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 lowdown on elastane fabric, its history, what it's used for, and why it's also called spandex or Lycra.
What Is Elastane?
Elastane fabric is a type of 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. It's made of polyurethane, a long chain polymer that's referred to as a polyether-polyurea copolymer.
While elastane fabric has earned its stripes as a popular fabric for making clothes, it's never used in isolation. It is always combined with other fabric types like cotton, polyester, and nylon. Most fabrics will contain 5-10% of elastane in order to produce enough stretch.
What is Elastane 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 to Lycra by DuPont. By 1962, production was already in full-scale.
What is Elastane Characteristics
The following are the characteristics 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 is Elastane Fabric Used for?
Here are some of the ways you can use this fabric:
Elastane is the fabric of choice for athletes. 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.
Most male and female underwear 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
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.
Your favorite fabric is not confined to making clothes alone. It can be used in the film industry to make motion capture suits. These are used by movie makers to create 3D characters.
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 manufacturers. 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
Clothes made with elastane cannot be recycled when they are worn out. It is common knowledge that 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.
The Solution to Elastane's Environmental Problem:
Unfortunately, urging people to stop wearing elastane to protect the environment might be out of the question for now. More than 70 percent of the clothes we wear regularly are made with elastane. While this means the fabric poses a considerable amount of threat to the environment, it also means getting rid of it would be difficult.
However, we still have a role to play to reduce its damage to the environment. For starters, air drying is more environmentally friendly than heat drying. We should always opt for air drying to save our environment.
Genomatica, a start-up in San Diego, has so far been successful in converting natural sugars from microorganisms to industrial plastic. They have the same properties as elastane including durability, strength, and stretchability. This has so far increased hopes that elastane can finally be recycled to prevent environmental 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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