Elastane Fabric: Everything You Need To Know About The Stretchy Material

Elastane, a popular synthetic fiber in fashion for its remarkable elasticity and comfort, poses notable environmental concerns despite its benefits to consumers and manufacturers.

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Elastane Fabric: Everything You Need To Know About The Stretchy Material

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Key takeaways

  • While the terms elastane, spandex, and Lycra are often confused, the three are essentially the same synthetic fiber.
  • Elastane is a remarkably elastic fiber often blended with other fibers to produce stretchy clothing.
  • Despite its benefits, elastane poses various environmental concerns because it’s non-biodegradable and derived from petroleum-based products. 


Elastane is an exceptionally stretchy fabric that has transformed how we dress and move. From shorts and socks to competitive athletic wear, the fabric has become an essential piece of modern fashion.

But what exactly is elastane? In this article, we'll explore the fabric's ins and outs, delving into its production process, its various uses, its environmental impact, and more. 

Whether you're a fashion enthusiast, a conscious consumer, or a curious cat interested in learning more about elastane, this article will take you through all the essentials you need to know about elastane fabric. 

What Is Elastane Fiber?

Elastane, also called spandex or Lycra, is a synthetic fiber renowned for its exceptional elasticity. Generally, elastane is the more common term used to refer to the fabric worldwide, while spandex is the more commonly used term in North America. Meanwhile, Lycra is a trademarked brand name used to describe elastane textiles produced by the LYCRA Company.

What Is Elastane Fiber

Unlike natural fibers like cotton or wool, elastane is entirely artificial and doesn't occur in nature. It is composed of a long-chain polymer called polyurethane that gives it its elasticity. 

Polyurethane is produced through a complex chemical process involving the reaction of various substances, including diisocyanates and polyols. This process results in the formation of a lightweight, strong, and highly elastic fiber. These characteristics make elastane an incredibly versatile fabric that offers designers and consumers a variety of comfortable and close-fitting clothes.

However, while elastane offers exceptional elasticity, it's rarely used alone. Generally, it's combined with other fabrics like cotton, polyester, and nylon to create clothes that balance elasticity with other desired qualities like softness, breathability, and toughness.

What Is the History of Elastane Material?

Like many other synthetic materials, such as polyester and acrylic, elastane was invented in the mid-20th century, just after the Second World War. At the time, rubber was the most popular elastic material, and it was highly prized. 

However, rubber was only available from certain trees, scarce, and subject to price fluctuations. Additionally, rubber-based materials like latex weren't light, tough, or durable enough. These challenges prompted the need for a synthetic fiber that could substitute rubber. 

History of Elastane Material

Dupont, a chemical company in the United States, spearheaded the search for an alternative to rubber. In the early 1950s, chemists at the company led by Joseph Shivers embarked on a groundbreaking research project aimed at developing a revolutionary fiber that would address the limitations of rubber and other textiles.

Their research led to the invention of elastane material in 1958, which was later introduced to the market under the brand name ''Lycra'' by Dupont. Elastane revolutionized the textile industry because it offered manufacturers and designers a fabric that could stretch and adapt to the body's movements, unlike any other fabric.

As a result, elastane rapidly gained popularity. Its introduction opened up new possibilities in the textile industry, enabling the creation of stylish and comfortable form-fitting clothes. From lingerie and underwear to sportswear and yoga pants, elastane material found its way into various applications, transforming how consumers dress.

What Are the Advantages of Elastane?

Elastane offers unparalleled stretchiness compared to many other fabrics. Here are some of its main advantages:

Advantages of Elastane


Elastane fabric can stretch up to seven times its original length and quickly return to its initial shape. This exceptional quality allows elastane clothes to contour to the body, providing a comfy and stylish fit.

Shape retention 

Spandex clothes retain their shape over time. They resist wrinkling, piling, and sagging, ensuring clothes maintain their original shape and structure. This quality enhances the longevity of spandex-blended garments, allowing them to withstand repeated wear and washing.

Comfort and flexibility

Spandex's elasticity enhances comfort. It also facilitates movement, allowing the fabric to move with the body rather than inhibit it. This characteristic makes spandex fabric perfect for form-fitting clothes and sportswear, where comfort and flexibility are essential.


Spandex is a versatile synthetic fabric that can be combined with various natural and synthetic fabrics. This quality allows designers to achieve a better balance of elasticity, breathability, lightness, and texture when creating spandex-blended garments.


Spandex's moisture-wicking properties enhance comfort during strenuous physical activity by keeping the body dry and cool. This characteristic makes spandex perfect for activewear and sports apparel.


Elastane is tougher than other elastic fibers like rubber. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Elastane?

While elastane offers numerous advantages, it isn't a flawless synthetic material. Here are some of its downsides:

Disadvantages of Elastane


Spandex fibers don't decompose naturally over time. This quality makes it persist in the environment for extended periods, contributing to environmental degradation.

Depends on other fabrics

Spandex can't produce fabrics on its own. It must be blended with other fibers to make functional fabrics. 

Limited breathability

While elastane fabric is relatively breathable, it isn't as breathable as natural fibers like cotton or linen. Its addition to fabric blends can trap heat and cause discomfort, particularly in warmer regions or during rigorous physical activity. However, blending elastane with breathable fibers can somewhat reduce this downside.

Environmental impact 

The chemical process that produces elastane fabric consumes a lot of energy and generates plenty of waste. Additionally, the raw materials required to produce elastane, such as crude oil, are non-renewable resources.

Care requirements 

Elastane-blended garments often require special care instructions. They may need to be washed and dried at specific temperatures to maintain their elasticity and shape. Failure to follow care instructions could lead to reduced stretch over time.


Some people may experience allergic reactions to spandex. It can cause itching, swelling, and even breathing difficulties. Fortunately, spandex allergies are relatively rare. Nonetheless, it's crucial for people allergic to spandex to be mindful of the fabrics they buy and to consider alternative fabrics if necessary.

What Is Elastane Fabric Used For?

Thanks to its incredible stretch and flexibility, elastane is used in a variety of textile products. Here's what it's used for:

  • Undergarments: Elastane is an important component in undergarments like bras, panties, and briefs. While it doesn't constitute a high percentage of the final product, the waistband on most undergarments is usually made of elastane fabric because of its stretchiness.
  • Athletic wear and activewear: Elastane's elasticity, flexibility, and moisture-wicking properties make it perfect for athletes and people with active lifestyles. From swimwear and bike shorts to yoga pants and hiking attire, the fabric's form-fitting nature offers excellent comfort while enhancing movement.
  • Close-fitting clothes: Elastane's stretchiness makes it perfect for a variety of casual clothes like skinny jeans, t-shirts, dresses, and skirts. Generally, these clothes consist of other fibers combined with elastane fabric to make them more elastic.
  • Outerwear: Spandex's stretch and shape retention properties make it suitable for outerwear such as jackets, coats, and blazers. Including spandex allows these clothes to provide a closer fit, freedom of movement, and enhanced comfort. It also ensures that outerwear garments retain their shape even after prolonged wear.
  • Accessories: Spandex isn't limited to clothing alone. It's also used to make accessories like gloves, headbands, and wristbands, where elasticity is essential. Accessories made from spandex provide a snug and comfortable fit, making them suitable for accessories.

How Does Elastane Affect the Environment?

While elastane offers various benefits to designers, manufacturers, and consumers, it has some negative impacts on the environment. Here are some of the fabric's impacts on the environment:

Elastane Affect the Environment
  • Resource depletion: Elastane is derived from non-renewable resources like crude oil and natural gas. Exploiting these resources to produce elastane-blended textiles contributes to the depletion of finite fossil fuel and natural gas reserves.
  • Carbon emissions: The production of elastane involves a chemical process that relies on crude oil. This process consumes energy and generates greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change and global warming. In fact, according to one study, the fast fashion textile industry accounts for between 2 to 8 percent of total global greenhouse emissions, with elastane fabric being a contributor (UNECE, 2018).
  • Microplastic pollution: Spandex contributes to microplastic pollution. When spandex-containing garments are washed, tiny synthetic fibers can shed and find their way into rivers, lakes, and oceans. These microfibers, which are basically microplastics, can pose adverse risks to marine life and potentially enter the food chain. In one study, it was found that microplastics can cause reduced feeding activity, affect reproduction and cause genetic damage to marine life (Devi et al., 2022).
  • Landfill waste: Spandex is a non-biodegradable material that doesn't break down naturally over time. Unfortunately, when spandex-containing garments reach the end of their life cycle, people often dispose of them in landfills. According to one study, nearly 85% of the textiles produced annually end up in landfills(MAKE GOOD, n.d.). This accumulation of non-biodegradable textiles exacerbates the growing waste crisis and the burden on landfill capacity.
  • Limited recycling infrastructure: Currently, there are limited recycling plants for spandex fabrics globally. For instance, roughly 30 to 35 percent of European textile waste is recycled (McKinsey & Company, 2022). This is because the complex composition and combination of materials in spandex-containing garments make it challenging to separate and recycle effectively. As a result, most spandex-containing garments are disposed of as mixed waste, reducing opportunities for circularity and conversion of waste into value.

How Can the Environmental Impact of Elastane Fibers Be Reduced?

Addressing the environmental impact of elastane fabric requires a concerted effort from various stakeholders, including textile manufacturers, consumers, and governments. By adopting sustainable practices, implementing policies to promote sustainability, and exploring alternative fabrics, these stakeholders can reduce the ecological footprint of elastane.

That said, here are some strategies aimed at mitigating the environmental impact of elastane fabric:

  • Continued research and development: Continued investment in research and development of alternative eco-friendly fabrics like recycled elastane can help to reduce dependence on non-renewable resources.  
  • Sustainable manufacturing processes: Textile manufacturers can improve their manufacturing processes. For instance, they can reduce energy and water usage and improve waste management. Adopting cleaner manufacturing methods can reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impacts of elastane manufacturing.
  • Recycling and circular economy: Developing efficient recycling methods for elastane-containing garments can reduce waste and promote circularity. Initiatives focused on separating and recycling elastane fibers can prevent these materials from ending up in landfills or water bodies and reintroduce them into the production cycle.
  • Consumer education and awareness: Raising consumers' awareness about elastane fabric's environmental impact can encourage sustainable choices. For instance, educating consumers about the importance of proper waste disposal, garment care, and sustainable consumption can drive them to make environmentally-conscious decisions. 
  • Sustainable fashion brands: Supporting sustainable fashion brands that prioritize eco-friendly practices can reduce the environmental impact of spandex. Brands committed to responsible sourcing, designing, and manufacturing can significantly reduce the environmental impact of spandex. As a result, by purchasing products from sustainable fashion brands, consumers can minimize the effects of spandex on the environment.    
  • Extended product lifespan: Encouraging consumers to follow care instructions, check garment durability before purchasing, and repair clothes when possible can extend the lifespan of spandex clothes and minimize the need for frequent replacements. 

FAQs about Elastane Fabric

What is the most sustainable fabric?

Determining the most sustainable fabric is a complex undertaking that involves evaluating the entire life cycle of a fabric from production to disposal.

Nonetheless, some fabrics are generally considered more sustainable than others due to their low ecological footprint. These sustainable fabrics include organic cotton, linen, and recycled fabrics made from recycled nylon, polyester, and cotton.

Why isn’t elastane a sustainable synthetic fiber?

Elastane is not considered a sustainable synthetic fiber for various reasons. It’s resource intensive, non-biodegradable, difficult to recycle, and reliant on petroleum-based products to produce. 

Does elastane shrink?

Typically, elastane fabric doesn’t shrink when exposed to water or subjected to normal washing and drying. It retains its elasticity and shape.

However, the presence of elastane in a fabric blend can influence the shrinkage behavior of the garment. For instance, if a fabric blend contains other fibers susceptible to shrinking, like cotton, silk, or wool, it may shrink due to those fibers. In such instances, the elastane may not shrink, but the other fibers can make the garment appear to have shrunk.

Does elastane shrink

Is polyester toxic to wear?

Polyester is generally non-toxic and safe to wear. However, while it’s relatively rare, some people may experience skin irritation or sensitivity when wearing polyester.

Nonetheless, while polyester is generally safe to wear, its production and disposal can impact the environment. Since it's derived from crude oil, polyester contributes to greenhouse emissions and microplastic pollution when washed.

Is polyester a bad fabric?

Polyester isn't an inherently bad fabric. Like elastane, it has both positive and negative attributes. It's durable, affordable, and versatile. However, like elastane, it isn't biodegradable, and it's derived from non-renewable materials, so it isn't eco-friendly.


Elastane is a synthetic fiber that has gained rapid popularity in the fashion industry due to its exceptional elasticity and comfort. Nonetheless, while elastane fabric offers various benefits to consumers and textile manufacturers, its environmental impact can't be ignored.

Fortunately, by adopting sustainable practices, exploring alternative fibers, and embracing circular economy principles, we can work towards reducing the environmental impact of elastane fabric and promoting a more sustainable fashion industry.


The LYCRA Company | Innovative Fiber and Textile Solutions. (n.d.).


UN Alliance aims to put fashion on path to sustainability | UNECE. (2018, July 12).


Devi, K. N., Raju, P., Santhanam, P., & Perumal, P. T. (2022). Impacts of microplastics on marine

organisms: Present perspectives and the way forward. The Egyptian Journal of Aquatic

Research, 48(3), 205–209.


Fashion’s Waste Problem | New Zealand | MAKE GOOD. (n.d.). Makegood.


Scaling textile recycling in Europe—turning waste into value. (2022, July 14). McKinsey &




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Alyciah Beavers

Committed to promoting sustainability and am pleased to have the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with you.

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