Modal is a processed bio-based textile made from reconstituted cellulose from the beech tree. It is very soft and popular for both clothing and household textiles such as bedding, upholstery, and towels. The textile may be used on its own or in a blend with cotton, spandex, or other textiles. In many ways, it acts like cotton, but it also has some significant advantages over that fiber.
Considered a type of rayon, modal is made only from beechwood fibers. Most other rayons are made of the wood pulp of a number of different trees. It is considered bio-based rather than natural because, though the raw materials used to make it are natural, they are heavily processed using a number of chemicals.
Like other types of rayon, which were originally marketed as "artificial silk," modal is soft, smooth and breathes well. Its texture is similar to that of cotton or silk, and it's cool to the touch and very absorbent. Like cotton, this textile dyes easily and becomes color-fast after submersion in warm water.
One of the advantages of modal over cotton is its resistance to shrinkage, a notorious problem with cotton. It is also less likely to fade or to form pills as a result of friction. The smoothness of the fabric also makes hard water deposits less likely to adhere to the surface, so it stays soft through repeated washings.
Modal drapes well and keeps its shape, even when wet. In order to keep them looking best, items should usually be ironed after washing. This may not be necessary for fabric blends, however.
First developed by the Austria Lenzing company, who trademarked the fabric's name, modal is now made by many manufacturers. The textile has particularly taken off in Indian companies. In the United States, it is most often seen in bed sheets, towels, and robes, but it is slowly gaining ground as a clothing material as well. In Europe, where the fabric originated, it is already widely used in clothing as a replacement for cotton.