Spandex is a synthetic fiber whose main characteristic is its elasticity.
Although it is referred to as spandex in the United States of America, it is also known by different names in different parts of the world. In Portugal, it is called “Lycra”. The name spandex is an anagram for the English word “Expands” which is a direct indication of its renowned elasticity.
Like most synthetic fibers, spandex was discovered in the second half of the 20th century by DuPont, the same company that developed polyester years earlier.
Its creator was Joseph Shivers, a chemist at a time when the female consumer market was beginning to gain a lot of strength. In order to respond to increased demand, the DuPont company carried out an extensive market study.
The study's findings pointed directly to women's underwear, which was highly dependent on rubber for its production.
Rubber then became the material to replace, and the spandex fiber was created exactly for that purpose, in 1959.
Its properties swiftly attracted attention. This synthetic fiber began to be incorporated into different types of materials, completely transforming the consumer market.
It is worth noting that there is no type of circular knitted fabric made from 100% spandex. Most commonly, this material is mixed with other types of fibers, both natural and synthetic.
The process allows the creation of more resistant and elastic circular knitted fabrics, which completely changes the characteristics of the final product.
Spandex, also known as lycra or even elastane, is a synthetic fiber recognized worldwide for the elasticity it provides to circular knitted fabrics.
This allows them to be stretched to their limit and then regain their original shape. In other words, circular knitted fabrics created with spandex are very light, flexible, and resistant. They resist both the harmful effects of time and chemical substances such as chlorine, perspiration of the human body, or seawater.
Spandex was very well received in the market, right after its invention. However, it is important to emphasize that this synthetic fiber is always used in conjunction with other types of fibers, whether natural or synthetic, in percentages varying between 3% and 20%.
Therefore, there are no circular knitted fabrics produced with 100% spandex.
This is a material used exclusively for its characteristics, so as to strengthen or reinforce the final materials created.
When the percentage is minimal, it offers greater durability. As the percentage rises, so does the elasticity levels of the circular knitted fabric, up until a point where it completely adapts to the shape of the body.
Therefore, the areas of fitness, sports, beachwear, and underwear are those that make the most use of this type of synthetic material.
Spandex fiber is created from ethane, a chemical compound with the C2H6 formula. The production of this fiber can be done through four different approaches. However, one of these methods accounts for about 95% of all world production.
Dry-spinning, as it is known, is the most efficient method for producing spandex and the one that causes the least waste.
It consists of five steps. Firstly, a prepolymer is formed through a mixture of glycol and isocyanate. Then a chemical reaction is triggered with the addition of diamine. The resulting solution is then processed in special equipment and afterward pressed out through spinnerets and converted into fibers.
At the end of the process, these fibers are chemically treated once more so that they can be used by the industry. The use of spandex is often made alongside polyamide. As it is a synthetic fiber used together with other fibers to produce circular knitted fabric of their own characteristics, the difference between one and the other is worth noting.
When these two fibers mix together, the qualities of both come to the surface. This is where the main difference between polyamide and spandex lies. Polyamide is a rigid fiber.
On the contrary, spandex is a fiber capable of offering elasticity. Therefore, the latter ends up compensating the former.
Polyamide’s main disadvantage is compensated with the greatest advantage of spandex. The circular knitted fabric made from these two fibers becomes even more resistant and soft.
Spandex is a material that gives strength and elasticity to all types of circular knitted fabrics. It can be mixed with others, namely polyamide, nylon, or cotton. Its flexibility makes spandex a fiber in great demand, especially in the areas of women's, sports, or beach fashion.
However, its application has also stood out in the areas of professional equipment, since it is an equally light and quick-drying material, essential characteristics for the creation of practical uniforms that are easy to use or care for.
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This text was written and published in 2021