Spandex (Lycra, Elastane) vs Polyester: Differences and Comparison

Spandex (Lycra, Elastane) vs Polyester: Differences and Comparison

Here on our site we frequently discuss the differences between various materials, brands and jackets, in order to learn more about what to look for in certain products and materials, as well as to better understand which one would be the right choice to use.

In previous articles we have looked at Elastane, Polyester and Nylon, as some of the most commonly used materials in jackets (and other garments).

We have even compared Nylon and Polyester together, as well as learned a bit more on the differences between the several names of Elastane.

Today, it’s time to go through another comparison, that between Elastane (or Spandex, or Lycra) and Polyester, in order to see why and how they are used in jackets and how they differ from each other.

Contents:

1. Elastane (Spandex, Lycra)

Elastane, also known as Spandex or Lycra, is a fiber that was originally invented in 1937 in Germany, but it wasn’t until later, in the 1950s that it was actually put to use in fabrics.

One of the major developers of these fibers was DuPont, the same company that also created Polyester and Nylon.

In terms of composition, elastane is made of polyurethane, a polymer that is a result of a polyester’s and diisocyanate‘s chemical reaction.

The prepolymer that is created, then is also put to react with diamine, which helps extend the polymer chains. The resulting product is made into a spinning solution, which is then spun into elastane fibers.

This polymer is also considered as an elastomer because it has the ability to retain its original shape and length after stretching.

Elastane has numerous qualities that make it so useful in the fabric industry.

To begin with, its ability to stretch up to 500% of its original length and then recoil back to the original length time and time again is what makes it so versatile in use.

Combining elastane fibers with other fibers, such as polyester, nylon or cotton, even at small amounts, such as 1% of the entire fabric composition, greatly improves the other material’s ability to stretch.

Being highly resistant to abrasion, sea water, body oils, detergents, perspiration and some cosmetic products are all qualities that make elastane not only durable, but also very practical to use without worry of stains or being damaged too soon.

It is also really lightweight overall and the fibers are soft and smooth, which means that this material does not really add weight to fabric, nor does it negatively affect the feel and comfort of it.

Lastly, it is a very easy to care for material and it does not suffer from pilling.

2. Polyester

Polyester (poly and ester, meaning many esters) is a material that is made of several esters, which are a result of the reaction between a dihydric alcohol and terephthalic acid. It was first created in 1941 and then later patented by DuPont in 1945.

To turn into fibers it is melt-spun, which allows the polyester to take various thicknesses, lengths and shapes by going through spinnerets as a heated plastic.

Yes, polyester is a plastic, a thermoplastic polymer in fact, which finds use in many different industries. We come across polyester on our everyday lives, not solely in the form of clothing, but in utensils and other tools we use.

It is an incredibly versatile material that is very durable and resistant to chemicals and even considerable amounts of heat. However, it can melt under high heat, so watch out for that.

Polyester is anti-wrinkling, meaning that the fabric that tends to maintain its shape without wrinkling and it is also very resilient due to its lack of stretch.

Being synthetic, it is also resistant to mildew, which is often an issue with natural materials, such as down or cotton.

When it comes to its use in jackets, polyester’s hydrophobic nature is quite useful as the fabric has low absorbency that makes the fabrics water-resistant.

It also tends to allow moisture to pass through rather than soak it up right away. It’s for this reason that it is commonly used in jackets that are made to be breathable, such as softshells, as the ability to allow moisture to escape prevents the jacket from getting soaked from the inside.

It is also quite an easy material to clean overall, but it does have a problem, its oleophilic nature that tends to hold onto oil-based stains and scents, such as body odor.

Overall, however, polyester is highly durable and long-lasting, with great resistance not only against chemicals, but also sunlight and it does not tint or fade from exposure to it.

3. Comparison and Differences: Elastane vs. Polyester

Performance and Composition

As you saw, elastane is a derivative of polyester in terms of its composition and it does exhibit some similar characteristics as polyester.

For example, it is considerably resistant to chemicals, stains, sunlight and abrasions.

But, there are distinct differences between the two when it comes to their performance. Polyester is a rather sturdy and non-stretchy fabric, whereas elastane, on the other hand, is incredibly stretchy and elastic, capable of stretching and recoiling many times without damage.

Polyester is also oleophilic, which becomes an issue over time due to its tendency to hold on to body odor, while elastane does not have this problem in the least. It is resistant to perspiration and body odor.

Another difference is the quantity used in fabrics where these two fibers are combined.

A polyester-elastane blend will typically be comprised of at least 90% Polyester, which goes to show which of the two bears most of the “responsibility” for a fabric’s performance, while also showcasing how incredible the elasticity of elastane is at affecting the main material’s ability to stretch.

Durability and Maintenance

Overall, you won’t really have to deal with elastane on its own, since it is used as a blend with other materials, as we already mentioned.

Thus, in regards to maintenance, it’s the main material that can cause trouble. However, both polyester and elastane are easy to care for and clean, with elastane being the one that cleans the easiest.

When it comes to durability, it’s a different story. Elastane fibers are not really durable overall. With time, they tend to over-stretch, meaning that they start to lose their ability to recoil back to the original length.

For this reason, clothes that contain a high percentage of elastane fibers need to be repurchased much more so than those made of mainly polyester.

man playing basketball with lycra shirt

Polyester, on the other hand, is really durable in terms of lasting long and being resistant to wear. This is the other main difference between these two materials, apart from the difference in elasticity.

When it comes to pilling, which is an issue with some low-quality polyester garments and some nylon ones, elastane does not have that problem at all. Polyester is also considerably anti-pilling overall.

Pilling, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, refers to the tiny balls of fabric fluff that can be found on the surface of your clothing. It does not affect the performance of the fabric at all, but it is not really pleasant to look at, regardless.

Use in Jackets

We will discuss these two materials together because they are very often used together when it comes to jackets.

Most commonly, Polyester and Elastane can be found in softshell jackets, which are designed to not solely be adaptable to body shape and movement, but also to be breathable.

Considering that polyester is really useful as a breathable fabric, but it lacks stretch, the use of elastane helps the fabric become stretchable and a lot more comfortable.

Polyester also exhibits adequate weather resistance and its commendable durability, as well as resistance to sunlight and common chemicals, make it a preferred material for jackets that are made for high performance.

The way these two materials are used is by weaving of the fibers together, which is why you cannot really tell them apart and why they perform so well together as a fabric.

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