Modal Fabric and Polyester: Guide to Composition, Breathability, Toxicity, And Sustainability

Introduction – Modal Fabric And Polyester

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability and reducing carbon emissions, consumers are seeking more eco-friendly options in all aspects of their lives, including textiles. Two popular materials that often come up in discussions are modal fabric and polyester. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two materials in terms of their composition, environmental impact, toxicity, breathability, and carbon emissions, providing you with the knowledge needed to make informed choices when purchasing textile products.

Modal and polyester fabrics are made from non-traditional fibers

Material Composition: Understanding Modal And Polyester

Modal fabric

Modal fabric is a type of rayon, a semi-synthetic fiber made from cellulose derived from beech tree pulp. The manufacturing process involves treating the pulp with chemicals to create a soft, silky, and absorbent material. Modal is often used in clothing and bedding due to its comfort and luxurious feel.


Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from petroleum byproducts. It is created through a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air, and water. Polyester is a popular material in the textile industry due to its durability, wrinkle resistance, and ability to retain its shape. It is commonly used in clothing, upholstery, and various other textile applications.

Relationship between Modal And Polyester: Are They The Same?

Although both modal and polyester are widely used in the textile industry, they are not the same material. Modal is a semi-synthetic fiber derived from natural sources, while polyester is a synthetic material made from nonrenewable resources. They also differ in terms of texture, feel, and overall performance, with modal being known for its softness and breathability, and polyester being valued for its durability and low cost.

Toxicity Concerns: Are Modal and Polyester Safe for You and the Environment?

Modal fabric

The production of modal fabric can have some negative environmental impacts, primarily due to the use of chemicals during the manufacturing process. However, many manufacturers have adopted more eco-friendly methods, such as using closed-loop systems to reduce water pollution and minimize waste. In terms of health risks, modal fabric is generally considered safe and hypoallergenic, with no known adverse effects.


The environmental impact of polyester production is more significant than that of modal, as it relies on nonrenewable resources like petroleum. Additionally, the manufacturing process releases harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Polyester is also non-biodegradable, contributing to the growing issue of microplastics in our oceans. However, some companies have started using recycled polyester, which helps mitigate these environmental concerns.

Carbon Emissions: Comparing the Environmental Impact of Modal and Polyester Production

Modal fabric

Although modal fabric is derived from renewable resources, its production process still generates carbon emissions, primarily from the use of energy and chemicals. However, some modal manufacturers have adopted eco-friendly practices, such as using renewable energy sources and closed-loop production systems, which can help reduce the carbon footprint of modal fabric.

One specific example is TENCEL branded Lyocell fibers which are made from a mix of upcycled cotton and wood pulp. The claim made by the company is that the product is zero carbon. Unfortunately we can’t find independent verification and it actually is hard to imagine how a process could be zero carbon if there’s energy use. Certainly drawing from renewable resources ensures circularity because the carbon extracted from the plant goes back into the plant after decomposition.


Polyester production has a higher carbon footprint than modal fabric, mainly due to its reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels. The production process releases greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. However, innovations such as using recycled polyester and incorporating renewable energy sources in the manufacturing process can help reduce the carbon emissions associated with polyester.

The estimate of carbon intensity of polyester is anywhere from 2 to 6 kg of CO2 per ton of fabric. This is not the end emission of your clothing however. Processing that into a wearable item will increase carbon intensity.

Comparison Of Carbon Footprints And Environmental Impact

In general, modal fabric has a lower carbon footprint and environmental impact compared to polyester, especially when produced using sustainable practices. However, both materials can be made more eco-friendly through innovations in manufacturing and the use of recycled materials.

Breathability and Comfort: Comparing Modal and Polyester for Everyday Wear

Modal Fabric: Characteristics And Benefits

Modal fabric is known for its softness, smoothness, and breathability, making it an excellent choice for everyday wear, especially during warmer months. Its moisture-wicking properties help keep the wearer cool and dry, and it drapes well on the body, providing a comfortable fit. Brands like Lenzing, which produces TENCEL™ Modal, and Calvin Klein, which offers a range of modal-based products, have incorporated modal fabric into their clothing lines due to its desirable characteristics.

Polyester: Characteristics And Benefits

Polyester is durable, wrinkle-resistant, and holds its shape well. It is often used in activewear and outdoor clothing due to its quick-drying properties and ability to retain warmth. However, it can be less breathable than modal fabric, making it less comfortable in hot or humid conditions. Brands like Patagonia, which uses recycled polyester in many of its products, and Adidas, with its commitment to sustainability through its Parley line made from recycled ocean plastics, have embraced eco-friendly polyester alternatives in their clothing lines.Brands Embracing Sustainable and Comfortable Textiles

Two Brands Using Modal Fabric In Their Products

  1. Lenzing: Lenzing is a leading producer of TENCEL™ Modal, a sustainable and high-quality modal fabric. They are committed to using eco-friendly production methods and renewable resources.
  2. Calvin Klein: Known for their iconic underwear line, Calvin Klein has incorporated modal fabric into various products, including underwear, sleepwear, and loungewear, due to its softness and comfort.

Two Brands using eco-friendly polyester alternatives in their products

  1. Patagonia: As a pioneer in sustainable outdoor wear, Patagonia uses recycled polyester in many of its products, from jackets to activewear, reducing the environmental impact of traditional polyester production.
  2. Adidas: With its Parley line, Adidas collaborates with Parley for the Oceans to create products made from recycled ocean plastics, transforming waste into high-performance sportswear and reducing the carbon footprint associated with traditional polyester production.


When it comes to choosing between modal fabric and polyester, it’s essential to consider factors such as sustainability, carbon emissions, toxicity, breathability, and comfort. Modal fabric generally has a lower carbon footprint and environmental impact compared to polyester, making it a more eco-friendly option. However, innovations in recycled polyester and sustainable manufacturing practices can also help reduce the environmental impact of polyester. As a conscious consumer, it’s crucial to stay informed and support brands that are committed to sustainability and reducing their carbon emissions, such as Lenzing, Calvin Klein, Patagonia, and Adidas.

Staff Writer
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2 thoughts on “Modal Fabric and Polyester: Guide to Composition, Breathability, Toxicity, And Sustainability”

  1. Great article! I never realized the difference between modal fabric and polyester in terms of breathability before, but now I feel more informed – thanks!

  2. I’m wondering how Modal fabric would go with Sublimation Ink?


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