What Is Nylon Fabric?
Nylon is the name of a family of synthetic polymers that are commonly used to make a variety of different types of apparel and consumer goods. Unlike other organic or semi-synthetic fibers, nylon fibers are entirely synthetic, which means that they have no basis in organic material.
The use of this type of synthetic polymer in clothing began with a desire to find alternatives to silk and hemp for parachutes in World War II. At the time the war began, cotton was used for more than 80 percent of textile applications in the United States, and almost all other textiles were made from wool. By 1945, however, synthetic fibers like nylon constituted around 25 percent of the textile market share, and once the war ended, manufacturers sought new ways to market this new class of synthetic fabrics.
Directly after the war, there was a shortage of traditional dress materials like cotton and silk, so some individuals made dresses from repurposed nylon parachutes. Thus, the idea to use nylon in women’s garments gained popularity, and the production of nylon stockings and lingerie rapidly picked up steam.
At the same time, nylon was finding ever greater popularity in a variety of other consumer and military markets. This substance had originally been developed by the DuPont Corporation in the early 1920s, and it’s creation was officially announced at the 1939 World’s Fair. At the time, DuPont had no intention of using nylon for scientific and industrial applications, and the main purpose of this new polymer was deemed to be for textiles.
At the time of its unveiling, nylon did not have its current name; upon recognizing this polymer’s potential for use in fabrics, DuPont originally planned to market it under the name “no-run” due to its perceived ability to resist “runs” when used in fabric, which are forms of damage to tights that cause these garments to become aesthetically displeasing. However, it was soon discovered that nylon was, in fact, subject to runs, so the name was changed to “nuron.” This name was also unsatisfactory, however, so it was changed to “nilon,” and the “i” was replaced with a “y” to clarify pronunciation.
During the early days of nylon fabric, consumers noted a variety of issues with nylon fabric. Despite early marketing efforts that described nylon as “stronger than steel,” nylon was found to be highly susceptible to runs and tears, and this fabric’s lack of moisture-wicking properties also became a subject of concern. In extreme cases, nylon stockings would revert to coal and water.
Nylon would have been considered to be a failed experiment if producers of this material hadn’t started mixing it with other textiles. It was found that when nylon fabric was mixed with polyester, spandex, or cotton, the desirable attributes of this fabric were retained, but many of the undesirable aspects of this fabric were eliminated. These days, most nylon garments consist of a blend of various fabrics.
This fabric remained popular throughout the 1940s and 1950s, but nylon and other synthetic textiles have experienced a steady drop in popularity since the 1970s. Over time, the novelty of nylon started to wear off, and consumers also became concerned about the environmental impact of this fabric. The main ingredient of nylon fabric is petroleum oil, and this textile is not biodegradable. As of 2008, however, around 12 percent of the world’s synthetic fiber production consists of nylon fabric .
Even though nylon fabric for consumer garments has declined in popularity, this polymer family has become increasingly popular for industrial and scientific purposes. For instance, nylon can be made into a plastic that is highly durable and versatile, and nylon resins are commonly used in hair combs, machine screws, gun parts, food packaging, toothbrushes, and hundreds of other applications.
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How Is Nylon Fabric Made?
Nylon fabric is a polymer, which means that it is composed of a long chain of carbon-based molecules called monomers. There are quite a few different types of nylon, but most of them are derived from polyamide monomers that are extracted from crude oil, which is also known as petroleum.
In most cases, a monomer called hexamethylenediamine is used in the production of nylon, and this substance is sometimes called diamine acid for short. This monomer is extracted from crude oil, and the remaining components of this oil are sometimes used for other purposes, but they may be discarded.
To make the polymer known as nylon, diamine acid is forced to enter into a reaction with adipic acid. This type of polymer is commonly known as PA 6,6, and it was the first type of polymer to be used for nylon fabric. PA 6,6 is a type of substance called a nylon salt, and this crystallized substance is then heated to form a molten substance.
This substance is then extruded through a spinneret, which is a device that looks similar to a showerhead that has dozens of tiny holes. Upon extrusion through the spinneret, nylon immediately hardens, and the resulting fibers are then ready to be loaded onto bobbins.
These fibers are then stretched to increase their strength and elasticity, and they are then wound onto another spool in a process called “drawing.” This process causes the polymer molecules to arrange in a parallel structure, and after the drawing process is completed, the resulting fibers are ready to be spun into garments or other forms of fibers.
In some cases, nylon may be spun into fabrics on its own, but it is usually combined with other fabrics to create mixed textiles. It is then dyed to produce the color that is desired for the end product.
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How Is Nylon Fabric Used?
Nylon fabric was originally marketed as an alternative to silk stockings. Until the advent of this fabric, silk was the only viable material for the types of sheer stockings that were then popular with women in the developed world, but silk lacks durability, and it is notoriously expensive.
While the performance of nylon fabric didn’t quite live up to the hype that DuPont gave it at the inception of this textile, it remained a favorite stocking material among professional and domestic women for the majority of the latter half of the 20th century. To this day, women’s stockings remain one of the major applications of this type of fabric, and it is also used in tights, yoga pants, and other types of form-fitting bottoms for women.
This type of fabric is also commonly used in sportswear, but it is inferior to other organic or semi-synthetic fibers in this application. Since its inception, consumers have noted the pronounced inability of this fabric to wick moisture, which makes it a poor choice for use during strenuous physical activity.
However, some aspects of this fabric, such as its elasticity, are desired in sportswear. Even if they are mainly composed of other fabrics, some sportswear manufacturers include nylon fabric in their textile blends for enhanced elasticity and lightness.
Where Is Nylon Fabric Produced?
This type of fabric was originally developed in the United States by the DuPont Corporation, and production of nylon fabric remained localized to the U.S. until the latter half of the 20th century. As the benefits of this type of fabric became more recognized around the world, other developed nations started to produce nylon fabric, but the United States remained the primary producer of this fabric until the 1980s.
A restructuring of the global economy in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s saw many international corporations pivot toward China as a manufacturing base. Therefore, many nylon fabric production operations moved to this East Asian country, and production of this fabric has since picked up steam in other regional nations such as India, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
To some degree, nylon fabric is still produced in the United States, but the majority of this fabric’s production occurs overseas. Despite the contemporary revival of the manufacturing industry in the USA, it’s unlikely that production of nylon fabric will return to this country; for the last few decades, production of this fabric has been on the decline, and even China has consistently been producing less and less of this polymer textile.
How Much Does Nylon Fabric Cost?
One of the primary benefits of nylon fabric is its relatively low cost of manufacture. While this fabric was more expensive than silk when it was first developed, it rapidly dropped in price, and it is especially inexpensive when mixed with other fabrics.
What Different Types of Nylon Fabric Are There?
There are quite a few chemically different polymer substances that are all called “nylon.” Some examples of these types of fabrics include:
This polymer was one of the first fully synthetic fabrics, and it is formed by combining hexamethylenediamine and a for of dicarboxylic acid. The resulting salt can be melted to form fibers or crystallized for purification purposes.
This polymer is sometimes used to make nylon fabrics, but it is less popular for this application than nylon 6,6.
This type of polymer is only produced by the international corporation DSM, and it is marketed under the name Stanyl. While this polymer isn’t commonly used in fabrics, it is known for its resistance to inhospitable environments, and it is commonly found in engine components such as transmissions, brakes, and air cooling systems.
This polymer was also originally developed by DuPont, and it was intended to be an alternative to nylon 6,6. However, production costs ultimately prohibited the mass production of this polymer for fabric purposes, and it is now primarily used in industrial and scientific applications.
This polymer is made by mixing adiponitrile, formaldehyde, and water, but it is not commonly used in fabrics.
How Does Nylon Fabric Impact the Environment?
The production of nylon fabric is generally considered to have a negative environmental impact. One of the primary causes of the detrimental environmental effects of producing this fabric is the raw material that is used in its production; while it’s possible to make nylon fabric with other substances, most producers use crude oil as their source of hexamethylenediamine, which is the main constituent of most types of nylon fabric.
It’s well-established that both the acquisition and use of fossil fuels are harmful to the environment. Drilling, fracking, and other methods of petroleum harvesting are harmful to ecosystems around the world, and since petroleum is not a sustainable resource, it is necessary to constantly expand the global oil industry.
A great deal of energy is also required to make nylon fabric, and a number of waste materials are also produced during the manufacturing process. Large quantities of water are used to cool nylon fabric fibers, and this water often carries pollutants into the hydrosphere surrounding manufacturing locations. In the production of adipic acid, which is the secondary constituent part of most types of nylon fabric, nitrous oxide is released into the atmosphere, and this has is considered to be 300 times worse for the environment than CO2 .
Since nylon fabric is entirely synthetic, this substance is not biodegradable; while other fabrics, such as cotton, may biodegrade within a matter of decades, polymer fabrics will remain in the environment for hundreds of years. Thankfully, some forms of this fabric are recyclable, but not all waste management services recycle this substance.
There is no way to mitigate the detrimental environmental impact caused by polymer fabrics during the manufacturing process; the only way to make these fabrics better for the environment is to dispose of them properly. It’s also important to keep in mind that, depending on where and how it is made, some polymer fabrics may still contain trace amounts of toxic ingredients when they are made into apparel and marketed to consumers.
Nylon Fabric Certifications Available
While there are a number of different types of chemical tests that can be performed to determine the quality of nylon, there are no certifications available for this substance. Since this textile is purely synthetic, it is impossible to certify it as natural or organic.