How to Care for Spandex, Lycra or Elastane Clothes

Spandex care
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Imagine living in a world filled with clothes made from fabrics that don't stretch. No tights, no yoga pants, no comfortable waistbands, no shapewear. Or, equally as disturbing, knits that stretch and stretch and stretch but don't retain their shape. We would be a pretty uncomfortable and ugly group. The introduction of fibers like elastane, spandex and lycra that stretch and return to their original state changed the world of fabrics, fashion and active wear clothes.

What Are Spandex, Lycra and Elastane?

Spandex is a synthetic or man-made fiber manufactured from polyurethane. It is lightweight, highly stretchy and elastic, strong, durable and non-absorbent to water and oils. First produced in the United States in 1959 by DuPont, it was marketed under the trademarked name Lycra.

Spandex fibers can be stretched more than five hundred percent without breaking and after stretching repeatedly, return closely to the original length. The fibers are lightweight and soft while being more durable and stronger than rubber. The fibers are resistant to damage from body oils, perspiration, most cosmetic chemicals found in deodorants and lotions.

Spandex is heat settable during manufacturing. Because of this, clothes can be molded into permanent rounded or flat shapes. The fibers can be dyed and are resistant to abrasion and are easy to cut and sew. While Spandex can be used alone to weave a fabric, it is very often combined with natural fibers like cotton and wool as well as other man-made fibers like polyester or nylon to give stretchy qualities to fabrics.

Today the spandex fibers, a term only used in the United States, are often labeled as Elastane or EL which is recognized worldwide and used in compression garments and sportswear or for any garment where comfort and a more conforming fit is desired. Spandex is found in swimsuits, hosiery, waist bands, lingerie - especially shapewear - and even disposable diapers.

How to Care For Spandex, Lycra and Elastane Activewear and Lingerie

It is important to treat a spandex, lycra and elastane garment properly to allow it to retain its elastic qualities as long as possible. The care is quite easy and the garments will last a long time as long as you follow all the "nevers".

  • Never use hot water when cleaning, use cool or tepid water for both washing and rinsing. Hand-washing is best to prevent excessive wringing and stretching. If using a washer, place the spandex garments in a mesh lingerie bag and use the gentle cycle.
  • Never use fabric softener or dryer sheets. Most detergents are safe to use on spandex but you should skip the fabric softener or any combination detergent/fabric softener product. Fabric softener leaves a residue on spandex that can dull the finish and attract bacteria that causes excessive odor.
  • Never use chlorine bleach to whiten or remove stains from any fabric containing spandex as it will destroy the fibers. Oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach) is safe to use to brighten and remove stains.
  • Never place any spandex garments in a hot clothes dryer. Hang to drip dry away from direct heat and sun or dry flat. If quicker drying is necessary, use a low temperature on a clothes dryer and check the garment frequently.
  • Never use dry cleaning for garments that contain spandex. If you have clothes that are a blend of fibers and contain spandex, lycra or elastane and are labeled as dry clean only, a professional cleaner will know how to handle them properly. 
  • Never iron clothes that are made of 100 percent spandex fabrics. For clothes that have just a bit of spandex added to other fibers, use a low heat setting on the iron. Keep the iron moving on the fabric and never leave the iron on one spot for too long or melting can occur.

How to Remove Stains and Odors from Spandex, Lycra and Elastine Clothes

To remove stains from these fibers, follow the stain removal tips for the specific type of stain. It is particularly important to treat oily stains as soon as possible because they can be difficult to remove. 

To remove strong odors from exercise clothes that contain spandex, fill a sink or bucket with cool water and add one cup of baking soda.

Allow the clothes to soak overnight. Then wash as usual or rinse with cool water and dry in a breezy spot.