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What is Spandex?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Spandex is a synthetic fabric with a polymer base, like nylon or polyester; spandex, however, has unique properties that make it well suited to certain applications, such as sports apparel. The fabric is able to expand up to 600% and spring back without losing its integrity, although over time, the fibers may become exhausted. Unlike many other synthetic fabrics, spandex is a polyurethane, and it is this fact that is responsible for the fabric's peculiarly elastic qualities.


Spandex was developed by Dupont® in 1959, long after many other synthetic fibers were developed by the same company. Formerly, foundation garments and compression garments were made with rubber, which was expensive, difficult to manipulate, and often irritating to the skin. Spandex replaced rubber in most of these applications, allowing people to wear garments that would adjust to their shapes but still breathe, so that sweat and dirt didn't accumulate next to the skin. The sporting goods industry quickly picked up on the new fabric as well, seeing a potential for a flexible, breathing fabric. One company who has become one of the most well-known brands of spandex is Lycra®, which is very popular with athletes.

Common Uses

Spandex is most commonly used in sports apparel such as cycling shorts and wet suits, but is also commonly found in bathing suits, surgical compression garments, and brassieres, just to name a few. In all of these applications, the ability to wick moisture and stretch is vital and makes a big difference to the wearer. For active individuals, it is a great alternative to natural fibers, which, while more comfortable, are also bulkier and less able to give with movement.

Care Instructions

Spandex is relatively easy to care for. It can usually be washed by machine in cool to lukewarm water and drip dried or machine dried at very low temperature if removed promptly. Most items containing the fabric have care instructions included on the label; besides water temperature and drying instructions, many garment labels will also advise against using fabric softener, as it can break down the elasticity of the fabric. If an iron is needed, it should remain on a very low heat setting.

Allergic Reactions

For some people, spandex can cause allergic reactions and irritate sensitive skin due to the presence of some harmful chemicals. If skin irritation occurs, wear should be discontinued. Verifying that the garment does not also contain rubber or latex, which are even more likely to irritate skin, can help prevent negative reactions to the fabric.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sunildh — On Aug 20, 2013

Can someone explain the differences between Spandex, Lycra and Elastane please? Are they same and mainly used for common purposes?

By subway11 — On Aug 02, 2010

SurfNturf-I used to wear shiny spandex outfits when exercising, but I prefer the lycra spandex better because the material is a little bit softer and it's more comfortable.

I usually prefer the spandex bodysuit and the shorts when I exercise. I like the spandex bodysuit because I don't have to coordinate a top and a bottom. I just put it on and go.

By surfNturf — On Aug 02, 2010

Cafe41-I agree with you. What I love about the spandex fabric is that it is breathable especially when you are working out outside and the weather is really hot.

It keeps you cooler when you're exercising and makes it more comfortable for you to work out.

By cafe41 — On Aug 02, 2010

Anon5595-I don't know the answer to your question, but I do know that I like using spandex leggings when I worked out. The fabric is very comfortable and makes it easy for me to move around.

I also use spandex shorts when riding my bike. I love that lycra spandex stretches to shape your body. I love that it is form fitting.

I buy my spandex clothing at Target in the active department. I usually buy the Capri pants and bike shorts.

By anon5595 — On Nov 30, 2007

Can you recycle spandex or can you make spandex from recycled materials?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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