Modal fabric has become quite popular in recent years, and for a good reason. Modal is lightweight, soft, absorbent, and it is also a plant-derived fiber. So why not just use it in place of cotton?
What is the difference between modal fabric and cotton? Modal fabric is stronger and softer than cotton. It also doesn’t wrinkle easily. However, cotton is far more breathable and better suited for summer wear. It also tends to be less expensive than modal.
In this article, let’s find out the key differences between modal and cotton fabric to see how they’re similar and why some people like one better than the other.
What Is Modal Fabric?
Originally developed in Japan during the 1950s, modal is now being popularized through a trademark of the Austrian company Lenzing AG.
This revolutionary new textile is an eco-friendly option for our clothes as well as homeware. This material is made from the pulp of the beech tree, which is then treated through various processes to become very soft and kind to the skin.
Modal is considered an eco-friendly alternative to cotton due to the beech tree’s low water consumption. Production of cotton usually consumes about 20 times more water than producing a similar piece of modal fabric.
Similar to other natural and plant-based fibers, modal is very durable and flexible. It is often blended with other fibers for added strength and flexibility, such as cotton, nylon, or spandex.
Even though it’s plant-derived, the process of making modal fabric involves soaking it in chemicals to enhance the material’s softness and durability. Many people argue that this makes it a semi-synthetic fabric, similar to rayon.
Due to its soft feel and high cost, modal is considered a luxury textile. Lenzing has also released lighter versions of its material known as MicroModal and Modal Air. These fabrics are made from finer fibers and are considered even more luxurious than regular modal fabric.
Benefits Of Modal Fabric
Modal is a luxury textile that is commonly used in cotton or synthetic blends to create a high-end feel. Eco-conscious designers love this fabric because it has many desirable benefits from natural fabrics without damaging the environment.
Breathability and softness are two benefits of modal fabric that make it a great choice for underwear and intimates. This material is breathable, soft, and has unique draping qualities which allow it to mold to the body for a great fit.
Another benefit of modal fabric is that it’s very absorbent. Compared to cotton, modal fabric absorbs moisture up to 50% faster. This means that you stay dry even when you’re exercising or sweating, making this fabric great for sportswear.
Modal fabric is also durable, resists pilling and wrinkles, so it can be washed and air-dried without ironing. Because modal fabric doesn’t shrink or wrinkle, it helps your clothing stay its original size and shape longer than other fabrics.
Modal fabric is eco-friendly because the material comes from sustainably grown crops and requires less water, energy, and chemicals to produce. Modal fabric also degrades more quickly than cotton, which means it won’t clog up in landfills and damage the environment after it’s discarded.
How To Care For Modal Clothes
Although modal is a sensitive fabric, it can be washed in the washing machine and tumble dried. However, to keep your modal clothes looking as good as new, you should follow a few basic rules when caring for modal fabric.
You should wash your modal clothes separately from other fabrics to minimize bleeding of colors. Use warm water when washing your modal clothes in the washing machine. Hot water may ruin the fabric of your clothes.
Always turn your clothes inside out before washing them to avoid unwanted snags that can occur while they are being washed and rinsed by the machine agitator or by the tumbling motion of the dryer drum.
Wash your modal clothing with a mild detergent when washing by hand or in the washing machine. Mild detergents will not destroy the fibers in your clothing or cause damage to the fabric.
Remember to use cold water when hand-washing and dry without using heat to keep the fabric fresh and new.
Cotton Vs. Modal Fabric
Cotton and modal are both fabrics made from plant fibers, but the similarities pretty much stop there. The main difference between modal and cotton is that the former is more durable and is softer, while the latter is more breathable and warmer.
Both fabrics are considered eco-friendly because they each require significantly less water for production than other popular natural fibers, such as wool or silk.
Cotton fibers are fluffier than modal fibers, so they’re heavier and warmer to wear in colder climates; this quality gives them an edge in areas with mild winters but hot summers.
Modal’s thinner fibers allow it to wick moisture away from your skin faster than cotton does, making modal fabric cooler to wear in warm climates.
But, if you want to get into the details, these two types of fabrics are very different. Let’s take a look at each aspect below:
Most types of modal fabric are silkier and softer than regular cotton, but cotton comes in a wide range as well. You can find luxury cotton such as Pima and Egyptian that may have softer textures and a more luxurious appearance.
In comparison, the softness of modal fabric doesn’t vary much. Its chemical processes make it incredibly soft, but there’s not a lot of ways that you can alter the fibers to make the fabric even softer than it is. The weaving style of modal is the main thing that affects the fabric’s texture.
A durable fabric is one that can endure wear and washing for a long time without tearing. In terms of durability, modal is definitely stronger than cotton and can handle a lot before breaking down.
Because of its chemical composition, modal fabric can stay vibrant even after washing and won’t bleed as cotton does. It also resists pilling.
In comparison, cotton can become softer and fade the more you use and wash it. In addition, cotton can shrink and pill in the wash, so it won’t look great after a few washes.
Modal fabric has good moisture-wicking properties, while cotton tends to absorb liquid rather than wick it away.
That’s not to say that modal isn’t moisture-absorbing. This super-absorbent material can even absorb more moisture than cotton. It has invisible micropores that are capable of soaking up moisture at a fast rate.
After absorbing moisture, modal fabric can balance the moisture to allow liquid to escape and enter the air, which means that it also dries faster than cotton. This is why modal fabric is often the preferred option for bedding and athletic wear.
As a natural fabric, cotton is far more breathable than other fabrics, including modal fabric. Modal fabric is still considered a semi-synthetic fabric that is less breathable than cotton.
However, modal fabric is more breathable than most polyester fabrics, but its semi-synthetic nature makes it feel more like plastic than cotton. A lot of modal fabrics have a tight weave that allows for less airflow, which can also contribute to the lack of breathability.
If you are looking for warmth during the winter months, modal fabric won’t be able to do you any favor. This is because this fabric is naturally cooling, so it won’t be able to trap heat inside your body.
In comparison, cotton does a much better job of insulating your body, and since it’s quite friendly to the skin, you can use cotton undershirts and leggings to keep you warm during the winter months.
Although cotton is a natural fabric, and when you think ‘natural,’ you may believe that cotton is more friendly to the environment. However, in reality, sustainability is one of the key selling points for modal fabric.
Modal fabric uses less toxic chemicals and is more water-efficient than the production of cotton. Because this fabric is more durable than cotton, it can stay useful for longer than cotton, which means you don’t have to replace it very often. When you discard modal, it’s also biodegradable and won’t harm the environment in the process.
In comparison, the production of cotton consumes 20 times more water, and the water used during the cotton manufacturing process is toxic. It goes back into the environment after being filled with dangerous chemicals, so it’s definitely harmful if the manufacturer isn’t producing the fabric in an ethical, sustainable way.
Due to the time needed to grow and harvest cotton, its manufacturing costs are high. However, the complex nature of manufacturing modal fabric makes the cost of modal fabric even higher!
However, the price difference is probably only a few dollars for the same garment, so even though modal fabric tends to be more expensive, it’s not considered as luxurious as Egyptian cotton, for example.
Modal fabric is also a wiser investment compared to cotton. Because modal fabric is very durable, it can sustain more wear and tear, and you don’t have to replace it very often, so in the long run, modal is actually less costly than cotton!
Cotton is known for being low-maintenance, but modal is even better.
One of the biggest weaknesses of cotton is that it tends to shrink in the washer and dryer, especially after the first wash. Cotton also doesn’t hold dye very well, so the colors can bleed in the wash.
On the other hand, modal fabric is very easy to care for, it doesn’t fade or shrink in the wash, and it’s even wrinkle-resistant, so you don’t even have to iron it to keep it looking new!
Modal Vs. Cotton: Common Uses
Cotton and modal are commonly used in the production of various products such as t-shirts, underwear, and sportswear. Cotton blends or modal blends also make great household items.
Let’s take a look at some great examples below.
Modal fabric and cotton are regular materials for fashion clothing as well as athletic wear. There’s also a luxury form of modal fabric called Lyocell, which you can find in a lot of designer clothing.
For garments in a similar price range, modal fabric feels softer and more luxurious than cotton, although you will likely have to pay a few more bucks for a fashion item made of modal fabric.
Athletic wear is an area where your investment in modal fabric really pays off. Because this fabric is lightweight, durable, and can quickly wick away moisture to keep you fresh and energized, it’s definitely a strong assistant during your long workout sessions.
High-end retailers are known to sell undergarments made from modal fabric, which is considered more of a luxurious textile. This fabric is also used to make trendy underwear for both men and women.
It is lightweight and feels soft against the skin, plus its luxurious feel is definitely unmatched by cotton.
However, modal fabric isn’t very breathable. You will find that long hours of wearing modal underwear, especially when you do strenuous activities like exercising, can get very stuffy. So, cotton underwear is the best option for those types of activities!
Modal makes a more comfortable set of pajamas that’s softer and more drapey than cotton. It has a satiny feel to it, making it feel silky and luxurious (without having to pay the price of silk).
However, even though cotton is more inexpensive, it’s still a strong option for pajama fabric, especially during winter nights. While modal fabric has a cooling effect, cotton can really insulate your body and keep you snuggly and warm!
Cotton is also more breathable than modal fabric, so it can keep you warm without feeling too stuffy, making your bed feel cozy and comfortable!
Modal sheets are typically higher-end than cotton ones and are considered better quality. That said, if you want to spend the night in luxury, investing in Egyptian cotton sheets is still far superior to modal sheets.
Modal fabric has a luxurious texture that is similar to silk, which is perfect for summer nights. On the other hand, cotton is good for all seasons – it can cool you down and make your bed comfortable and breathable during both hot summer nights and chilly winter evenings!
Due to its high absorbency, modal is becoming more popular in the bath towel market. Since it is a very durable fabric that can handle being washed very often, it can feel luxurious against your skin after some use.
On the other hand, cotton is still the primary choice when it comes to towels. You can get the best of both worlds by purchasing towels that are a blend of cotton and modal. These towels will feature the natural absorbency of both fabrics, while the soft fibers of modal will provide a luxurious feel for your bath.
Cotton socks can really make you comfortable because it absorbs moisture and feels very breathable, which is just what you need when it comes to keeping the stink away from your feet!
That said, modal socks can look white luxurious, and expensive, which makes them great for special occasions and events when you need to dress up.
Is Modal Better Than Cotton?
The answer to this question depends on your needs.
Modal fabrics are strong and durable. They don’t wrinkle easily, and they can last for years without losing their shape. They are also resistant to tearing and fading. The fibers are more elastic than cotton fibers, which allow the fabric to recover from stress and strain.
Modal is softer than cotton, and it doesn’t irritate the skin as some fabrics do. It’s also very comfortable to wear. However, modal is less breathable than cotton, which means that if you sweat or get overheated, you might feel uncomfortable in it. Modal fabric is also usually more expensive than cotton.
So is modal better than cotton? If you’re looking for comfort and durability, then modal is a great choice, but if you want comfort and affordability at the same time, then cotton would be a better option.
Up Next: Tightest Woven Cotton Fabrics