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All about spandex lycra

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SPANDEX


Volleyball player Cynthia Barboza wearing spandex shorts

Spandex, Lycra or elastane is a synthetic fibre known for its exceptional elasticity. It is stronger and more durable than natural rubber. It is a polyester-polyurethane copolymer that was invented in 1958 by chemist Joseph Shivers at DuPont's Benger Laboratory in Waynesboro, Virginia. When introduced in 1962, it revolutionized many areas of the clothing industry.

The name "spandex" is an anagram of the word "expands". It is the preferred name in North America; in continental Europe it is referred to by variants of "elastane", i.e. elasthanne (France), elastan (Germany), elastano (Spain), elastam (Italy) and Elasthaan (Netherlands), and is known in the UK, Ireland, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Israel primarily as Lycra. Brand names for spandex include Lycra (made by Koch subsidiary Invista, previously a part of DuPont), Elaspan (also Invista), Acepora (Taekwang), Creora (Hyosung), INVIYA (Indorama Corporation), ROICA and Dorlastan (Asahi Kasei), Linel (Fillattice), and ESPA (Toyobo).

SPANDEX FIBRES PRODUCTION


Spandex fibre

Spandex fibres are produced in four different ways: melt extrusion, reaction spinning, solution dry spinning, and solution wet spinning. All of these methods include the initial step of reacting monomers to produce a prepolymer. Once the prepolymer is formed, it is reacted further in various ways and drawn out to make the fibres. The solution dry spinning method is used to produce over 94.5% of the world's spandex fibres.

Solution dry spinning
Step 1: The first step is to produce the prepolymer. This is done by mixing a macroglycol with a diisocyanate monomer. The two compounds are mixed in a reaction vessel to produce a prepolymer. A typical ratio of glycol to diisocyanate is 1:2.

Step 2: The prepolymer is further reacted with an equal amount of diamine. This reaction is known as chain extension reaction. The resulting solution is diluted with a solvent (DMAc) to produce the spinning solution. The solvent helps make the solution thinner and more easily handled, and then it can be pumped into the fibre production cell.

Step 3: The spinning solution is pumped into a cylindrical spinning cell where it is cured and converted into fibres. In this cell, the polymer solution is forced through a metal plate called a spinneret. This causes the solution to be aligned in strands of liquid polymer. As the strands pass through the cell, they are heated in the presence of a nitrogen and solvent gas. This process causes the liquid polymer to react chemically and form solid strands.

Step 4: As the fibres exit the cell, an amount of solid strands are bundled together to produce the desired thickness. Each fibre of spandex is made up of many smaller individual fibres that adhere to one another due to the natural stickiness of their surface.

Step 5: The resulting fibres are then treated with a finishing agent which can be magnesium stearate or another polymer. This treatment prevents the fibres' sticking together and aids in textile manufacture. The fibres are then transferred through a series of rollers onto a spool.


Cyclist wearing a pair of spandex shorts and a cycling jersey


Woman wearing spandex leggings


Wrestlers wearing spandex


A contortionist wearing spandex

MAJOR SPANDEX FIBRE USES

Because of its elasticity and strength (stretching up to five times its length), spandex has been incorporated into a wide range of garments, especially in skin-tight garments. A benefit of spandex is its significant strength and elasticity and its ability to return to the original shape after stretching and faster drying than ordinary fabrics.

The types of garments which incorporate spandex include:

  • Apparel and clothing articles where stretch is desired, generally for comfort and fit, such as:
    • activewear
    • athletic, aerobic, and exercise apparel
    • belts
    • bra straps and side panels
    • competitive swimwear
    • cycling jerseys and shorts
    • dance belts worn by male ballet dancers and others
    • gloves
    • hosiery
    • leggings
    • netball bodysuits
    • orthopaedic braces
    • rowing unisuits
    • cross country race suits
    • ski pants
    • skinny jeans
    • slacks
    • miniskirts
    • socks and tights
    • swimsuits/bathing suits
    • underwear
    • wetsuits
    • zentai
  • Compression garments such as:
  • foundation garments
  • motion capture suits
  • bra cups
  • support hose
  • surgical hose
  • superhero outfits
  • women's volleyball shorts
  • wrestling singlets
  • Shaped garments such as:
  • Home furnishings, such as microbead pillows

For clothing, spandex is usually mixed with cotton or polyester, and accounts for a small percentage of the final fabric, which therefore retains most of the look and feel of the other fibres. In North America it is rare in men's clothing, but prevalent in women's. An estimated 80% of clothing sold in the United States contained spandex in 2010.

To read more about spandex, please click on the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandex

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