Elastane is a popular material worldwide created from segmented polyurethane, a synthetic substance that grants extremely high elasticity to the fibers.
This material is so popular that throughout time and depending on the geographic location, you might know it by different names like Spandex or Lycra.
Spandex is a term used mostly in North America, where this fiber was first invented. This name is an anagram of the word “expands” which is the main characteristic of the Elastane material. This was the first term used for the material and it stuck among the consumers, namely North Americans and Canadians, that still use this nomenclature nowadays.
On the other hand, you might have heard about Lycra. Lycra is the registered trademark chosen by DuPont Corporation, which means only DuPont can create Lycra. Some parts of Europe, Latin America, and Oceania use this term to name Elastane.
Lastly, the more chemically accurate way of naming this material: Elastane. This is a popular variant among Europeans, which will probably not recognize the word Spandex.
Elastane is a synthetic fiber created with the purpose of revolutionizing the women’s garments world. One of the most known uses of this material is in swimwear. Who can forget the red Elastane bathing suit from Baywatch?
The use of this material in swimsuits was indeed groundbreaking, replacing nylon as the preferred material.
Elastane is composed of synthetic fibers created and processed in a laboratory environment. The material became successful due to its elasticity, allowing knits that incorporate Elastane to stretch by over 500% of its regular size.
It is nowadays an extremely used fiber in clothing, such as skin-tight garments, in household products, like fitted sheets or microbead pillows, but also in the medical industry, for knee or back support products.
The origin of Elastane dates to the 20th century, in the post-war era in the United States of America. At the time, the Dupont Textiles Corporation was focused on understanding what people needed from their textiles.
The company conducted market research and understood that the audience in need of a clothing revolution was mainly women. Women emerged as the target group due to the need for a fabric that would replace rubber in girdles.
Girdles were commonly made of rubber at the time, which was an extremely uncomfortable, heavy, and warm material. There were corsets made with cotton or nylon, but they didn’t offer the support of rubber.
Around 1930, DuPont was invested in developing a fiber that would be lightweight and elastic. About 20 years later, Joseph Shivers, a chemist, made a breakthrough by modifying polyester and producing a stretchy fiber that could withstand high temperatures.
By 1958, Shivers had perfected the elastane at DuPont’s Benger Laboratory in Virginia, in the United States. The characteristics of this new elastic material allowed DuPont to create not only the so-needed girdles but also many other undergarments for women.
Elastane is mostly used to create clothing articles where expansion is desired, such as athletic clothing, bathing suits, hosiery and corsets, socks, belts, and many other products.
Elastane is widely known for its stretchiness. This material can be expanded 5 to 8 times its original size and will return to its original form. A good Elastane knit can be stretched repeatedly without losing elasticity.
This fiber is lightweight and smooth, doesn’t retain heat, dries quickly, and is very breathable. These are the perfect characteristics for practical clothing, such as underwear, swimwear, or activewear.
The fabric is somewhat durable and resistant to abrasion, although it’s not recognized for its durability. Lotions and oils can damage this textile and with time and use, the elasticity of Elastane will be lost.
Elastane is a synthetic fiber, which means that it’s man-made and cannot be found in nature. Due to the chemical origins of this material, it is not recyclable or environmentally friendly.
Elastane is achieved through the creation of a long-chain polymer called polyurethane. Polyurethane is a versatile material that can be soft or hard and is used in different applications, such as plastic parts, foams and sponges, and textiles, among many others.
Polyurethane was developed around 1937 by Otto Bayer, a German chemist. This material was first invented with the objective of replacing rubber. Elastane is made from the repetition of chains of monomers joined with acids, just like other polymers.
Elastane itself is a fully synthetic fiber created in a laboratory, although it’s frequently paired up with other materials such as cotton, nylon, or polyester. Any quantity of Elastane fibers added to other materials will improve the elasticity of said materials.
As most textile fibers, Elastane needs to be knitted to create clothing and as such, it can be divided into two types: two-way stretch and four-way stretch. The stretch of the fabric refers to the direction of the knit, which will define the durability and elasticity of the material.
The two-way stretch is horizontal while the four-way stretch is both horizontal and vertical (warp and weft), running both across and up/down the fabric.
The direction of the stretch means you can expand Elastane either vertically or horizontally, but not both ways. Garments made with this technique are comfortable and lightweight but are not suitable for clothing that requires strength (such as activewear).
The four-way stretch is more durable and can return to its original shape easily while the two-way stretch can only recover part of the original form.
Thus, a two-way stretch is more adequate for undergarments while a four-way stretch Elastane is more appropriate for sports and activewear.