Updated on December 13, 2022 by Sarina Tariq
In technical terms, nylon is a thermoplastic material made from petrochemicals. It belongs to a group of synthetic polymers called linear polyamides. It is the world’s first fully synthetic fiber, produced from chemicals found in oil, natural gas, coal, or other sources.
For a layman like me, it is the fabric that makes up,
- my umbrella,
- the lining inside my bag,
- bristles in my toothbrush,
- the spatula I use in my kitchen,
- the invisible thread I use to sew,
- the strings of my tennis racquet,
- the tent I use for trips,
- the tights in my wardrobe and,
- the carpet in my sitting room.
A tour around my house convinces me that there is no escaping from Nylon – in any room I go to, there is something made of Nylon.
Nylon was first invented in 1931 by an organic chemist Wallace Carothers, working for Dupont®. It was manufactured after a long period of research by a team of chemists and researchers to develop a new fiber that can replace silk.
Nylon stockings were first shown to the public by the American Dupont company at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. By 1969 DuPont had invented seventy different types of nylons. In 2005 Nylon even landed on Saturn’s moon, Titan.
There is a long story behind the name Nylon – you can read about it here. The short story is that, it is a contraction of the name of the two world-famous cities- New York and London.
What is Nylon Fiber? What is it made of? And How?
Nylon fiber is a manufactured, synthetic, oil-based fiber that is soft, lustrous, and smooth on the surface. Nylon fibers are heat-sensitive and can be spun as fine as silk. They have great tensile strength. It is considered the first synthetic manufactured fiber.
A polymer is a large molecule composed of many repeated subunits known as monomers. Synthetic polymers are manufactured polymers. Nylon is a polyamide, that is a type of synthetic polymer with repeated amide groups.
Nylon is made by a process called polymerization (condensation polymerization reaction), in which individual short molecules form long-chain macromolecules with high relative molecular mass. Thermoplastic materials are those materials that are made of polymers linked by intermolecular interactions forming linear structures.
In the process of making Nylon fibers, giant chain-like polymers form amide groups that form strong hydrogen bonds. These hydrogen bonds hold the adjacent chains together, and the resultant fiber is a robust Nylon fiber.
To put it simply Nylon polymers are spun into Nylon fibers and then made into Nylon fabric. Melt spinning is a commonly used method for Nylon fiber manufacturing. The Molten polymer is forced through a spinneret (a device with a lot of pores that looks like a shower head) to obtain long threads of nylon.
Nylon was first manufactured as a synthetic substitute for Silk. So the Nylon fibers have a chemical structure similar to that of Silk fibers.
Nylon fiber is a filament yarn. It can be formed into Monofilament Yarn and Multifilament yarn.
Monofilament yarn is a single strand of nylon fiber. In multifilament yarn, several strands of thin nylon fibers are twisted together to form a 20 or higher denier single yarn of nylon. Multifilament yarn is stronger and more resilient but less shiny and superior to Monofilament yarn.
The very popular wooly nylon thread, used in serging and other stitching, that is soft, elastic and strong is made of nylon fibers.
Types of Nylon fabric
Nylon is a generic name for a number of materials derived from petroleum.
The two main types of Nylon used in clothing are Nylon 6.6 and Nylon 6.
The thermal polycondensation of hexamethylene diamine and adipic acid formed the nylon (Nylon 6.6). Dupont developed it. The nylon (Nylon6) developed at I.G. Farben industries is made by the thermal polymerization of caprolactam.
100% nylon fabric is usually used for making outerwear and outer gear. Other than this nylon, the most common nylon fabrics are Ripstop nylon, Ballistic nylon, and various nylon blends used in garment making.
A poplin fabric which is a blend of nylon and cotton, is popular as a shorts/pant material, outerwear fabric, and shirt material. It combines the strength and easy drying quality of nylon with the absorbancy and breathability of the cotton.
What type of fabric is nylon?
Nylon fabric is one of the most commonly used fabric in the world and is very versatile. It is available in woven, knitted, or nonwoven forms.
Some of the common qualities of Nylon include the following characteristics.
- Nylon fabric is very strong and resilient.
- It is very durable and lasts a long time.
- It is abrasion resistant and does not tear easily.
- It is lightweight.
- It is not damaged by most chemicals/alcohols or perspiration or oils.
- Nylon takes color dyes very well and the color does not fade easily
- Nylon is easy to maintain – dirt does not cling to the surface- and is machine washable.
- Nylon fabric dries fast.
- Nylon does not shrink or stretch through washing.
- Nylon is not absorbent. It does not absorb moisture as much as other synthetic fibers.
- It has low permeability, so it can retain warmth.
- It is elastic – it can bend and bounce back with ease.
- Nylon is resistant to mildew, molds, insects, and fungi.
- Nylon has a high melting point. (melting temperature of 256°C/450°F).
- Nylon surface can be water-resistant and made waterproof with coating.
- Nylon is low cost, though it costs more than polyester.
- In industrial uses, qualities of reduced weight and noise in Nylon is highly valued.
Uses of Nylon
Nylon is used in various applications, but for me, its use as a clothing fabric is of primary importance. It is primarily used in garment industry to make swimwear, lingerie, active wear, sportswear, outdoor pants, jackets, raincoats, snow apparel, windbreakers etc.
Dupont company, when it started using Nylon fabric, concentrated on its usability in making hosiery, then shifted to military use of Nylon during the World War II and later again started making clothes, especially hosiery with it. It was in 1940 that the actual commercial use of Nylon began. Nylon fully captured the silk stocking market, and the fabric has not looked back.
Nylon has a reputation as a strong, elastic fabric with infinite possibilities. Though, recently as a purely dressmaking fabric Nylon has had some setbacks, innovations and fabric finish allows it to be used in various ways.
Nylon made under the micro denier category is less than one denier per filament in weight. They are used to make lingerie, sportswear and other activewear. It is used to make underwear, blouses, stockings, socks, raincoats, hats, swimwear, carpets, upholstery, and netting fabric.
Nylon fibers are blended with other synthetic fibers like Polyester and Lycra to make far superior blended fabrics. Nylon is combined with Lycra and makes stretchable clothes for sports like cycling wear.
Earlier, nylon was used widely in the military to make parachutes, mosquito nets, hammocks, sleeping bags etc. It is still used to make these and luggage, back packs, life vests, umbrellas, and tents. It is also used to make sewing thread, seat belts, ropes, screws, bolts, washers and nuts, fishing line, and dental floss.
Nylon is used to make machine parts because it is lightweight, has high wear resistance and strength. Nylon 66 is used for making rotating spares like gears, bearing etc.
In the home decor sector, it is used to make upholstery, curtains, carpets, rugs, and bedspreads.
Brand names of Nylon
Antron – Dupont (Carpets, Hosiery), Cambrella -ICI (Shoe material /nonwoven lining), Cantrece(Hosiery), Cordura (Luggage, webbing, backpacks, trousers, military wear and performance apparel.) Cora (Clothes) , Durasoft (Hosiery), Perlon(Straps), Stainmaster (Carpets), Supplex, Tactel (Hosiery, clothes, thread), Tactesse (Carpet)
Disadvantages of Nylon fabric
Nylon has a high melting point, but when the point is exceeded, the fabric melts, and the melted edges will harden to black color. The fabric develops a stiffness.
Most irons will have a Nylon setting, and that should be used to iron Nylon clothes.
Pilling of the surface is a problem, after a long time of continuous machine washing. Check out the solutions for pilling here. Cut edges can fray a lot.
Exposure to sunlight, especially Ultraviolet rays can damage nylon.
White-colored Nylon fabric can turn yellow or even grey with age. Using chlorine bleach (hypochlorite) with nylon may cause damage to the fibers. It would be best if you did not use Hydrogen Peroxide as well on Nylon fabric. You can use Sodium Perborate bleach/ sodium chlorite bleach.
Nylon fabric is slightly more expensive than Polyester, but its better qualities (strength, durability, water resistance) justify this. But it is also slightly more stiff than polyester fabric.
Using Nylon clothing while cooking is dangerous as nylon melts if caught fire and sticks to the body.
The process of manufacturing nylon involves many chemicals and toxins that may be bad for the environment. Toxic gas is emitted during the manufacture of nylon which is very dangerous.
Sewing with nylon is not without problems. You may experience skipped stitches, and puckered seams. You have to sew with a new needle when you start a project.
Another problem with nylon is that when you want to dispose of it, it may prove to be impossible. It takes many years for Nylon fibers to decay. If you try to burn the fiber, toxic fumes can cause more damage – hydrogen cyanide and nitrous oxide are the gases formed, so you can imagine.
Nylon fabric test
You can check if the fabric you have is nylon easily enough – Check it with a simple fabric testing as mentioned in detail here.
When you try to burn nylon the fabric will shrink from the flame at first and then it will burn slowly. The fibers will give out a smell that smells like celery. The residue will look like a hard cream-colored bead, but then it will turn darker, just like polyester.
Read more on the history of nylon: acs.org here