Micromodal Fabric: Characteristics, Production, and Origins

micromodal fabric

What Exactly Is Micromodal Fabric?

Micromodal fabric is a specialized form of modal rayon known for its incredible softness and resistance to shrinkage. Its excellent moisture-wicking abilities make it a popular choice for underwear and sportswear.

Micromodal fabric is made from cellulose derived from hardwood trees, which undergoes a complex chemical process to transform it into yarn. This yarn can then be woven into fabric. Developed in Austria in the 1990s, micromodal fabric builds on the invention of modal rayon, which originated in Japan in the early 1950s.

Modal rayon was a significant improvement over viscose rayon, the leading semi-synthetic fabric in the early 20th century. Viscose rayon production was inefficient and wasteful. Although the production process for modal rayon is similar, it eliminates several time-consuming and wasteful steps. As a result, most rayon manufacturers today prefer modal rayon over viscose rayon.

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Despite its flaws, viscose rayon was the first cellulose-based semi-synthetic fiber produced in large quantities worldwide, representing a significant advancement over earlier, more flammable, or hard-to-produce types of rayon. The rayon production process continues to evolve, hinting that an even superior fabric to micromodal rayon might eventually be developed.

The creation processes for modal rayon and micromodal fabric are nearly identical, with the primary difference being the fiber size. Micromodal fibers are so fine they can be woven into a fabric with a texture similar to silk; some consumers even find it softer than real silk.

Environmental concerns associated with most rayon or cellulose-derived fabrics are minimal for micromodal. Its eco-friendly reputation stems from its homogeneity; only one company produces micromodal fabric, and it is exclusively manufactured in developed countries, unlike many other synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics.

However, the production of micromodal fabric still involves potentially hazardous chemicals, similar to other forms of rayon. Therefore, claims of complete sustainability and eco-friendliness might be somewhat overstated. Nevertheless, micromodal rayon represents the pinnacle of current rayon production, and most consumers agree that it is one of the softest and most versatile semi-synthetic fabrics available.

How Is Micromodal Fabric Produced

The micromodal rayon production process is almost identical to that of modal rayon, with the primary difference being the finer size of the fibers produced.

First, birch or oak trees are chipped and delivered to a micromodal fabric factory, where a chemical solution extracts the cellulose from the wood. This cellulose is then pressed into large, white sheets, while the remaining wood parts are discarded.

Next, the cellulose sheets are soaked in caustic soda for a significant period. Unlike viscose fabric, the production of modal and micromodal uses a lower concentration of caustic soda. After steeping, the cellulose sheets are broken into crumbs and treated with carbon disulfide, transforming the cellulose into sodium cellulose xanthate, which is no longer an organic substance.

The sodium cellulose xanthate is then soaked in caustic soda again, forming a syrupy solution. This solution is extruded through a spinneret, a device with many tiny holes, which are significantly smaller for micromodal than for modal fabric.

Finally, the resulting fibers are soaked in sulfuric acid, stretched, and spun into yarn. Once washed and loaded onto spools, this yarn is ready for weaving.

How Micromodal Fabric is Utilized

Micromodal rayon is versatile enough for any application where modal fabric is used. Although it’s slightly thinner than modal rayon, it is just as easy to shape into various garments and household textiles. However, due to its higher production cost, micromodal is typically reserved for items where maximum softness is desired.

Lenzing AG’s micromodal rayon first gained acclaim in men’s underwear for its lightness, softness, and breathability, quickly becoming a favorite among underwear enthusiasts. Manufacturers soon began using it in women’s underwear, expanding its use to lingerie items like panties, bras, and nightgowns.

While micromodal retains less heat and is slightly less durable than modal fabric, its moisture-wicking properties make it popular with bikers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who often wear micromodal T-shirts. However, it is not as widely used in sportswear as modal.

Micromodal rayon is also highly sought after for bed sheets due to its superior softness and lightness. Consumers often compare sleeping on micromodal sheets to sleeping on silk. Unlike silk, micromodal offers antibacterial properties, high durability, and a relatively low cost, making it an excellent choice for bedding.

Regarded as the cashmere of semi-synthetic fabrics, micromodal rayon is frequently used in luxury apparel, including comfortable loungewear such as loose-fitting hoodies and pajama pants.

Where Is Micromodal Fabric Produced?

Micromodal fabric is exclusively manufactured within the European Union. While this fabric may be exported to countries like India, China, and Korea for garment and textile production, no production facilities outside of Europe manufacture this ultra-soft fabric.

Lenzing AG is the sole producer of micromodal fabric, operating under its Lenzing Modal subsidiary. While many manufacturers produce standard modal fabric, Lenzing’s exclusive production of micromodal ensures that textile producers receive high-quality and environmentally sustainable raw materials.

Consumers should exercise caution with modal fabrics claiming to be micromodal if produced overseas. To ensure authenticity, it is essential to verify that the fabric was manufactured by Lenzing AG.

What is the Price of Micromodal Fabric?

At wholesale, micromodal fabric generally fetches a noticeably higher price than standard modal rayon. Typically, this superior rayon can cost 20-30 percent more per volume than its standard counterpart. This places micromodal rayon in a pricing tier similar to Egyptian cotton and other semi-luxurious textiles.

The increased cost can sometimes be absorbed during the production of consumer textile goods. Many companies specializing in micromodal fabric already target luxury markets, so their products made from this material often carry price tags comparable to their organic or fully synthetic alternatives.

What Varieties of Micromodal Fabric Exist?

There’s just one type of micromodal fabric. To understand its uniqueness among other rayon textiles, it’s essential to explore their distinctions:

Viscose rayon: This rayon type emerged in the early 20th century, gaining popularity worldwide for its simple production process and durability. Despite improvements over earlier rayon versions, its manufacturing remained inefficient and labor-intensive. Consequently, most producers transitioned to modal rayon, viewed as a direct evolution.

Modal rayon: Invented in Japan in 1951, modal rayon transformed rayon manufacturing by simplifying the process. It boasts superior softness compared to viscose rayon, positioning it as a viable alternative to silk. Today, modal rayon is extensively used in sportswear, underwear, and various household textiles.

Lyocell (Tencel): Primarily manufactured by Lenzing AG, lyocell (marketed as Tencel) stands out as the only organic rayon type. Unlike other rayons, lyocell undergoes a chemical-free production process, maintaining the chemical structure of pure wood cellulose. While incredibly soft, lyocell lacks the luxurious feel of modal or micromodal rayon and is often likened more to cotton than silk.

What Environmental Impact Does Micromodal Fabric Have?

As the sole producer of micromodal fabric, Lenzing AG ensures it stands among the most environmentally-friendly forms of rayon. Despite global concerns about unsustainable forestry practices affecting ethically-produced rayon fabrics, Lenzing addresses these by sustainably sourcing wood cellulose.

However, a significant portion of the tree material used in micromodal and other rayon production becomes waste. Depending on the manufacturing process, this leftover wood material may contain sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda or lye, which is highly toxic if exposed to skin or ingested. It remains unclear whether Lenzing takes adequate precautions to prevent its environmental release during micromodal production.

Additionally, micromodal fabric production lacks a closed-loop system, resulting in the disposal of carbon disulfide with each fabric batch. While micromodal fabric is exclusively manufactured in the European Union under stringent environmental regulations, mishandling of carbon disulfide could pose serious health risks to local wildlife and nearby human populations if released into the air or water.

Micromodal Fabric: Characteristics, Production, and Origins
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