Rayon vs Viscose vs Modal vs Polyester vs Lyocell vs Bamboo Comparison: What’s The Difference?

We’ve put together a short guide comparing Rayon vs Viscose vs Modal vs Polyester vs Lyocell vs Bamboo.

We look at what type of fibre each one is, how they are made and what they are made from, their properties/traits, their uses, how they compare to each other, and other relevant information such as whether they each might be eco friendly/sustainable, or not.

 

Summary – Rayon vs Viscose vs Modal vs Polyester vs Lyocell vs Bamboo

Main Differences

The main differences between these fibres are:

– The types of fibres they are (e.g. natural vs synthetic vs regenerated fibres)

– What fibre material is used i.e. the material source

– How the fibre material is processed and formed e.g what process is used (like for example in the case of rayon – is the viscose process used, or another process used?), what chemicals and solvents are used, and so on

– How the fibre is produced or formed e.g. extruding and spinning vs carding and spinning for example in the case of synthetic fibres versus a fibre like cotton

– The finished traits/properties of each fibre

– The end uses/applications of each fibre

– Who makes the fibre e.g. individual companies like Lenzing may produce and supply their own custom trademarked/patented versions of Lyocell and Modal, and this can impact differences in one fibre to another because of different processes and production methods. This can be the case with the different companies and groups that produce lyocell or modal fibres. And, this is why a generalized description of lyocell or modal can only give you certain information, whilst brand specific information can give the information on the specific fibre product

– The potential eco and sustainability impact of the fibre

– And, other miscellaneous differences such as how the fibre is treated or finished, the structure of the fibre, and so on.

We list some of the specific differences in the guide below under each fibre section.

 

General Summary Of Each Fibre

– Rayon

Rayon is a regenerated cellulose fibre (sometimes called a semi synthetic fibre) that comes in different types and forms, depending on the cellulose material used, and how it’s processed.

Generally, it involves the conversion of a natural cellulose material into a soluble mix or pulp (after retting, the cellulose is dissolved with chemicals or solvents, but may be mechanically broken down beforehand too)

The cellulose mix is then prepared into a form where it can be extruded or spun into a fibre (and this is where the phrase ‘regeneration’ comes from).

There’s three main processes that have generally been used for pulp and fibre processing.

The viscose process has traditionally been the most common throughout history.

The lyocell process was developed to be more eco friendly and less harmful than the viscose process, but may not be used at the same scale at this stage mainly because of cost/how expensive it is comparatively.

And, the cupro process has been discontinued in certain countries like the US because of environmental concerns with the chemicals used.

Bamboo rayon, and modal, are two examples of other types/forms of rayon, but there are more.

Who makes the rayon fibre, and how they make it, are significant variables to the final set of features of a rayon fibre (and we have identified this as being the case with lyocell, modal and TENCEL fibres in this guide).

Put another way, different rayon fibre producers/manufacturers will have different ways of making their own rayon fibre products.

This is illustrated with lyocell and modal for example, where a fibre producer/manufacturer like Lenzing may produce their own trademarked TENCEL Lyocell or Modal fibre product, with their own specific traits and sustainability features.

A different lyocell or modal fibre producer/manufacturer may have different practices and processes to Lenzing/TENCEL though, and their lyocell or modal fibre products will therefore have different traits, and different end sustainability ratings.

This may also explain why generic descriptions of different rayons (and other fibres) can differ online, and fibre product descriptions may differ between each individual fibre manufacturer too.

We expand upon these points, and list other factors that impact fibre end traits and sustainability ratings in this guide.

 

– Viscose

Viscose is rayon that uses the viscose process.

It may specifically use wood or wood pulp cellulose (as opposed to a bamboo source cellulose for example), to keep the cost more affordable.

It may use specific chemicals or solvents to dissolve the cellulose material, with carbon disulphide being one that has been traditionally been used in the past

Viscose has also used sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda in processing.

Some companies such as Lenzing currently do a viscose fiber that has an emphasis on being more eco friendly.

Lenzing also outlines how their own viscose process works on their ‘Technologies’ page (which can be compared to general descriptions of the viscose process found elsewhere online)

 

– Lyocell

Lyocell is another type of rayon, but it uses the lyocell process (instead of the viscose process for example).

The lyocell process was developed in part to come up with a more eco friendly and less harmful process than the viscose process (although, sciencedirect.com also indicates that reduction of costs, and additional functions for fibre performance were also goals)

Lyocell is made with wood cellulose, and might use a different solvent to the viscose process.

Lenzing also produces a TENCEL branded Lyocell which has a number of claimed sustainability benefits (such as closed looped production, and sourcing renewable cellulose material from sustainably managed forests, just as a few examples).

Lenzing also outlines how their own lyocell process works on their ‘Technologies’ page (which can be compared to general descriptions of the lyocell process found elsewhere online)

 

– Modal

Modal is another type of rayon.

It has a number of similarities to viscose, except cellulose may be processed in a slightly different way, the spinning process might be slightly different, and the traits of the finished fibre are slightly different to viscose fibres.

As a few examples compared to the viscose process, different chemicals/solvents might be used, the process overall might cut out several steps and therefore be quicker/simpler and cut out waste, and the fibres might be treated slightly differently after spinning to make the filaments stronger than viscose fibres.

Lenzing also makes a modal fibre under the TENCEL brand

Lenzing also outlines how their own modal process works on their ‘Technologies’ page (which can be compared to general descriptions of the modal process found elsewhere online)

 

– Bamboo

Generally, there are are two ways that bamboo fibres can be processed and produced.

The first is mechanically crushed bamboo which is generally less common, more expensive and doesn’t involve synthetic chemicals for processing.

This is a natural fibre.

The second is more common and is what is referred to ‘bamboo rayon’, and involves chemically extracting the bamboo fibre from the bamboo stem (this method is usually less environmentally friendly if the chemicals and water are not captured).

This is a regenerated fibre.

Bamboo rayon can sometimes be processed in a closed loop process though too, which is more eco friendly and captures chemical additives (but you have to check that the company or bamboo fibre supply chain specifically does this).

 

– Polyester

Unlike all the other fibres and materials on this list, polyester is a completely synthetic fibre (not a natural or regenerated fibre)

It is mainly derived from compounds that come from petrochemicals like petroleum, and involves extruding polymer material to make polyester fibres.

There’s several different types of polyester, and each one can be sourced and made in a different way, and ultimately have different fibre end traits.

You can read more about some of the general fibre traits of polyester in this guide.

 

*NOTE

The descriptions contained in this guide are generalisations only.

Each fibre should be assessed individually based on the different fibre manufacturers they are produced by, how they are produced, and the finished products they are used in.

This is especially the case considering that different fibres and fabrics can be mixed and blended in the same finished product.

Read more in this guide about factors that can impact a fibre product individually, especially for end ratings of things such as sustainability

This guide also outlines some of the general profiles and traits of different key fibres used in textiles.

 

Rayon

What It Is

Rayon is referred to as a regenerated cellulose fibre, or even a semi synthetic fibre

It gets these names/classifications as it involves the breakdown of a natural cellulose material with chemicals or solvents, and regeneration into a fibre (usually via extruding – a process that synthetic fibres use)

Depending on the way rayon is processed and produced, it can take a range of types and forms, such as viscose, modal, lyocell, bamboo, cupro, acetate, and so on.

 

Sciencedirect.com has this description of rayon: ‘Rayon is a generic term for any regenerated cellulose fiber including viscose, modal, and lyocell (Tencel/Lenzing AG). The most common type of rayon is viscose rayon (or simple viscose).’

 

How Rayon Is Made & Processed

Different cellulose materials can be used as fibre material across the different types and forms of rayon, with wood chips from trees being one example, and bamboo being another (but there can be others).

That cellulose is turned into a soluble mix (usually called a pulp) with chemical solvents, and usually involves extruding the dissolved cellulose mix and passing it through a spinneret to make a fibre.

Extruding materials to make a fibre is the process that synthetic fibres go through too.

Wikipedia.org has more information on the manufacturing process of rayon

 

Three Different Processes Used For Rayon

Wikipedia.org mentions that there are three different processes used to solubilize the cellulose used for rayon:

1. The viscose process, which uses alkali and the neurotoxin carbon sulfide, is the most common.

2. … The cupro process [sometimes called the cuprammonium process], uses ammoniacal solutions of copper salts … [Due to the environmental effects of this method, it’s no longer used in some countries like the US]

3. A third method, the lyocell process, dissolves the cellulose in an amine oxide [or a solvent, N-methyl morpholine N-oxide (NMMO)]; … [although it’s less toxic and doesn’t use carbon sulfide …] is not widely used because it is more expensive than the viscose process … The process starts with cellulose and involves dry jet-wet spinning … Lenzing’s Tencel is an example of a lyocell fiber

[In the wikipedia.org resource listed in the sources section, they explain each of these processes in much greater detail]

 

Examples Of What It’s Used For

Rayon has been developed to provide an alternative to silk, but also natural fibres like cotton, linen and wool.

It can be used in a range of textiles such as clothing, but also filling for furniture, bedding, toys, and more

 

Properties, What It Looks Like, & What It Feels Like

It depends on what the manufacturer wants the final properties to be.

Rayon is often made to imitate the look and feel of natural fibres

 

awapaper.co.jp has a brief description of the properties of rayon

 

sciencedirect.com has a description of the traits of rayon, and also compares it to the traits of cotton

 

wikipedia.org mentions:

Rayon is a versatile fiber and is widely claimed to have the same comfort properties as natural fibers, although the drape and slipperiness of rayon textiles are often more like nylon.

It can imitate the feel and texture of silk, wool, cotton and linen.

[The wikipedia.org resource goes into more depth about the properties of rayon]

 

Potential Eco Friendliness & Sustainability

Is Rayon Eco Friendly and Sustainable?

 

Viscose

What It Is

Viscose is rayon made using the viscose process.

For this reason, it might be referred to as rayon viscose.

However, wikipedia.org indicates that viscose can also mean – [1. ‘A viscous solution of cellulose’, or 2. ‘A synonym of rayon’]

Different types and grades of viscose fibers and films exist, depending on the cellulose material it uses, and how it processes that cellulose.

One of the main types of cellulose it might use (due to cost savings) is wood pulp cellulose from trees (like eucalyptus, beech and pine), as opposed to say a bamboo, cotton linter or other type of natural cellulose

Sciencedirect.com explains rayon, viscose, and lyocell in more detail

 

From sewport.com: ‘Viscose rayon … was the first form of this cellulose-based textile to enter into worldwide mass production.’

 

From sciencedirect.com: ‘The most common type of rayon is viscose rayon (or simple viscose).’

 

The Viscose Process

wikipedia.org gives a good breakdown of the general viscose process on their ‘Rayon’ page.

 

More on the general viscose process from sciencedirect.com:

The viscose rayon process uses carbon disulfide to convert cellulose into cellulose xanthate, which is soluble in aqueous alkali solutions, before forming fibers in an acidic coagulation bath.

In recent years a new solvent system comprising N-methylmorpholine N-oxide has been used to dissolve cellulose, which is a more environmentally friendly process for the production of cellulosic fibers.

 

On Lenzing’s ‘Technologies’ page, they explain, in detail, their own lyocell, modal and viscose processes.

You can view the step by step process for Lenzing’s viscose process on that page.

Something they specifically mention is that they are consistently focussing on meeting environmental standards for their viscose process.

 

Both wikipedia.org and Lenzing (on their ‘History’ page) give a history and chronology of the viscose process over time.

 

Examples Of What It’s Used For

What viscose is used for depends on the type and/or grade of viscose

Similar to what’s written about rayon above, viscose rayons are used to make a range of textiles for clothing and other purposes

Lenzing produces a number of different brands of wood based cellulose fibers, with one example being the LENZING™ ECOVERO™ fibers – an eco responsible viscose fiber

 

Some of the potential disadvantages of regenerated fibres like viscose rayons can be distorting and wrinkling easily, poor sunlight resistance, and poor durability.

Thus, the blending viscose and other regenerated fibres with synthetics like polyester can lead to a fabrics with better durability, comfort, easy-care and better wrinkle resistance.

 

ecofashionsewing.com mentions that there has been a decline in viscose use in garment production when the viscose process involves certain chemicals, amongst other reasons: ‘The manufacturing process of regenerated fibres involves the use of high-toxic and hazardous chemicals, such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid …’

 

Properties, What It Looks Like, & What It Feels Like

From wikipedia.org:

Some viscoses are made to imitate the feel and texture of natural fibers such as silk, wool, cotton, and linen.

The types that resemble silk are often called artificial silk.

 

Also, in their ‘rayon’ resource, wikipedia.org also discusses the traits and characteristics of structurally modified viscose like Modal.

 

Potential Eco Friendliness & Sustainability

Is Viscose Eco Friendly & Sustainable?

 

One of the points raised by wikipedia.org is that viscose rayon production, at least in the past, involved the use of carbon disulfide.

wikipedia.org goes into the potential toxicity issues carbon disulfide may cause during production to humans, even in developed countries.

There’s also emissions from carbon disulfide to consider.

Having pointed out these things though, various sources indicate that viscose rayon production has got cleaner and safer in some places over time.

 

Differences Between Viscose & Other Rayon Processes

From wikipedia.org:

The viscose method can use wood as a source of cellulose, whereas other routes to rayon require lignin-free cellulose as a starting material.

The use of woody sources of cellulose makes viscose cheaper, so it was traditionally used on a larger scale than the other methods.

 

Differences Between Viscose & Lyocell

According to undershirts.co.uk: 

The differences between viscose, modal and lyocell are subtle [and] come down to the manufacturing process and structure of the filament.

Lyocell is still the same plant-based fibre as viscose and modal, but it is made using a slightly different process.

Lyocell production uses a different solvent to extract the cellulose from the wood: sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) is replaced by a non-toxic organic compound with the catchy name N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO for short).

This organic solvent is easier to filter and re-use in a closed loop, which is better for the environment.

 

Differences Between Viscose & Modal 

According to undershirts.co.uk: 

The differences between viscose, modal and lyocell are subtle [and] down to the manufacturing process and structure of the filament.

Viscose and modal are made using a very similar process with similar chemicals used at each stage of production.

… modal fibres are treated slightly differently after spinning to make the filaments stronger [like for example] the fibres are also stretched to increase molecular alignment.

This means that modal fibres have the potential to be lighter and finer and can be tumble dried without damage.

Other than that, viscose and modal are similar products.

 

From sewport.com

Viscose rayon is highly similar to modal rayon, and it should be considered a predecessor to modal fabric.

The process of creating viscose rayon is highly complicated, and it involves more chemical treatment processes.

Therefore, viscose rayon should be considered more harmful to the environment and workers than modal rayon.

While many factories continue to make viscose rayon, others have updated their processes to manufacture more advanced forms of this semi-synthetic fabric.

Due to the wasteful and laborious manufacturing processes required when making viscose rayon, however, most manufacturers have switched to making modal rayon instead, which is considered to be the direct evolution of viscose rayon.

 

Lyocell

What It Is

Lyocell is a form of rayon made using the lyocell process.

There’s a handful of lyocell producers worldwide, but TENCEL (owned by The Lenzing Group) is currently the most well known and prominent

Lenzing has their own TENCEL branded and trademarked lyocell fibres, with their own sourcing and production processes which are unique to their fibres and products.

 

From sewport.com: Lyocell [is a] rayon derivative … [and] Lyocell is the only form of rayon that can be considered to be purely organic; since the cellulose used to make this fabric isn’t chemically altered during the production process, it is made from pure tree fibers.

 

Lyocell falls somewhere in-between [a natural fibre and a synthetic fibre]

Lyocell is more accurately described as a recovered or regenerated fiber, although … Lenzing Fibers make a distinction between regenerated fibers and lyocell which they describe as a “solvent spun fiber” that keeps the cellulose structure closer to that found in nature.

– organicclothing.blogs.com

 

Lyocell is the generic name for the fibers produced by Lenzing, which are not produced by the traditional viscose process [used in making viscose] but rather by solvent spinning (oecotextiles.wordpress.com)

 

Why Lyocell Was Developed

Various sources indicate lyocell was developed in order to find a more eco friendly alternative, and less harmful process than viscose rayon.

 

Wikipedia.org mentions that:

‘The development of [TENCEL] was motivated by environmental concerns; researchers sought to manufacture rayon by means less harmful than the viscose method’

 

From ecofashionsewing.com:

[lyocell was] Developed in the 1980s, [as] an eco-friendly regenerated fibre made from wood pulp, usually eucalyptus [that has a more positive environmental impact and a non-toxic manufacture process compared to some viscose processes that use high-toxic and hazardous chemicals]

 

Lenzing also has a ‘History’ page where they mention something similar:

In the late 1960s, environmental protection was still a foreign concept. All around the world including Lenzing, the operations of viscose fiber plants exposed both water and air to serious pollution

‘[From 1990 onwards, Lenzing worked on an] alternative, eco-friendly production process, [and made] great progress in the field of lyocell technology. 

[From 2010 to today, Lenzing was also able to produce Modal with ecological advantages]

 

Who Makes Lyocell

From sewport.com: Almost all of the world’s lyocell is made by an Austrian international corporation called Lenzing AG

 

From wikipedia.org: Lyocell fibers are produced under brand names that include Tencel (by Acordis, previously Courtaulds), Lenzing Lyocell (Lenzing), Newcell (Akzo Nobel), and Seacell (Zimmer AG). The company Birla also sells it under the brand name Excel

 

[As of 2005:]

There are currently only four manufacturing facilities that produce lyocell fibers: one in the U.S., two in Europe, and one at the Birla Industries plant in India.

Processes, including the chemicals that they use for finishing, can vary. 

– organicclothing.blogs.com

 

How Lyocell Is Made, & The Lyocell Process

Lyocell may specifically use wood cellulose from trees.

 

From sciencedirect.com:

[A] new process for the production of regenerated cellulose fibres [is the] Lyocell process.

Encouraged by a growing concern for environmental production coupled with reduction of costs, the new fibre was also engineered to bring additional functions to its performance.

Lyocell [is] branded by Lenzing as Tencel®

 

Wikipedia.org outlines the entire manufacturing process of lyocell in general. But, some direct quotes from wikipedia.org are:

The lyocell process relies on dissolution of cellulose products in a solvent, N-methyl morpholine N-oxide (NMMO).

[In general, it might involve the] reconstitution of dissolved cellulose material pulp via dry jet-wet spinning

 

Wikipedia.org outlines the entire manufacturing process of lyocell in general.

[In general, it might involve the] reconstitution of dissolved cellulose material pulp via dry jet-wet spinning

 

Paraphrased from Lenzing’s ‘Technologies’ page where they explain their different fiber processes (lyocell, modal and viscose), an explanation of Lenzing’s own lyocell process is:

[It is the most modern method for producing fibres from wood from sustainable forestry, has been used at an industrial scale for 25 years, is environmentally responsible, is less complex than viscose or modal processes, and dissolves and processes the wood pulp in a closed loop without any chemical derivatisation]

 

Both wikipedia.org and Lenzing (on their ‘History’) page give a history and chronology of the lyocell process over time.

 

Examples Of What It’s Used For

Lyocell is used in a range of everyday textiles. 

Lyocell fibres, and lyocell filaments though, might have slightly different uses because of their traits/properties.

 

From wikipedia.org:

Staple fibres are used in clothes such as denim, chino, underwear, casual wear, and towels.

Filament fibres, which are generally longer and smoother than staple fibres, are used in items that have a silkier appearance such as women’s clothing and men’s dress shirts …

 

TENCEL also do a new variant of lyocell called the Lyocell Filament (from tencel.com):

… [this is a] new variant of the Lyocell production process enables Lenzing to produce extremely fine filament yarn, branded as TENCEL™ Luxe, which produce silky-smooth luxury fabrics with color vibrancy and a flowing liquid-like drape.

 

Properties, What It Looks Like, & What It Feels Like

Lyocell might be soft, absorbent, very strong when wet or dry, and resistant to wrinkles.

It is also known to drape well (like a silk) in some instances

We’ve outlined some of the traits of TENCEL lyocell fibres specifically in this guide, but, these traits can also be cross checked and confirmed on the TENCEL website.

TENCEL lyocell fibres in particular can be combined with other fibres to to enhance the aesthetics and functionality of fabrics.

sciencedirect.com also has a description of the traits of Lyocell, which is trade named TENCEL

 

From organicclothing.blogs.com:

Naturally, two properties of lyocell are that it doesn’t always accept dyes well, and it has an inherent tendency to fibrillate or “pill”.

To get around this – wet/chemical processing has to take place to control the surface of the fibre

 

From wikipedia.org:

Lyocell is 50% more absorbent than cotton, and has a longer wicking distance compared to modal fabrics of similar weave.

Compared to cotton, consumers often say Lyocell fibres feel softer, and “airier”, due to its better ability to wick moisture.

Industry claims of higher resistance to wrinkling are as yet unsupported.

It drapes well, and may be dyed many colors, needing slightly less dye than cotton to achieve the same depth of colour.

 

Differences Between Lyocell & Viscose & Modal

From wikipedia.org:

[A difference between the rayon viscose process and the lyocell process is that lyocell doesn’t use carbon disulphide, which has been links to various forms of potential environmental and human harm.]

The Lyocell process uses a direct solvent rather than indirect dissolution such as the xanthation-regeneration route in the viscose process

The lyocell process is not widely used because it is more expensive than the viscose process

 

From undershirts.co.uk:

Lyocell is still the same plant-based fibre as viscose and modal, but it is made using a slightly different process.

Lyocell production uses a different solvent to extract the cellulose from the wood: sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) is replaced by a non-toxic organic compound with the catchy name N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO for short).

This organic solvent is easier to filter and re-use in a closed loop, which is better for the environment [TENCEL does this with a solvent-spinning process recycles process water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.]

 

For Lenzing fibers that are specifically produced from Lenzing’s lyocell or viscose processes, Lenzing (on their ‘Technologies’ page) outlines the contrast between their lyocell and viscose processes:

In contrast to the viscose process an organic solvent called N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide (NMMO) is used to directly dissolve the pulp without any chemical change.

For this reason, it is considerably simpler than viscose production.

The technology developed by Lenzing enables more than 99 percent of the solvent to be recovered in a closed chemical loop and then fed back into the production process.

Moreover, Lenzing has constantly refined the lyocell production process over the years, and steadily reduced energy consumption on the basis of continuous optimization.

 

Differences Between Lyocell & Cotton

Some sources say lyocell might be more expensive than standard fibres like cotton, because of the cost of production process, and because brands may have to market the fibre more compared to more well know fibres like cotton

 

Potential Eco Friendliness & Sustainability

Eco Friendliness & Sustainability of Lyocell In General

Read more about the potential sustainability of TENCEL Lyocell, TENCEL Modal & Lenzing fibres in this guide.

Read more about the sustainability features of different Lenzing fibers, including TENCEL fibers, in this guide.

 

Other Resources On Lyocell

Sewport.com has some interesting data and information sheets on Lyocell, Modal and other fabrics that are worth checking out

 

Modal

Modal is a form of rayon made using the modal process.

It’s generally characterized as being being stronger or having higher tenacity than regular viscose rayon.

Lenzing has their own Modal fibre under the TENCEL brand, and we explain the specifics, such as the traits and applications of that fibre this guide.

 

[One definition of modal] is a distinct viscose rayon fibre genre, which has a higher wet modulus and satisfies a minimum value of tenacity in the wet stage at 5% elongation (fibre2fashion.com)

 

[Modal] is highly similar to other forms of rayon, which makes it necessary to delineate it from other textiles in the rayon family (sewport.com)

 

Modal rayon … was invented in 1951 in Japan, and it represents a significant leap forward in the rayon production process (sewport.com)

 

Forms Of Modal

There’s two forms of modal – high-wet modulus rayon (HWM rayon), and polynosics fibres.

 

Modal rayon fabric, also known as High Wet Modulus (HWM) rayon, was first developed in Japan in 1951 as an alternative to silk (sustainablejungle.com)

 

After many years of research and development, Lenzing launched the first “high wet modulus” modal fiber in 1965. The predecessor to today’s Lenzing Modal was the first specialty fiber made by Lenzing (lenzing.com)

 

Who Makes Modal

The primary producer of modal fabric worldwide is Lenzing AG

A variety of other companies also make modal rayon, and most of these companies are based in China.

[Chinese produced] modal rayon [is usually cheaper than other countries, but] the government of Communist China is notoriously lax in its environmental and workplace safety standards

– sewport.com

 

How Modal Is Made, & The Modal Process

Modal uses the modal process during processing

Modal wood cellulose material for pulp production.

It is stretched as it is made to align the molecules along the fibers, and this is what gives modal different traits to regular rayon or viscose rayon.

 

masterclass.com outlines the manufacturing process for modal in their resource, but, they mention ‘… the production process includes soaking the fabric in chemicals like sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfate …’

 

The base material for modal rayon is cellulose from hardwood trees like birch and oak …

[sodium hydroxide or caustic soda, carbon disulphide and sulfuric acid, are all used at different steps of the modal manufacturing process]

– sewport.com

 

Some sources such as fibre2fashion.com, sustainablejungle.com and masterclass.com indicate that the wood cellulose for modal pulp production usually comes from the beech tree (i.e. modal only uses beech wood), whilst viscose and other rayons might use other types of wood or cellulose material

 

sewport.com has a graphic that shows how modal is made step by step

 

sustainablejungle.com also describes the process of making modal fibres

 

The ‘Technologies’ page included in the sources list of this guide outlines the viscose, lyocell, and modal processes of a specific fibre producer, Lenzing.

 

Properties, What It Looks Like, & What It Feels Like

We outline some of the properties and traits of Lenzing’s TENCEL Modal fibre specifically in this guide.

One of the key features of Modal fibres though is that they are treated slightly differently after spinning, compared to standard viscose rayon, and this is to make the filaments stronger.

 

From wikipedia.org:

HWM rayon is a modified version of viscose that is stronger when wet.

Polynosic fibers are dimensionally stable and do not shrink or get pulled out of shape when wet like many rayons. They are also wear resistant and strong while maintaining a soft, silky feel.

 

wikipedia.org also lists some potential traits of general modal fibre:

Modal can be tumble dried without damage. 

The fabric has been known to pill less than cotton due to fiber properties and lower surface friction

[Polynosic modal is] … wear resistant and strong while maintaining a soft, silky feel.

HWM rayon (high-wet-modulus rayon) is much stronger and exhibits higher durability and appearance retention [compared to regular viscose rayons]

 

… has high tenacity … [high breaking strength, and a] high wet modulus

[However, it] may pile due to long fibers

– fibre2fashion.com

 

… lightweight, stretchy … breathable [soft, water absorbent, durable, drapes well, doesn’t pill, absorbs dye and doesn’t bleed dye during laundering, and doesn’t crease and might resist wrinkling]

Modal is considered a luxurious textile thanks to both its soft feel and high cost …

[May be blended with other fibres for added strength]

– masterclass.com

 

[Modal is] a popular fabric for bed sheets due to its high moisture wicking profile.

Modal rayon is available in [high thread counts] which means that it can be considered a luxury bed sheet material.

Modal rayon wicks sweat effectively, it is easy to clean, and it is also surprisingly durable and long-lasting.

– sewport.com

 

Breathable … easy to care for … comfortable/soft … light [and] flexible … [and stretchy, but also durable]

Like peace silk, it doesn’t crease, doesn’t shrink, [doesn’t pill with extended wear] and drapes well, too.

Commonly combined with other fibers to create a soft and long-lasting material.

[Some people report] allergic reactions, discoloration and lack of heat retention.

– sustainablejungle.com

 

How Modal Might Be Used

Usually used in textiles such as clothing, and homewares like bed sheets

 

[Modal is used as] a replacement for cotton [but it may also be blended with other fibres including cotton] (fibre2fashion.com)

 

Its silky-smooth feel makes it one of the more luxurious vegan fabrics and it’s generally found in the garments from higher-end sustainable clothing brands

… a great fabric for ethical activewear.

It’s also color-fast and comfortable, which makes it perfect for organic bras, fair trade pajamas, and comfy eco friendly t-shirts.

– sustainablejungle.com

 

[Modal is] most commonly used as an alternative to silk or cotton …

However, it is more common to find modal rayon blended with silk than it is to see scarves and similar products that are made entirely from rayon

Today, the primary application of modal rayon is sportswear, but this fabric is also found in underwear and a variety of household textiles.

Due to its softness, thinness, and breathability, modal rayon is highly popular in sportswear [like] yoga pants, bike shorts, and even swimwear.

Due to its silky texture, however, it is a common choice for other forms of household textiles, such as bed sheets, that are kept close to the skin for prolonged periods of time

– sewport.com

 

Potential Eco Friendliness & Sustainability

Eco Friendliness & Sustainability Of Modal In General

Read more about the potential sustainability of TENCEL Lyocell, TENCEL Modal & Lenzing fibres in this guide.

Read more about the sustainability features of different Lenzing fibers, including TENCEL fibers, in this guide.

 

Cost Of Modal

Modal is more expensive than viscose rayon and cotton (fibre2fashion.com, and masterclass.com)

 

Modal fabric is generally slightly more expensive than viscose rayon; it is on par with the cost of lyocell, which is roughly equal to the cost of cotton.

This fabric is significantly cheaper than silk, but it is often slightly more expensive than purely synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester.

The price of modal fabric depends greatly on the manufacturing processes that are used and where the fabric was produced.

– sewport.com

 

Differences Between Modal & Standard Rayon 

According to wikipedia.org:

“[modal] is processed under different conditions to produce a fiber that is stronger and more stable when it is wet than standard rayon …

 

Modal is a type of rayon fabric, but it is generally more durable than regular rayon and feels softer, like cotton

[Compared to most forms of rayon] modal is less likely to shrink in the wash … [and is also] slightly more durable and flexible than [standard rayon]

– masterclass.com

 

Differences Between Modal & Viscose

From masterclass.com:

… “high wet modulus rayon,” [is] stronger when wet and doesn’t lose its shape, which is not true for viscose.

The production process for modal is almost exactly the same as that for viscose, but the fibers used in modal undergo more processing which makes the final product stronger, lighter, and more breathable.

Modal is more environmentally friendly than viscose because lower concentrations of sodium hydroxide are used to make it.

 

From sewport.com:

… in many ways, [modal] rayon is nearly identical to viscose rayon .. but some might say the modal process is] a significant improvement to viscose rayon

[Where] the viscose rayon production process was [inefficient and wasteful] … [the] modal rayon [process is simpler, faster and easier because] … a number of time-consuming and wasteful steps were eliminated

It’s important to note that far lesser concentrations of sodium hydroxide are used to create modal rayon than are used to create viscose rayon, which results in the production of less toxic waste [and lessens the environmental impact]

… many consumers note a significant difference in the feel of modal rayon as compared to viscose rayon … [and] modal rayon is generally perceived to be more lightweight than viscose rayon, and it is also more breathable, which has prompted this fabric’s popularity in sportswear. 

Most consumers and manufacturers also agree that modal rayon is a structurally superior product to viscose rayon.

In addition, modal rayon is significantly softer than viscose rayon, which makes it a reasonable substitute for silk. 

Due to the development of modal fabric … most rayon manufacturers have switched from viscose rayon to modal rayon.

… [modal] is generally cheaper to produce than viscose 

[sewport.com also lists some other differences between the viscose rayon and modal rayon processes]

 

Modal is very similar to regular viscose rayon.

However, it is also stronger, more breathable, and has the ability to withstand excessive moisture

– sustainablejungle.com

 

Modal is produced in a manner like that of viscose rayon, but without most of the wasteful and harmful processes.

Submerging … sheets [of extracted cellulose] in sodium hydroxide prepares them for the next step.

Unlike with viscose rayon, this process requires much less sodium hydroxide, which means less toxic waste.

– sustainablejungle.com

 

The production process is relatively similar.

Modal fabric is processed more, resulting in a stronger and lighter final product.

[viscose uses a] huge amount of water and toxic chemicals used in production

– sustainablejungle.com

 

[Compared to viscose and other types of rayon, Modal is made in a way that allows] greater molecular orientation during stretch and coagulation of the fibers (fibre2fashion.com)

 

Lenzing (on their ‘Technologies’ page) outlines the contrast between their own modal and viscose processes:

LENZING™ Modal fibers are produced in a process that is basically comparable to the viscose process.

However, by specific modification of relevant process settings in the production of the spinning solution as well as in the spinning process, it is possible to produce fibers which are mainly characterized by their high strength.

A high fiber strength is necessary to achieve the dimensional stability of the textiles on the one hand and the production of very fine yarns on the other hand.

Very fine yarns are processed, e.g. for high-quality lingerie, they feel pleasantly soft on the skin.

Lenzing has succeeded in optimizing the process in such a way that these fibers can be produced with outstanding properties and high uniformity.

 

Differences Between Modal & Lyocell

From masterclass.com:

Modal is also very similar to lyocell, which is a completely organic form of rayon. The two are big competitors as luxury fabric.

Lyocell is even more eco-friendly than modal because lyocell is made using an organic solution that replaces the sodium hydroxide used in modal.

Lyocell can be made from different types of trees, including beech trees and eucalyptus.

 

From sewport.com

Modal rayon’s main competitor in the consumer marketplace is lyocell, which is a fully organic form of rayon.

 

From sewport.com:

The process of producing lyocell uses a closed-loop solvent system, which means that no solvent is wasted or dumped into the ecosystem.

On the other hand, even the modal rayon production process uses a solvent system that introduces chemical waste into the environment.

 

From sustainablejungle.com:

Modal is often confused with Lyocell given their similarities and Lenzing makes both.

Modal is slightly softer and more delicate but both are comfortable, breathable and absorb moisture.

Similar to Modal, Lyocell converts wood pulp into a fiber, which is turned into a fabric.

However, the closed-loop solvent spinning manufacturing process for Lyocell uses non-toxic cellulose solvents

 

Differences Between Modal & Cotton

According to wikipedia.org:

“[modal] … has a soft feel, similar to cotton. It can be tumble dried without damage due to its increased molecular alignment. The fabric has been known to pill less than cotton due to fiber properties and lower surface friction”

 

As compared to cotton, modal rayon is highly resistant to pilling, which is when individual textile fibers tangle and form knots that disfigure fabric and reduce its structural integrity (sewport.com)

 

Modal lasts longer than cotton and can withstand repeated wash and dry cycles …

Modal is also 50% more absorbable than cotton, too!

– sustainablejungle.com

 

Differences Between Modal & Organic Cotton

From sustainablejungle.com:

Modal is more expensive than even organic cotton.

However, it is also a more eco-friendly (provided it is made by Lenzing) and durable alternative.

 

What About Micromodal?

Beyond modal, micromodal also exists.

 

sewport.com outlines a main difference between modal and micromodal:

Because micromodal fibers are so thin, they can be tightly woven into a fabric that has the same texture as silk; some consumers even go so far as to report that this fabric is softer than real silk.

 

Lenzing also has their owd Micromodal, and Modal Air fibre products:

There are even lighter versions of the material dubbed MicroModal and Modal Air by Lenzing. These versions are even finer knit than standard modal and make the end product softer, therefore items made from these fabrics are considered even more luxurious (masterclass.com)

 

Bamboo

Bamboo fibre is sourced from the bamboo plant.

Bamboo fibre is directly extracted from the bamboo culm or stem.

There’s two different types of bamboo fibres used in textiles – bamboo rayon viscose, and also mechanically processed bamboo (also called bamboo linen)

Each bamboo fibre type is manufactured in a different way.

 

The Different Types Of Bamboo Fibres

– Bamboo Rayon Viscose (Chemically Processed Bamboo)

Bamboo fibres are usually short, which makes it difficult to transform it into yarn by a natural process.

Instead, chemicals like lye, carbon disulfide, and strong acids are used to dissolve the bamboo pulp, so it can be spun/extruded to form fibres.

In some countries, there are penalties and it’s against consumer/business regulations to label or market a bamboo rayon viscose product as being just ‘bamboo’ or ‘natural bamboo’.

Chemically processed bamboo is usually the most widely used bamboo fibre.

 

From ecofashionsewing.com:

In order to produce fashion fabric … bamboo is processed in a viscose spinning way, in which bamboo is the source of raw cellulose.

From a sustainability point of view, this way of processing the bamboo still uses chemical additives.

Hence the similar environmental impact as from processing conventional viscose.

 

– Mechanically Processed Bamboo (also called ‘Bamboo Linen’)

According to wikipedia.org: ” … the woody part of the bamboo is crushed mechanically before a natural enzyme retting and washing process is used to break down the walls and extract the fibre”.

This method of processing is less widely used, and can be more time consuming and expensive

 

A Third Type Of Bamboo Fibre?

ecofashionsewing.com mentions there may be a third way to produce bamboo fibres that is similar to the lyocell process:

There is, however, an eco-friendly way, similar to lyocell spinning with no chemical additives, however there is still a lot more room for development in this area.

As a result, there are two kind of viscose bamboo: regular (from viscose spinning) and bio-bamboo (from lyocell spinning).

Both methods make amazing soft and fine textiles yet the second only is the “greenest” and obtains much higher strength compared to the other.

 

Regulations Regarding The Labelling Of Bamboo Fibre Products

Textiles labelled as being made from bamboo are usually not made by mechanical crushing and retting.

They are generally synthetic rayon made from cellulose extracted from bamboo [with chemicals].

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has ruled that unless a yarn is made directly with bamboo fibre — often called “mechanically processed bamboo” — it must be called “rayon” or “rayon made from bamboo”.

– wikipedia.org

 

Properties, What It Looks Like, & What It Feels Like

We outline bamboo’s potential traits and properties in this guide.

 

Potential Eco Friendliness & Sustainability

Eco Friendliness & Sustainability Of Bamboo

 

Differences Between Bamboo & Viscose Rayon

… bamboo is an easy to grow, rapidly regenerating raw material and developing technologies in fibre processing can make it the new substitution of viscose rayon with so much to offer at an affordable prices (ecofashionsewing.com)

 

Polyester

Cotton and polyester are two of the most commonly used fibres in the textile industry.

Polyester is different to all the above fibres, as it’s classified as a fully synthetic fibre, and not semi synthetic, regenerated, or natural fibre.

 

How Polyester Is Made

Polyester is not made from natural material, but from compounds derived from petrochemicals, and involves the use of various chemicals in processing.

It usually also involves the extrusion of polymer material to create a synthetic polyester fibre.

 

Properties, What It Looks Like, & What It Feels Like

We outline polyester’s potential traits and properties in this guide.

 

Potential Eco Friendliness & Sustainability

Is Polyester Sustainable & Eco Friendly?

 

More Information On The Look, Feel, Traits & Uses Of The Above Fibres

This guide outlines how some fibres like polyester, lyocell, bamboo, cotton and other fibres might look, feel, their traits and their uses.

 

How To Know What Your Clothes Are Made From, & How They Are Made

Some tips might be:

Look online on the brand/product website, social media channels, and other places there is photos of the product, or information on the product or brand. You may have to do research on the brand selling the textile themselves to find out how they make their clothes, such as including their sourcing, manufacturing and finishing processes, You may also check if they have any certifications.

Look at the product in person to see what it looks like and feels like, and inspect the label

Check if the product is 100% one fibre type, or a fibre blend e.g. 60% one material/40% another

Different countries have different definitions of each type of fibre and how clothing brands can label their clothes – so be aware of this in the country you live in – be aware what different words mean. Organic is one example of this labelling

 

Sources

1. https://www.ecofashionsewing.com/fibres-textiles/fabric-fashion-industry-regenerated-fibres/

2. https://www.undershirts.co.uk/blogs/research/viscose-vs-modal-vs-lyocell

3. https://www.ecofashionsewing.com/fibres-textiles/fabric-fashion-industry-synthetic-fibres/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-are-lyocell-tencel-short-guide-uses-how-they-are-made-more/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/short-guide-about-bamboo-uses-products-growing-more/

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayon

7. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/how-is-rayon-manufactured-and-what-are-its-applications.html

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viscose

9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyocell

10. http://content.inflibnet.ac.in/data-server/eacharya-documents/5704da968ae36ca4cbb0afc0_INFIEP_229/569/ET/lyocell.htm

11. https://organicclothing.blogs.com/my_weblog/2005/11/tencel_sustaina.html

12. https://www.tencel.com/b2b/product/tencel-lyocell

13. https://www.tencel.com/b2b/product/tencel-modal

14. https://www.tencel.com/about

15. https://www.tencel.com/sustainability

16. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/fabric-guide-what-is-modal-fabric#what-is-modal-fabric

17. https://www.tencel.com/b2b/product/tencel-lyocell-filament

18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_textile

19. https://www.apparelsearch.com/terms/m/mechanically_processed_bamboo.html

20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo#Fabric

21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_textile

22. https://www.apparelsearch.com/terms/m/mechanically_processed_bamboo.html

23. https://timetosew.uk/lyocell-sustainable-alternative-viscose/

24. https://insidebedroom.com/difference-between-viscose-and-rayon-fabric/

25. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/lyocell-fabric

26. https://www.awapaper.co.jp/e/products/detail/s_m01c.html#:~:text=Regenerated%20fiber%20is%20created%20by,called%20%22regenerated%20cellulose%20fiber.%22

27. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/regenerated-cellulose-fibre

28. https://shopvirtueandvice.com/blogs/news/do-sustainable-fashionistas-buy-rayon-the-answer-may-surprise-you

29. https://www.commonobjective.co/article/viscose-and-its-impact

30. https://www.lenzing.com/sustainability/production/technologies

31. https://www.lenzing.com/lenzing-group/history

32. https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/5169/modal-fibre-to-fabric

33. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/fabric-guide-what-is-modal-fabric

34. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/modal-fabric

35. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/micromodal-fabric

36. https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-fashion/what-is-modal-fabric/

37. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Lyocell.html 

38. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyocell 

39. https://www.tencel.com/general 

40. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180222006209/en/Global-Lyocell-Fiber-Market—Trends-Drivers  

41. https://www.gminsights.com/industry-analysis/lyocell-fiber-market 

42. http://www.fibersource.com/fiber-products/lyocell-fiber/

43. https://www.lenzing.com/lenzing-group/innovation

44. https://www.lenzing.com/sustainability/partnerships

45. https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/tag/modal/

1 thought on “Rayon vs Viscose vs Modal vs Polyester vs Lyocell vs Bamboo Comparison: What’s The Difference?”

  1. Thank you for this explanation of the different fibers from which fabrics are made. I was only going for “modal” and got a course in the fabrics I use for my personal sewing. A lot has changed since I studied home economics in the 50s, more than I could have guessed. Your explanation will help me to make choices.

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