As the name suggests, elastane is enormously stretchy. The main component of the synthetic fiber is polyurethane, a synthetic raw material that is as stretchy as rubber. This allows elastane to be stretched by up to 700 percent without wearing out: the fiber always returns to its original shape undamaged. A remarkable stretching exercise that makes elastane the perfect material for precisely fitting sportswear that can withstand all movements without damage.
The smooth, rubber-like texture ensures that elastane fabrics are extremely durable and do not wrinkle. They also don't lint or form unsightly knots - a wear and tear process called "pilling".
After the rubber comparison, this property of the synthetic fiber is even more amazing. The smooth elastane fibres absorb only little moisture and dry again quickly. Thus, clothing made of elastane never looks unpleasantly wet. However, there is one disadvantage: the synthetic fibre develops unpleasant odours more quickly than natural fibres do. However, there are already innovative coatings that prevent perspiration odours.
Synthetic fibres do not feel as comfortable on the skin as natural fibres. For this reason, elastane is only ever added to fabrics in order to produce accurately fitting and elastic fabrics, and is not used exclusively for fabric production. The proportion is usually less than 30 percent and endows cotton fabrics, for example, with stretchy capabilities. Stretch jeans, socks or yoga pants are a good example. However, elastane does not only work well in the mix with sustainable natural fibers, but is also often found in super stretchy blended fabrics with other synthetic fibers, for example for neoprene suits, swimwear or cycling clothing.
The sporty fiber is created in the chemistry lab on a synthetic basis. According to the EU Textile Labelling Regulation, it must consist of at least 85 percent polyurethane, a material obtained from the non-regenerative raw materials crude oil and natural gas. An enormous amount of energy is required for production, and the intermediate products created in the process are problematic for the environment.
While environmentally friendly recycling processes already exist for regenerative natural fibres such as cotton, merino wool or linen, it has not yet been possible to develop a mature process for the recycling of synthetic materials such as elastane. Another problem is that the wear and tear of the textiles causes tiny particles from the synthetic fibres to enter nature as microplastics.
A large part of the wear and tear happens in the washing machine: microparticles detach from the elastane fabric during the wash cycle and end up in the wastewater. They are so small that they cannot even be filtered out in the sewage treatment plant. As a result, they end up directly in rivers, lakes and oceans, and ultimately in fish, shellfish and aquatic plants. To help reduce this pollution, be sure to wash your elastane sportswear in special laundry bags that capture the microplastics.