What is Elastane Fabric? You've probably heard people use elastane, Lycra, and spandex interchangeably. Depending on which part of the world you're in, you'll hear people use those three words to describe the same type of fabric. What is elastane fabric, and why would people call it something else? In this article, we'll be giving you the full breakdown on elastane fabric, its history, what it's used for, and why it's also called spandex or Lycra.
What Is Elastane?
Elastane is a type of fabric made from synthetic fiber that is extremely elastic. Its elasticity is such that it can stretch up to 7 times its original size. This kind of fabric is 100% man-made and does not exist naturally. Elastane is made of polyurethane, which is a long chain polymer which a technical name of polyether-polyurea copolymer.
Elastane is the generic name for Lycra which is a branded fiber with high stretch capabilities.
While elastane material has earned its place as a popular fabric for making clothes, it's never used in isolation. Elastane fiber is always combined with other fabric types like cotton, polyester, and nylon. Most fabrics will contain 5 to 10% of elastane in order to produce enough stretch for garments.
What is Elastane's History?
The history of elastane can be traced back to the second world war. At that time, rubber was highly coveted as it was used to make all kinds of equipment. With the demand for rubber soaring and the price fluctuating, there was a need to find an alternative.
The quest for an alternative was further fueled by the fact that rubber-based fibers like latex were not durable, lightweight, or strong enough. These were qualities that were expected from potential alternatives.
DuPont, a chemical company, was at the forefront of the search, and it was one of their textile scientists, Joseph Shiver, that found the breakthrough.
In 1959, almost 10 years after the search began, Joseph perfected what he called fiber K. He did this by transforming Dacron, an intermediate fiber, into a stretchy fiber that kept its shape when subjected to high temperature. This fiber was later renamed Lycra by DuPont. By 1962, production was already full-scale. Elastane of course is the generic name for this fabric.
What is Elastane Characteristics
The following are the characteristics and advantages of elastane:
- It is smooth, soft, and lightweight.
- It prevents bagging and sagging in clothing.
- This fabric can be dyed easily.
- Unlike some fabrics, elastane is resistant to deterioration when it comes in contact with body oils, lotions, perspiration, or detergents.
- It is scratch-resistant.
- It is stronger and more durable than rubber.
- It can be stretched repeatedly and still retain its original shape.
What are the disadvantages of elastane?
- One of the main disadvantages of elastane is that when used in sports and activewear, it can rot with sweat or chlorine.
- The other main disadvantage is that it needs to be combined with other fibers and not used alone.
- Elastane can lose its stretch over time.
- Elastane does not biodegrade.
What is Elastane Fabric Used for?
Here are some of the ways you can use this fabric:
Athletics Elastane Fabrics
Elastane is the fabric of choice for athletes and sportswear. The reason is quite simple: form-fitting clothing helps with aerodynamics in high-level sporting activities. This is why sprinters, swimmers, cyclists, and other sportsmen and women wear tights and shorts made with elastane. This would also explain why your favorite comic superheroes wear tights made with elastane fabric.
Elastane For Underwear
Most male and female underwear and bras are made with an elastane component. The waistband on most underwear is made with elastane to grip the waist of users firmly.
Form Fitting Garments with Elastane
Many companies use elastane to make clothes that are streamlined and form-fitting. The fabrics are usually combined with other kinds of fibers, as pure elastane is too expensive. Stretchy clothes like yoga pants, skinny jeans, and ski pants are made with elastane fabric. Swimwear and sportswear typically contain an elastane component.
Why People Call Elastane Spandex or Lycra
Elastane, spandex, and Lycra are basically the same thing. Spandex is the fabric's preferred name in North America. Spandex is an anagram for expands, which is the fabric's most notable characteristic. However, the fabric is recognized as elastane in the UK and the rest of Europe.
In continental Europe, different variants of the word elastance are used. It's called élasthanne in France, Elastan in Germany, elastano in Spain, elastam in Italy, and elastaan in the Netherlands.
On the other hand, Lycra is the brand name for elastane fiber manufactured by DuPont, the fabric's first manufacturer. Today, all three words can be used interchangeably.
What to Consider When Buying Elastane Fabric
Now that you know what is elastane, here's what to know before sewing with it:
- Recovery Rate - Elastane fabric is designed to prevent sagging and bagging in clothes. But the fabric's ability to prevent sagging heavily depends on its recovery rate. A simple trial is to stretch the fabric you're buying. If it doesn't return to its original size almost immediately, you're most likely holding a substandard elastane fabric and would be better off looking elsewhere
- Stretch Factor - Another way to know if you're buying a high-quality elastane fabric is to check the stretch factor. Remember how we mentioned earlier that elastane can stretch up to 7 times its original size? Try stretching your fabric and see how far it gets.
- Transparency - Some elastane material will appear transparent when stretched and held up to bright light. This kind of fabric will require lining. Hence, it's important to give a fabric the transparency test before buying. If you are buying leggings, then this is a must!
- Price - Don't be too eager to buy expensive elastane material if you're an up-and-coming sewer. Practice on cheaper fabrics first, and when you're good enough, you can bring your A-game to sew quality elastane materials.
What is Elastane & Its Environmental Concerns
Any fabric made with elastane is difficult to recycle. Therefore, it is safe to say that elastane can lead to environmental pollution.
Also, the fabric contains chemical toxins since it has the same chemical composition as plastic and polyester. This makes it a petroleum-based fiber. These kinds of fibers are non-biodegradable and require lots of energy to produce. Since it contains microplastics that ultimately find their way to the ocean, elastane can also be said to result in water pollution.
What is Elastane Washing Instructions
There's a popular albeit false belief that elastane fabric is high maintenance. But this is simply not true. Yet, there are certain precautions that you should take when washing the fabric. They are some tips below:
Hand washing is the best way to care for your elastane fabric. This is because machine washing contributes to the fabric overstretching. Here are some guidelines to follow when washing your fabric:
- Don't use chlorine bleach: A chlorine bleach can destroy the structure of your fabric as it's a harsh chemical. It is, therefore, not advisable to use a fabric softener or chlorine bleach.
- Use lukewarm water: Lukewarm water is mild and gentle on your elastane fabric. Always use it for washing and rinsing.
- Squeeze excess water gently: Don't squeeze out excess water aggressively. A gentle squeeze is enough to get the water out.
Machine washing is never the right way to care for your elastane fabric. But if you have to use it, there are certain precautions to take. They include:
- Use mild detergent: Just as was mentioned in hand washing, don't use harsh detergents with chlorine bleach to avoid damaging your fabric's structure permanently.
- Use gentle settings: Be sure to put your washing machine on a gentle wash. Also, don't leave your fabric in the water for too long.
- Use a mesh washing bag: Wrap your elastane in a mesh washing bag before placing it inside a washing machine. This helps protect it from damage.
In Conclusion - What is Elastane Fabric?
What was the question again? Ah! yes. What is elastane fabric? If you have keenly followed from the beginning of this article, I'm sure you have learned a lot so far. Elastane is a popular and unique fabric that is used all over the world to make all kinds of clothes. If you're feeling confident about your sewing skills, you should definitely try combining elastane with other fabrics to make great streamlined and form-fitting clothes.
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