Modal VS Cotton: 14 Main Differences

Don’t know which fabric is better for you? Stay with us, we have plenty to tell you!

Written by Camilla Moln. Updated on Don’t know which fabric is better for you Stay with us, we have plenty to tell you!

Nowadays, we have so many fabric varieties on the market that sometimes it is pretty complicated to decide on which one is better. Of course, if we are aware of at least the basic characteristics and distinctions of particular fibers, it makes things work better. But what if we are not?

In such a case, this article will become your saving since we gathered and explained all the major differences between the two most popular materials: cotton and modal. Which one is better? What makes these two different? These and other inquiries will be answered below, so read attentively!

Modal Fabric vs Cotton

Whenever we need to pick up a suitable material for our bedding, nightwear, garments, or other purposes, it is essential to be aware of its characteristics and nuances if any. When it comes to choosing between modal and cotton, for most of us it becomes a stumbling stone since we can hardly recall even the simplest features of each fabric!

Are they both natural or not? Which one is softer? Cheaper? Comfier? Easier to take care of? Lots of questions, but not so many answers.

This is why we decided to help you out and prepared this brief comparative chart that can be found below. Like that, you can anytime double-check what makes these two types of fiber distinct.

Item Cotton Modal
Price In most cases, it is cheaper than modal Can be pricey
Origin The cotton plant Beech trees and chemicals
Feel Soft Silky and soft
Biodegradable Very much so Yes
Type of fabric Natural Half synthetic, half natural
Absorbency Absorbs approximately twenty-five times its weight fifty percent more absorbent compared to cotton
Laundry care Can shrink, pill, and wrinkle Shrink, pill, and wrinkle-resistant
Ironing Iron on high heat while still damp Iron on the wrong side with a medium-hot iron and a pressing cloth
Dry cleaning Does not need dry cleaning Dry cleaning is not needed
Tumble drying 100% cotton may shrink, but blended cotton is OK with tumble drying Can be tumble dried
Bleaching Can be bleached Never bleach since it will discolor the fabric
Thickness Can come in several thicknesses Normally very thin and tends to get thinner after each wash
Durability Possesses some pretty good long-lasting features More durable compared to cotton
Weave type Fabric is available in a variety of weave types Normally made into a tight weave

As we can see, these two materials do have certain distinctions. One is natural and the other is semi-artificial. Also, modal due to its man-made origin has certain qualities that make it stand out in comparison to its natural cousin.

Nevertheless, when choosing which one you need, always rely on your demands and individual preferences.

What Is Modal Fabric

The best and the most correct modal definition would be that modal fabric is a semi-artificial material made of beech tree pulp. It is mostly used for making clothing (for instance, underwear or pajamas) or household items like towels or bed sheets.

To be even more precise, modal is a type of rayon only it is somewhat more durable and possesses higher flexibility in comparison to the initial version.

Like most synthetics, modal is often mixed with other fibers to enhance its features. For instance, we can find modal-and-cotton or modal-and-spandex blends that have added strength in comparison to the pure fabric.

Modal Fabric vs Cotton
Photo by Livi Po

Since modal is known for having that soft feel and being quite expensive, it is considered to be a luxurious textile. Its cost is even higher than cotton! 

Initially, modal was first invented in Japan, but these days, it is manufactured by the Austrian company which produces the very fine versions of the fabric that have a finer knit compared to the standard material and they are way softer. And significantly more expensive!

As for the production process, we can’t call modal a natural material. Yes, it consists of beech tree cellulose that was reconstituted. However, the manufacturing process includes the use of chemicals which means the material that is received in the end is half-synthetic.

But still, modal belongs to so-called eco-friendly synthetics because its production does not require any aggressive actions towards nature and the ecosystem.

How to Define Cotton Fabric

Unlike modal, cotton is fully natural. It is produced from cotton plants that give that soft, fluffy, and staple fiber that is almost pure cellulose. To be able to create a cotton cloth, this fiber is spun into yarn and then woven to get soft and durable material.

In terms of use, cotton has a wide variety of areas where this material can be applied. From clothing to home textile, from fishing nets to coffee filters, tents, and bookbinding. This type of material is known for such features as:

  • softness
  • durability
  • absorbency
  • good dye-holding ability
  • breathability
  • creates no static cling

Thanks to all these qualities, cotton has been popular for centuries and still remains one of the most accessible and widespread fabrics.

And how to define cotton fabric? Pure cotton is warm and soft to the touch and can wrinkle when you squeeze it. Cotton does not gloss, natural cotton fabrics are expensive. The weight of a cotton product is always heavier than a synthetic one. This fabric is neutral to static effect.

 Modal vs Cotton Breathability

When we think of buying a new piece of clothing, its breathability is among the top important features we seek. Let’s agree, breathable apparel feels better to the skin, it is comfier to wear in hot weather, and of course, a breathable garment will never make us sweat like crazy!

What about the breathability comparison between modal and cotton? Well, some say that modal is less breathable than cotton because it is woven in a tighter manner. However, first of all, modal can be woven in different ways and this material can also have a looser weave. In addition, the texture of cotton, in its turn, can also vary from thicker to the looser alternative. 

So in general, when it comes to this characteristic, it is all subjective. Each of these two fabrics can be thicker or thinner, each may have a different level of breathability hanging upon how they were woven.

So the only thing you might lose when making such a choice is not the fabric’s breathability or absorbency, it is the money you are going to spend since modal is more expensive.

Modal vs Cotton Durability

We all want to have long-lasting garments, don’t we? If our apparel is able to remain good-looking and retain its shape longer, we will definitely prefer it rather than an alternative that is prone to wear and tear.

When it comes to comparing modal and cotton, deciding on which one is more durable may become a tough task! You see, modal is initially very long-lasting and durable due to its long fibers and tight weave. 

However, cotton can also be a worthy rival since it is very flexible which allows us to make it in tons of different ways. Thanks to this “superpower”, this fabric is able to withstand quite many challenges and pretty tough treatment. Also, we can weave cotton into heavyweight materials which means that it can potentially beat modal in terms of durability.

Modal vs Cotton. Which One Is More Expensive?

Fibers, Fabric, & Modal - What is Modal and WHY do Top Designers Use it?Fibers, Fabric, & Modal – What is Modal and WHY do Top Designers Use it?

Cotton is somewhat more affordable in comparison with modal. See, modal is considered a luxurious sort of fabric because of its high price and pleasant soft feel so cotton, even despite being manufactured from the natural raw materials, is still more affordable.

Are Modal And Cotton Harmful?

In terms of safety, modal can hardly be called a desired option to wear. Multiple researches showed that this material can lead to severe skin itching, allergies, and even burning rashes. Scientists also reported that fabric may become a cause of nausea and burning.

Cotton, on the other hand, is way less dangerous. It is hypoallergenic and it is also very comfortable to the skin.

Cotton vs Modal Areas Of Use

Cotton is a truly versatile material since we make use of it almost everywhere, from clothing to bed sheets and home textile. As for modal, it is mostly used in high-end fashion industry (Lyocell in particular) and for making sports clothes, conventional clothes, and some luxury items like dresses, bed sheets, pillow cases, etc.

Which One Is Warmer?

Cotton is known to be less porous in comparison to modal and thus it keeps us warm somewhat better. So if winters are not severe in your region, we would recommend sticking to cotton over modal.

Modal vs Cotton Stretch

Photo by ian dooley

Modal vs Cotton Drying Times

Drying clothing usually takes pretty much time, this is why most of us prefer fabrics that require the minimum of effort when it comes to maintenance. If we compare modal and cotton, we will see that the first one dries a bit faster than the other, but in general, effective laundering and drying are highly recommended for both of them.

Are there any specific nuances? Yes, there are:

  • modal dries faster
  • modal needs ironing regularly for conserving its properties
  • cotton, on the other hand, needs no such fuss. However, it is recommended to also iron it after each wash

So if you are looking for the material that dries fast and needs very little time for maintenance, stick to cotton.

Modal vs Cotton Stretch

The stretchable fabric is a better choice for exercises or various activities. It retains its shape better than a more sturdy fabric. As for modal and cotton, they are initially not known for being super stretchy in their pure form.

Nevertheless, cotton is often blended with more flexible fibers, often synthetic, that enhance its flexibility. As an alternative variant, it can be treated to achieve the same goal.

The same works for modal as well. This is the cause why both of these fabrics are always found in various blends if they are stretchy.

Modal Underwear vs Cotton Underwear

When picking underwear, we all want it to be pleasant to the skin and definitely not scratchy or harsh! This is why the choice between modal and cotton is so difficult! See, since cotton is an ideal pick for underwear, both for men and women, modal is somewhat of a luxurious option. It is the same comfy to the skin, absorbent, and it also breathes well and does not trap odors.

In addition, modal can be blended with other materials including cotton to add certain characteristics to it and make it even better. And a pleasant bonus is that modal does not weaken when being wet!

If you have doubts about micro modal vs cotton choice, let us assure you: micro modal underwear is an even better option than a pure form of this material or one of its blends. It is extremely soft, moisture-wicking, and shrink-resistant. No surprise it was chosen for making sportswear.

Modal vs Cotton Pajamas

Our nightwear is supposed to be made of a breathable material to keep us warm during the night but not make us sweat at the same time. If we compare modal and cotton, we will see certain pros and cons of each of them:

  • modal does feel way softer to the skin even though its natural rival is initially rather delicate to the touch
  • In terms of breathability, cotton beats the opponent since natural fibers are super good at that. In addition, natural fibers are often woven loosely which ensures you will not sweat during the night

So the conclusion is that you should stick to the fabric that has a looser weave and thus breathes better.

Expert Guesses Cheap vs. Expensive Bed Sheets | Price Points: Home | Architectural DigestExpert Guesses Cheap vs. Expensive Bed Sheets | Price Points: Home | Architectural Digest

Modal vs Cotton Sheets

The final round of our modal vs cotton battle goes to bedding. Bed sheets belong to the group of textile that we tend to pick especially carefully. We sleep on them and it means the material must be pleasant and at the same time well-breathing. 

So if we compare modal vs cotton sheet, especially the Pima cotton ones, we will see that the cotton alternative is way softer being close to the famous and luxurious Egyptian cotton that is so highly praised. It will easily overcome even the 100% modal sheet! It is also more breathable.

In this battle, the only winning point for modal is its price since, as you could already understand, its price is pretty high. And, well, the modal will last somewhat longer being synthetic.

To sum everything up, we can say that modal is more shrinkage and wrinkles-resistant, it is soft and breathable, but the texture of the material is quite thick. Cotton, on the other hand, is completely natural, the same soft also breathes well, but it is a bit less soft than its counterpart. But anyway, consider that the natural material is always better than the semi-artificial one despite all of its benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

⭐ What is better modal or cotton?

Depending on what it’s better for. For bedding, cotton is better, but for underwear, modal is a more preferable option.

⭐ What is the difference between modal and cotton?

Modal is semi-synthetic and cotton is 100% natural, this is the major distinction.

⭐ Is rayon breathable?

Yes. Its fibers are very thin which allows the material to breath very well.

Written by
Camilla is an experienced Consultant with more than 20 years of preparing professional articles for numerous online resources. She has done a tremendous job and has learned a lot during her career. Camilla will advise you on the latest trends and give amazing tips on how to decorate a house.
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What is Modal? Learn more about apparel and t-shirts.What is Modal? Learn more about apparel and t-shirts.