ATR-FTIR as a tool for assessing potential for chemical ageing in Spandex/Lycra®/elastane-based fabric collections

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Christopher E. Marjo; Sue Gatenby; Anne M. Rich; Bin Gong; Suzanne Chee;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 62, Number 6, p.343-353 (2017)


The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia houses the world's most significant and comprehensive collection of Speedo swimwear and accessories. The museum has identified a problem with the long-term storage of certain Spandex/Lycra® items where the elastane fibre has degraded leading to oil formation. Attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR) determined that most of these garments were manufactured using nylon-elastane fibres, and the elastane component comprises polyetherurethane or polyesterurethane polymers. Certain polyesterurethanes are known to be vulnerable to hydrolysis, and this was confirmed for a subset of the collection using two chemical testing protocols, and a thermal testing protocol that reproduced the oil formation. A polyetherurethane garment in the collection was unchanged by these tests. The oil from the thermal testing was confirmed as a breakdown product of the polyester component of the elastane fibre, using ATR-FTIR spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry. The study demonstrates the value of ATR-FTIR for minimally invasive identification of elastane fabrics that may require specialized storage in a humidity-controlled environment.