes can almost fully recover and reuse all water and chemicals used during Tencel Lyocell manufacturing.
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 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 regenerated very easily.
Lyocell is super soft, breathable, lightweight, durable, and remains odor-free for a much bigger period than cotton.
Lyocell is arguably the most environmentally friendly semi-synthetic cellulosic fiber. Manufacturers make lyocell 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.
Sustainable clothing brands using Tencel
Many ethical fashion brands now use Tencel Lyocell for their new collections as one of the best environmentally friendly alternatives to Modal.
They design, manufacture, and market high-quality clothing made of green materials such as Tencel Lyocell, a certified wood-pulp fiber made into fabrics via sustainable methods.
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.
- Everlane, a transparent brand offering modern and beautiful essentials, at the best factories, without traditional markups.
- Reformation, a fashion label making sustainable women's clothing and accessories.
- 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.