Lycra, Spandex and Elastane are all names for the same fiber. First developed by DuPont, Lycra is a polyurethane fiber. The two prepolymers, one long and flexible and the other short and stiff, link to form a folded or twisted fiber which can be stretched up to five times its length. When tension is released, the fiber springs back to its original length.
Diagrams of Spandex Production (from How Products Are Made) —
Lycra is the trade name used by Invista, the DuPont spin-off which developed this material. “Spandex” is the generic name used in North America, “Lycra” has become the generic in Britain, while “Elastane” and its linguistic derivatives are used in Europe. “Spandex” was coined by switching the “ex” and the “s” in “expands.”
The development of spandex extends back to the search for rubber substitutes in 1940. Lycra was first produced commercially in 1962 by DuPont. Since then it has become widely used, especially as the cost of the material has dropped to more affordable levels. The popularity of this fiber is largely attributable to the use of spandex by entertainers and athletes. It is especially beneficial in activities requiring a great deal of movement, such as in sports. Loose clothing is no longer required for high flexibilty in doing a job. Also, loose clothing can get in the way, get caught, which gives spandex a safety advantage as well.
Several bedding manufacturers use spandex in the covers of their mattresses. Company and retailer descriptions variously call it Lycra, spandex or elastan. Many mattresses have stretch-knit ticking, which allows the cover to flex with the top-layer foams and the sleeper. Using spandex in woven fabrics makes them more flexible, while it enhances flexibility in knits (thus the “super-stretch” knits). Beds.org reviews of mattresses by seven manufacturers mention Lycra, spandex or elastan. Other manufacturers’ use of this super-stretch fiber may have escaped notice or have not been included in manufacturer and retailer accounts.
Depending on the real life perfomance of spandex on mattresses used by consumers, more bedding manufacturers may use it in the future.