Olefin, also known as polypropylene or polyethylene, is a long-chain polymer synthetic fiber. It is created when ethylene and/or propylene gases are polymerized under very specific conditions. The fiber was first manufactured in the late 1950s, and has myriad applications in manufacturing, household products, and clothing. Its use has steadily increased since the 1960s, and it continues to gain in popularity every year as new uses for this easy, durable material are found.
To create olefin, the polymers are melted to a liquid, then run through a machine called a spinneret, which forces the material through small holes to produce a long fiber. This fiber is then used to make the fabric or the end product in which it will be used. Because the material resists dyeing, any dye must be added during the melting process instead of to the final fabric or product. Many companies favor this product because of its easy, inexpensive manufacturing process. Surprisingly, that material is relatively environmentally friendly due to the few byproducts produced when it's made. Olefin is also easily recycled.
There are several benefits of using olefin. It is very tough and hard wearing, colorfast, and stain resistant. The lightweight material — it has the lightest “specific gravity” of any other fabric — dries quickly and wicks sweat and water from the skin. Materials made with the fabric holds their shape extremely well, making it good for packing and active use. It also produces very little static, and weathers well in the sun, as long as special stabilizers are added during manufacturing. Olefin is also highly resistant to deterioration from chemicals and moisture. One of the drawbacks of this material is that, because it has a low melting point, it is flammable and will melt if exposed to high heat.
Olefin is manufactured under several different names, including some very well known ones such as Tyvek® by DuPont®, Thinsulate® by 3M® and Duraguard® by Kimberly-Clark®. The material is used in a range of products, including active wear, clothing, car and furniture upholstery, truck liners, indoor/outdoor carpeting, wallpaper/wallcoverings, bedding construction, and ropes. It is also used in cigarette filters and diapers. In clothing, it is easy to care for, and can be washed normally and line dried or dried on low heat. Due to its sensitivity to heat, clothing made with this material should be kept away from the iron and other sources of extreme heat.