Generic (non-geographic specific) spandex (also known as elastane) undyed woven textile. Spandex is a polyurethane that is formed into elastic fiber by extrusion through a spinneret and then usually dry spun into a fiber and then typically core spun into a yarn and blended with fibers such as cotton, nylon, polyester, rayon, acrylic, etc., although 100% spandex yarns are produced as a specialty product. The long amorphous segments in spandex create the elastic properties and the short rigid segments provide the structure when the fiber is stretched and released (Sheshirm, 2014, p. 8).
Common Uses In Apparel And Footwear
Typical uses of spandex are in foundation garments, active wear, sportswear, swimwear, compression garments, or any clothing where elasticity is desired for comfort and fit (Bralla, 2007, p. 775). Specifically, spandex can be used in tops, bottoms, socks, swimsuits, underwear, gloves, leggings and other applications (Sheshirm, 2014, p.28).
Alternative Textiles That May Be Substituted For Material• Natural rubber latex1 • Synthetic rubber latex2
Life Cycle Description
1 kilogram of undyed spandex fabric
Cradle to undyed fabric. The data presented within include all steps required to turn the raw material or initial stock into spandex fabric, which is ready for processing, including transportation and energy inputs. Capital equipment, space conditioning, support personnel requirements, and miscellaneous materials comprising <1% by weight of net process inputs are excluded.
1 Rouette, 2001, p. 37 2 Sheshirm, 2014, p.7
Substitution approach. Allocation was avoided as the system boundary ends at undyed fabric. Due to this assumption, some flow values came up as negative because the end of life was not included in the study.
Unit Process DescriptionsFiber Production
The processing of spandex begins with forming a prepolymer from a diisocyanate and a polyether/ polyester polyol (e.g. macroglycol), which is further reacted with a diamine (EPA, 2000, p. 2-2). The diisocyanate is responsible for the rigidity and the macroglycol is responsible for the elasticity. The ratio of macroglycol to diisocyanate merits different properties in the fiber and is monitored in the production process. When these two are mixed in a reaction vessel they create the prepolymer. After this reaction takes place, the product is chain extended through the use of glycol, diamine or occasionally water (Bralla, 2007, p. 775). For the process to take place a diazabicyclo[2.2.2]octane catalyst needs to be added with low molecular weight amines (Sheshirm, 2014, p.16). Once the spandex polymer is created, it needs to be spun into fibers.
Spandex fiber is created through dry spinning, wet spinning, reaction spinning and melt spinning; however the majority (80-90% of world production) of fiber is created through dry spinning (Rouette, 2001, p. 37; EPA, 2000, pp. 2-5). A solvent is added to the spandex polymer or the polymer is heated (EPA, 2000, pp. 2-3) then extruded through a spinneret, which then enters a nitrogen filled heating cabinet or columns (Rouette, 2001, p. 37) to evaporate residual solvent from the individual fibers (Sheshirm, 2014, p. 23). When the solvent is evaporated from the solution, a chemical reaction causes the fibers to form. Inside the heating cabinet, the fibers are brought into contact with each other by false-twist assembly while still slightly viscous creating a filament (Rouette, 2001, p. 37). The filament is drawn under tension onto take up winders and the resulting fibers typically in the range of 4-20 decitex (3.6-18 denier) (Rouette, 2001, p. 37). The filaments are sometimes treated with a finishing agent such as magnesium stearate, to reduce the amount of fiber stick and ease processing (Singha, 2012, p. 12; Romanowski, n.d., “Producing the Fibers”).
Spandex is often used to create core spun and covered yarns (Senthilkumar et al, 2011, p. 301). In this process, yarn is produced using normal ring spinning machines with special guiding devices and feeder rollers (Senthilkumar et al, 2011, p. 301) that wrap a different fiber or fibers over a core. Covered yarns wrap a filament or spun yarn over a filament core. Core-spun yarns have a sheath of fiber over the core (AATCC, 2011, “Filament Yarns and Texturing”). Conventional covered yarns use spandex as the center core which is wrapped with either a single or double (one in each direction) filament of one type of non-elastic cover filament yarn in various twist specifications. A core twist yarn uses multiple non-elastic cover filaments twisted together over the core spandex filament. Compound yarns use two different filament fibers to cover the core (also one in each direction). Air-jet intermingled yarns are created by entangling filaments to create the cover over the core. Some types are suitable for both filament and staple fibers (Maw Chawg, n.d., “Characteristics of Elastic Covered Yarn”). During any of these processes, factors such as spandex fitness, draw ratio and twist can be altered to optimize the covering effect (Senthilkumar et al, 2011, p. 301).
Core-spun and covered spandex yarns as well as 100% spandex yarns can be woven or knitted into a fabric. Spandex blends require special dyeing techniques to dye the spandex and the blend fibers
The total cradle to gate energy required to produce 1 kg of undyed spandex textile is ~375 MJ (van der Velden, 2014, p. 352). The majority of energy (~190 MJ) is used in the weaving process, followed by ~ 100 MJ of energy used in the production of the spandex fibers (van der Velden, 2014, p. 352). This calculation was done assuming a 70 decitex (63 denier) fiber. A much smaller amount (<20 MJ) is consumed in heat setting, texturing, and the extruding and spinning processes (van der Velden, 2014, p. 352). It should be noted that the amount of energy required for weaving of spandex is a function of decitex, which will vary by producer (van der Velden, 2014, p. 343). Knitting spandex is about 20 times less energy intensive than weaving and may be considered an energy reduction strategy (van der Velden, 2014, p. 347).
The energy demand for the long chain polyether polyols is 89.1 MJ, where 35-40 MJ represents the recoverable energy present in the polymer and 49.1-54.1 MJ represents the process energy (PlasticsEurope, 2012a, p. 15). The cumulative energy required to create 1 kg of toluene-2,4-diisocyanate (TDI) from cradle to gate is 59.89 MJ; in Europe, this was sourced from primarily nonrenewable sources (PlasticsEurope, 2012b, p. 18)
For production of spandex fibers through dry spinning, no water is directly required as an input, though insignificant amounts are used in solvents and potentially cooling. In the production of TDI, an example feedstock for spandex prepolymer, 3.1 kg of water is used for processing and 15.1 is used for cooling during the processing for a total of 18.2 L/kg (PlasticsEurope, 2012b, p. 22). The other feedstock to the prepolymer is a polyol such as polyether polyol. Water requirements for the production of long chain polyether polyols are 3.6 L/kg consumption and 50.8 L/kg cooling for a total of 54.4 L/kg (PlasticsEurope, 2012a, p. 20). Cradle to gate polymer fiber production of spandex is estimated to have process water consumption of 95 L/kg spandex, cooling water use of 257 L/kg spandex, and total use of 347 L/kg spandex (PlasticsEurope, 2005, p. 10). Drying spinning and fabric production are assumed to be de minimis levels of water consumption.
Chemical inputs to spandex are a diisocyanate (TDI or methylene diisocyanate/MDI), a polyol (macroglycol), diamine, pigments, finishing agents, stabilizers, additives, and solvents such as N,N-dimethylformamide (DMF) or N.N’-dimethylacetamide (DMAC) and a catalyst. The volume of use for each chemical input varies by production plant. To reduce the adhesive qualities of spandex, preparation agents that are 95% silicone and 5% surfactant are typically added in manufacturing (European Commission, 2003, p. 18). The presence of silicone oils causes environmental concerns when the substances have to be removed (European Commission, 2003, p. 18). There are often finishing products applied to fibers to prevent them from sticking together such as magnesium stearate (Singha, 2012, p. 12). Manufacturing plants may choose to use various additives in their products to change output quality.
Physical inputs include organic and inorganic substances, water, and ancillary materials such as compressed air.
3 Spandex-specific water data were not identified in the literature. Flexible polyurethane foam is used as a proxy for water consumption.
Land use is limited to extraction, processing and manufacturing facilities. Although not currently commercially marketed, spandex could be made with bio-based polyols, similar to other polyurethanes that are commercially available and thereby have a greater land use impact than fully synthetic versions due to agricultural activities to produce the bio-based raw materials.
Co-products & By-products
During the production of olefins used in polyether polyols, fuel gas and off gas are produced as co-products that are often used in another PU production processes as fuel (Franklin Associates, 2011, p. 12-1). The heat that is a co-product of polyol production is allocated in many LCAs as recoverable energy (Franklin Associates, 2011, p. 12-2). During the processing of TDI, hydrogen chloride (HCl) is produced as a by-product; production processes are typically designed such that the HCl is generated as a readily marketable product (PlasticsEurope, 2012b, p. 3).
The production of 1 kg TDI results in 3.18E-02 kg of solid waste (PlasticsEurope, 2012b, p. 23). The production of 1 kg of polyether polyol produces 3.98E-03 kg of solid waste, 3.56E-03 of which goes to the incinerator, and 4.19E-19 of which goes to landfill (PlasticsEurope, 2012a, p. 22). Total cradle to gate solid waste for production of 1 kg of spandex is 0.3 kg/kg (PlasticsEurope, 2005, p. 14) The reaction of polyols and TDI is relatively efficient in creating the polyurethane intermediate for the formation of spandex fiber. During the dry spinning process there are small amounts of polytetrahydrofuran waste from the glycolysis processes (Outa, 2013, p. 2013).
During the production of spandex fibers that utilize toluene diisocyanate, hazardous emissions of toluene are released from fiber spinning lines, storage vessels, and process vents (EPA, 2000, p. 1-1). TDI is a significant respiratory hazard and causes skin irritation on contact. Due to its density, vaporization is common which can result in respiratory pathway exposures (Defonseka, 2013, p. 145). Good manufacturing practice with TDI requires covering equipment and storage with an inert gas to eliminate atmospheric moisture contamination (Defonseka, 2013, p. 147). Production of polyols uses amines and volatile blowing agents that are hazardous (Defonseka, 2013, p. 146). Use of DMF and DMAC as solvents for spandex fiber formation results in hazardous waste, as it is toxic (Yin et al, 2014, p. 17).
The total aggregated quantity of biological and chemical oxygen demand (BOD/COD) and total organic carbon (TOC) is 0.9 g for production of 1 kg of polyether polyols and 0.3 g for TDI. Eutrophication potential for the production of 1 kg of polyether polyols is 0.84 g PO43- eq. and for 1 kg of TDI it is 0.87 g PO
43- eq. (PlasticsEurope, 2012a, pp. 22, 24; PlasticsEurope, 2012b, pp. 23, 25). Overall data for spandex was not identified in the literature.
The emissions from the creation of 1 kg of pure undyed spandex textile amount to 17.5 kg CO2 equivalent (van der Velden 2014 p. 351). The majority of these emissions come from the weaving process, which is a function of decitex (van der Velden 2014 p. 351). In this calculation a 70 decitex yarn (63 denier) was assumed. The production of the polymer emits just less than 5 kg CO2 equivalent, and < 1 kg CO2 equivalent is consumed from extruder spinning, texturing and heat setting (van der Velden 2014 p. 351). The production of 1 kg of polyether polyols produces 2.65 kg of CO2 and much smaller emissions of CO, SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PlasticsEurope, 2012a, p. 12). Polyether polyols generate 6.19 g SO2eq. and TDI generates 3.87 g SO2eq. as acidification potential during their production (PlasticsEurope, 2012, p. 23; PlasticsEurope, 2012b, p. 24).
Performance And ProcessingFunctional Attributes And Performance • Very high elasticity 4
• Almost white in color 5
• Good resistance to oils and cosmetics 6 • Easily dyed 7
• Abrasion resistant 8 • Heat settable 9
• No needle cutting damage when sewing 10 • Yellow burn by nitrogen 11
• Low UV resistance 12 • Sensitive to heat 13 4 Rouette, 2001, p. 37 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Sheshirm, 2014, p.26 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 Hu. et al, 2008, p. 282 12 Ibid. 13 Singha 2012 p. 14 Indicator 1 KG Spandex Energy (MJ) i ~ 375 Water (L) ii ~ 95 Waste (kg) iii 0.3 GHG emissions (kg CO2) i 17.5
Note: A literature search did not identify data for water and waste associated with spandex production; flexible polyurethane foam data are reported as a proxy for spandex. The data for energy and GHG emissions are for cradle to gate spandex textile (undyed woven textile).
i van der Velden 2014 p. 351-352 ii PlasticsEurope, 2005, p. 10 iii PlasticsEurope, 2005, p. 14
Spandex fibers are highly elastic, with breaking elongation of 200-700% that return to their original form once the tension has been removed (Fourne, 1999, p. 128; Rouette, 2001, p. 37). Polyurethane spandex is comprised of 85% (by weight) polyurethane (Frauendorf et al. 1991, description section). Spandex is lightweight, soft, durable, and has a better retract ability than natural rubber latex. Textiles made with spandex are resistant to deterioration from body oil, perspiration, lotion and detergents (Sheshirm, 2014, p.26). Despite the fact that spandex is abrasion resistant, it is less durable that one of its common substitutes, natural rubber latex (Sheshirm, 2014, p.7). Most textiles require a small percentage of spandex (2-10%) to provide the desired stretch characteristics (Senthilkumar et al, 2011, p. 302).
Spandex textiles are easily dyed (Sheshirm, 2014, p.8). During production manufacturers monitor each process. Most producers analyze the diisocyanate to ensure that the pH viscosity and the specific gravity are consistent with their standards. Changing types or prepolymer can result in varying elasticity and other characteristics (Sheshirm, 2014, p.25). Varying characteristics of the fibers can result in fiber diameters with a denier of 10-2,500. When sewing textiles containing spandex, there is little damage from needle cutting (Sheshirm, 2014, p.26). Heat setting should be done early in the process to reduce the yellowing or dyeing of the fibers (Senthilkumar et al, 2011, p. 302).
Spandex is lightweight, smooth, soft and supple (Sheshirm, 2014, p.26). Using the material in a product helps to create a tight fit on the body and limit bagging and sagging of garments.
Melting temp (oC) ii 250
Tenacity (g/d) iii 1.07 - 1.27
Tensile strain (%) Unavailable
Tensile strength (N) iii 299 - 384 based on denier
Young’s modulus (cn/tex) v 1.1
Water retention (%) ii 0.3
Intrinsic viscosity (dL/g) iv 0.75 - 2.5
Breaking elongation (%) iv 500%
Molecular weight (g/mol) Unavailable
Breaking strength (g/den) ii 0.7
Note: In typical use, spandex is a relatively small percentage of a fabric blend; the resulting blended textiles would have variable mechanical property values.
References i Singha 2012 p. 13
ii Senthilkumar et al, 2011, p. 301, iii Quadir et al, 2014, p. 24; 25 iv Seneker & Lawrey, 1996 v Dang et al, 2008
Potential Social And Ethical Concerns
During the processing of spandex, there are silicate oil solvents used as preparation agents (European Commission, 2003, p. 402). These cannot be fully removed with water washing and can potentially be released in dry cleaning and in end of life for spandex (European Commission, 2003, p. 402). The production of polyether polyol results in atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, all of which are potent greenhouse gasses (Franklin Associates, 2011, p. 12-8). Production of TDI can emit toxic fumes that can be harmful to workers in the manufacturing plant. Workers may also be exposed to toxic solvents such as DMF or DMAC in production and later processing. Fossil fuels are used in transportation of these products and are common as a fuel source for production. These fuels emit greenhouse gasses, which intensify global climate change.
Availability Of Material
China has the largest capacity for production of spandex. Currently, Hyosung Corp. has the largest market share of spandex fiber with facilities in Korea, China (Jiaxing, Zuhai, and Guangdong), Turkey, Vietnam and Brazil. Invista is another major producer of spandex materials under the product name Lycra (DuPont sold its Lycra business and trademarks to Invista in 2004) (Sheshirm, 2014, p.9; EPA, 2000, p. 3-6).
Cost Of Textile
Price of spandex on the market depends on the denier, which can range from 10 – 5,000 (EPA, 2000, p. 3-5). Generally the price decreases as denier increases (EPA, 2000, p. 3-5). In 1998, a 10 denier fiber cost $30.00-$35.00 per pound where as a 420 denier fiber cost $7.65 - $8.60 per pound (EPA, 2000, p. 3-5). Currently, the price range of spandex fiber is about $8-10 per kg (Sonnenschein, 2014, p. 324).
Questions To Ask When Sourcing This Material
Q: What type of diisocyanate was used in the pre polymer?
Q: Are there any fillers or additives applied to the prepolymer?
Q: Have the spandex fibers been heat set?
Q: Will the manufacturer take-back post-consumer and/or post-industrial waste textile for recyclingpurposes?
Crude Oil Production
Figure 1. TDI Production
Ammonia Production Distillation, Desalting &
Carbon Monoxide Production
Toluene Production Nitric Acid Production
Natural Gas Production
Sulfuric Acid Production Soda Ash Mining/
Sodium Hydroxide Production
Salt Mining Chlorine Production
Figure 2. Polyol Production
Crude Oil Production Natural Gas Production
Distillation, Desalting &
Hydrotreating Natural Gas Processing Oxygen Production Olefins Production
Ethylene Oxide Production Propylene Oxide Production
Chlorine, Caustic Soda & Caustic Potash Production
Palm Kernel Oil Refining, Bleaching
Palm Kernel Processing Palm Kernel Production Fresh Fruit Batch Harvesting
Figure 3. PU Spandex Production
Polyol (Macro Glycol) Production
Spandex Polymer Production
1 kg Undyed Spandex
OutputsDry Spinning *
Fiber False Twist *
Yarn Core Spinning *
Weaving/ Knitting Of Textile *
EmissionsDiamine Production *
* Processes marked with an
asterisk can be completed using
other processes and would result
in a different process flow diagram.
Processes included in this diagram
were either common, or explained in
AATCC. (2011). “Filament Yarns and Texturing.” Retrieved from: https://www.aatcc.org/events/online/Textile-Fundamentals-demos/ notebooks/texturing.pdf
Bralla, James G.. (2007). Handbook of Manufacturing Processes - How Products, Components and Materials are Made. Industrial Press. Retrieved from: http://app.knovel.com/web/view/swf/show.v/rcid:kpHMPHPCM1/cid:kt006HTD42/viewerType:pdf/ root_slug:handbook-manufacturing?cid=kt006HTD42&page=12&b-q=polyurethane%20spandex&sort_on=default&b-subscription=TRUE&b-group-by=true&b-search-type=tech-reference&b-sort-on=default&q=polyurethane%20spandex
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Fourne, Franz. (1999). Synthetic Fibers - Machines and Equipment Manufacture, Properties. Hanser Publishers. Retrieved from:
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Frauendorf, B., Korte, S., Suling, C., & Dauscher, R. (1991). U.S. Patent No. 5,061,426. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved from: http://www.google.com/patents/US5061426
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Laursen, Søren Ellebæk, et al. (2007) “EDIPTEX–Environmental assessment of textiles.” Danish Ministry of the Environment. Environmental Protection Agency. Working report no. 24. Retrieved from: http://www2.mst.dk/udgiv/ publications/2007/978-87-7052-515-2/pdf/978-87-7052-516-9.pdf
Maw Chawg. (n.d.) “Characteristics of Elastic Covered Yarn.” Retrieved from: http://www.machangx.com/en/product/index.htm
Outa, C. Spandex. (2013). Online poster for Design 40. http://www.designlife-cycle.com/
PlasticsEurope. (2005). Polyurethane Flexible Foam. Eco-profiles of the European Plastics Industry. March 2005. http://www. plasticseurope.org/plastics-sustainability-14017/eco-profiles/browse-by-list.aspx.
PlasticsEurope. (2012a). Long and Short-Chain polyether Polyols for Polyurethane Products. ISOPA. Eco profiles and enviroDnmental product declarations of the European Plastics Manufacturers. April 2012. Retrieved from: http://www. plasticseurope.org/plastics-sustainability-14017/eco-profiles/browse-by-list.aspx.
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Quadir, B. Hussain, T. Malik, M. (2014). Effect of Elastane Denier and Draft Ratio of Core-Spun Cotton Weft Yarns on the Mechanical Properties of Woven Fabrics. Journal of Engineered fibers and fabrics. Volume 9, issue 1. Retrieved from: http:// www.jeffjournal.org/papers/Volume9/V9I1.4.T.Hussain.pdf
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Sheshirm H. Mazadul. (2014). Spandex or Elastane Fiber. Wet processing technology, Southeast University, Department of Textile Engineering. Tejgaon Dhaka, Bangladesh. Retrieved from: http://www.slideshare.net/sheshir/welcome-32761244
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Yin, Y. et al. (2014). Removal of spandex from nylon/spandex blended fabrics by selective polymer degradation. Textile Research Journal. DOI: 10.1177/0040517513487790. Retrieved from: http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~yw6/Fiberrecycling/Spandex%20 recycling%20TRJ%2810.1177_0040517513487790%29.pdf
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