What Is Spandex Fabric?

Spandex is a synthetic fabric that is prized for its elasticity.  The terms spandex, Lycra, and elastane are synonymous.

This fabric can stretch to 5-8 times its normal size, and it is commonly used in form-fitting consumer apparel. In most cases, pure spandex isn’t used in garments, and instead, small quantities of this fabric are woven into other synthetic, semi-synthetic, or organic fibers.

The base material used to make spandex is polyurethane, which was developed in 1937 by IG Farben in Germany. At the end of World War II, hundreds of top German scientists began new careers in the United States, and many of the textile engineers at IG Farben transferred to the DuPont Corporation, which was the era’s unquestioned leader in synthetic textile development.

how to sew spandex fabricHow To Sew Spandex Fabric

Using polyurethane research, DuPont sought to create a new polymer fabric with high elasticity. During the development process, scientists at DuPont referred to this fabric as “spandex;” once this fabric was completed, it was sold under the brand name Lycra, but consumers seemed to prefer to call this material spandex, and it was this term that entered the public lexicon to refer to this synthetic fabric.

Like other polymers, spandex is made from repeating chains of monomers that are held together with an acid. Early in the spandex development process, it was recognized that this material is highly heat-resistant, which means that notoriously heat-sensitive fabrics like nylon and polyester are improved when combined with spandex fabric.


How Is Spandex Fabric Made?

how is spandex fabric made

Since spandex is a fully synthetic fiber, no organic components are used to make this material. Instead, all of the constituent parts of this fiber are made in a laboratory setting, and they are then combined under specific stimuli to create spandex fabric.

To begin the spandex fabric production process, a substance called macroglycol is mixed with a diisocyanate monomer under specific heat and pressure. The temperature and pressure conditions must be exact to produce the desired results, and the macroglycol and diisocyanate monomer must also be in a ratio approximate to 1:2.

If the right conditions are applied, a substance called a prepolymer is formed, and this substance is then used in the remainder of the production process. Once it has formed, the prepolymer is exposed to diamine acid, and a chemical reaction called chain extrusion reaction is initiated.

subrtex 2 piece print jacquard spandex fabric stretch chair slipcovers graySubrtex 2-Piece Print Jacquard Spandex Fabric Stretch Chair Slipcovers, Gray

Lastly, the spandex fiber is immersed in a finishing agent consisting of magnesium stearate or a similar chemical. Once it is loaded onto a spool, it is ready to be woven into fabric.

How Is Spandex Fabric Used?

how is spandex fabric used

Spandex fabric is used in any consumer or industrial application in which elasticity is desired.

In some cases, pure spandex fabric may be used to make incredibly stretchy or fully form-fitting garments. . Instead, it’s much more common to see spandex fabric woven into other types of textiles.

Snowflake Rhinestone Mystique Spandex Leotards


Where Is Spandex Fabric Produced?

spandex fabric in the world

Spandex fabric is made by many different international corporations. Some of these corporations, such as DuPont, have factories in dozens of different countries, but others may be localized to one country in particular.

The majority of the world’s spandex manufacturing plants are located in China.

plus prime flared cotton spandex capri

How Much Does Spandex Fabric Cost?

The more spandex fabric that is included in a garment, however, the more expensive that garment becomes. For instance, certain types of cycling gear and professional dance garments that contain high levels of spandex are quite costly.

What Different Types of Spandex Fabric Are There?

different types of spandex fabric

Even when different production methods are used to make spandex, the end result is chemically the same. However, confusion can ensue due to the different terms that are used to describe this fabric:

  • Elastane: Most Europeans use variants of the term “elastane” to refer to this type of fabric. Elastane is the most chemically correct way of referring to this fabric.
  • Lycra: This term is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation.

How Does Spandex Fabric Impact the Environment?

Overall, spandex has a negative impact on the environment.

Safe disposal and limited washings are the only ways to mitigate the environmental impact of this fabric.

Spandex Certifications Available

spandex fabric certifications

Since spandex fabric is entirely synthetic, organic and non-GMO certifications do not apply to this product. It is, however, possible to have this fabric certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) if it is made from 100 percent recycled materials.