Spandex is an excellent material for underwear, leggings, and other figure-hugging garments. But unfortunately, it can come up short in other categories like temperature control.
Spandex doesn’t keep you warm. The material is too thin to provide enough insulation to trap your body heat and keep you feeling toasty, If you want to stay warm, you’ll need to surround the spandex with thicker fibers like cotton, polyester, or wool.
Let’s have a look at what spandex can do and how it can be used with the right combination of fibers and clothes can keep you at the right temperature.
Does Spandex Keep You Warm?
Although spandex is used in a wide variety of outfits and circumstances, it does not have a warming effect. But it can be combined with cotton or polyester– which are not very warming, or wool which can keep you warm. In fact, the percentage of spandex is small – around 2-10%. So, it is the other 90 – 98%, which determines how warm or cool the material is.
Also known as lycra or elastane, the extraordinary property spandex has is its elasticity – up to 6 times its length! The very name – “spandex” is an anagram of the word “expands.” A more complicated chemical name would be a polyether-polyurea copolymer, and it is manufactured from petroleum. The molecules of spandex have two parts – the stretchy part and a stop part – which is why it regains its shape so well.
It was an American gentleman, Joseph Benger, from Virginia, who invented spandex in 1958.
This was a godsend for the ladies who suffered under rubber foundation garments in the early 20th century. Spandex has replaced the ugly rubber, and ladies are more comfortable.
But people realized that the elastic properties of spandex could be put to wider uses, and the sports industry cottoned on. Cycling shorts, which were streamlined, improved the cyclist’s performance, and now athletes in almost every sport wear spandex – including the “round the block” jogger.
Ladies fashion caught on and slim fit jeans, easy to wear and easy to put on, became popular. You will find spandex, lycra or elastane in many of your clothes now. It has even spread to menswear.
And although spandex itself does not keep you warm, there are many variations in the combinations created, some of which will be warm.
How do you keep warm in cold weather with spandex.
The secret lies in layering your clothes. Each layer has its own function.
- Base or inside layer
- A middle layer
- Top or outside layer
The base layer
This is where spandex is useful as you need a body-hugging but light layer. This can trap the heat of our bodies.
Synthetic thermal underwear combines polyesters, spandex, and nylon to absorb heat from your body. When it is combined with wool, this keeps you nice and warm. The wool element also wicks away moisture, so you are not left swimming in your own sweat. This layer should be lightweight to allow the wicking way of moisture.
And don’t forget your legs, they can be very exposed, and you can lose a lot of heat through them. Lycra tights for men may, in fact, be very practical. (They can always cover the figure-hugging lycra with looser fitting over trousers.)
The middle layer
Here you want something warm like a fleece or a woolen jumper and warm trousers. Often a combination of natural and man-made fibers works well – and spandex can play a part. Fleece is usually made from cotton or polyester mix, which often has spandex to give it not only a better elasticity but also helps the garment regain its original shape after even the hardest wear. The spandex enables the fleece to last longer than if it was made from just wool, polyester, or cotton.
The top layer
This protects you from the elements and needs to be tough and durable. A material like Gore-Tex contains about 15% spandex and also has tiny holes to allow fluids to pass out. The style of the jackets will often have vents at the armpits for the same purpose.
And if all this makes you too hot, it is easy to take a layer off to cool down.
Don’t forget the headgear
This is an important way to lose heat fast – spandex in the popular beanies prevents them from being blown off when it is very windy, and it is an ideal component of the tight-fitting bathing hats.
What are the benefits of spandex?
There are many benefits:
- Spandex is strong
- Spandex is elastic
- Spandex returns to its original shape after being stretched in use
- Spandex allows the cotton or wool to retain their feel as the percentage of spandex is small
- Spandex dries fast
- Spandex allows the cotton, polyester or wool it is added to wick moisture away
- Spandex is comfortable to wear
- Spandex is not broken down when exposed to sweat, detergents, lotions or body oils
- Spandex is lightweight
- Spandex resists mildew and sunlight
Disadvantages of spandex
These are few but include:
- The need to follow the instructions for washing when you buy the garment. Spandex does not tolerate a hot wash (and the cooler washing can save you electricity). If it does get overheated, it tends to lose its shape, wrinkle, and become distorted. So you don’t need to iron it or only in a very cool setting.
- And never use chlorine bleach on spandex fabric.
- Unfortunately, there is a downside to spandex, which we are not yet able to eliminate. You cannot recycle it. When you wash spandex, it releases hundreds of thousands of the tiny fibers, which enter the oceans, causing we don’t know how much damage to the ocean dwellers and significantly adding to the pollution of our seas.
The future of spandex
Spandex has a great future ahead. It is already being incorporated into door panels in cars and is on the road to becoming a useful material for upholstery where the elastic properties and hard-wearing characteristics are much in demand.
Bedding is likely to be another market for spandex – and the footwear industry is interested in incorporating spandex into sports shoes and also into ordinary shoes where the elasticity will provide greater comfort, especially to the older folks.
Spandex, lycra, elastane is an amazing product to be found in an increasing number of garments. It is breaking out into other markets as well.
From its early days in ladies’ lingerie, it has expanded into sportswear, high fashion, and menswear. You will almost certainly have some in your own clothes. It’s elasticity, its hard-wearing properties have made it popular worldwide. It does not create material for clothes on its own but works as a core for other fibers to wrap around. And it allows these other fibers to keep their own characteristics.
This includes the ability of wool to keep you warm. Spandex, on its own, does nothing to maintain body temperature but combine it with wool, and you have a warm fabric. So, no – spandex will not keep you warm, but if used wisely, the material mixed with cotton and more especially wool will.
But we do still have to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of all the millions of microscopic fibers polluting our oceans.