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Part 3: Modal is really, really soft
How to take a tree and turn it one of the softest materials on the market
Jul 3rd, 2020 | 3 min read

Introduction to modal

Seriously. It's made from trees. No, not like cotton trees where the cotton just blows in the wind. We're talking about literally chopping down a tree, grinding it up into wood pulp, adding a few chemicals, and voila, a new kind of fiber is born. This is very similar to how rayon is made -- rayon was actually made first and modal is considered a type of rayon. The difference is that modal is made specifically from beech trees, and processed under slightly different conditions. This ends up giving some unique properties that makes it superior to rayon, such as its incredible softness and added strength. It is stronger when wet, resistant to shrinkage, and maintains its shape incredibly well. If you haven't yet gotten your hands on modal, get your hands on modal. It is said to be 3 times softer than cotton, and anyone who has experienced modal can confirm this. I've easily given it a 10/10 for softness. 

How modal is commonly used

Modal is used in underwear, shirts, scarves, towels, bed linens and bathrobes. Underwear is the main use for modal, often considered a luxurious choice due to its silky feel and softness. Modal underwear is sometimes made with MicroModal, which is Modal made with finer fibres to be even softer. Modal is very often blended with other materials, such as cotton or elastane. 

Highlights and Strengths

  • Incredible softness
  • Drapes well for a nice look
  • Odour-resistant
  • Breathable
  • Easy care
  • High water retention to keep you dry

Weaknesses

  • Slow to dry 

Score Breakdown

Anti-Odour: 9/10. Modal is very odour-resistant, which in practice surprised me more than expected. As I often pack light, I wore the same modal shirt 3 days in a row without collecting any noticeable odour. I only had to toss it in the wash after I splashed some ramen on it. It's not quite as good as wool as an another material I'll be writing about soon, but right up there in second place. 

Breathability: 9/10. Extremely breathable, which makes it comfortable to wear in most climates.

Durability: 9/10. Modal is resistant to fading and resistant to forming pills as a result of friction. It does not shrink in the wash and maintains its softness after repeated washing. Modal improves on rayon by being stronger when wet, which was one of rayon's big weaknesses.

Stretchability: 9/10. Unlike nylon which has a high breaking extension but does not necessarily feel stretchy, modal feels like it has some stretch to it and never feels like it's limiting your motion. Modal's breaking extension is up to 14% when dry and 20% when wet, meaning that's how much it can be stretched before breaking any fibers. 

Moisture-wicking: 9/10. Modal wicks up moisture quickly, keeping you dry. However, it does not dry very quickly, so do not expect it to make the best activewear material or in any conditions where you expect to sweat a lot.

Weight and Packability: 6/10. While not ultrathin or ultralight like nylon is, modal is still an improvement over rayon in lightness. However it is overall average in this respect. Some may call it "light", but overall it is neither on the light spectrum where polyester or nylon lie, nor on the heavier side of the spectrum where you'll find leather or knitted wool. I put it slightly toward the lighter side of the spectrum.

Wrinkle-prevention: 9/10. Modal is resistant to wrinkles. The majority of wrinkles that are formed will come out quickly with a bit of wear

Softness: 10/10. This is modal's ultimate distinction. It is incredibly soft, said to be 3x softer than cotton. MicroModal is even softer, usually only found in underwear, but Modal itself is soft enough to merit a 10/10 score. 

Ease of care: 10/10. Always follow the instructions on your specific garment. Modal is resistant to shrinking and generally low-maintenance, requiring basic washing and drying. It will remain smooth through repeated washes. However, avoid using chlorine bleach with modal. 

Water Retention: 9/10. Modal is more water-absorbent than cotton, potentially up to 50% more water absorbent, so it'll absorb more water before you feel clammy or wet if you're sweating. In underwear, it is notorious for keeping the environment down there moisture-free, so definitely effective in this category. 

Drying Speed: 4/10. Modal is slow to dry, similar to cotton. Although water retention is high, if you do get sweaty enough, you're gonna feel it on your skin for some time, which is obviously uncomfortable. This should not be an issue with regular wear, but modal may not your ideal item on-the-go if you expect sweaty conditions.

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This article was written by Materials Nerd.
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