If you want to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of nylon, then you are in the right place. There are many fantastic benefits of this synthetic material. Afterall, there’s a good reason it’s used across many different products.
Nylon is strong and durable. It can withstand almost everything you can put it through. That’s why nylon is used to make fishing lines, rucksacks and many industrial items.
It’s resistant to water, mildew and insects, so is a common outdoor item and also seen in the camping world. Plus it’s super easy to clean. Just toss it in the washing machine (with a microplastic catcher) and you’re good to go!
But as with any man made material, there are some big disadvantages of nylon.
Nylon is not very breathable, so you may find yourself getting sticky and sweating when wearing nylon clothes on a hot day.
Then there’s nylons environmental footprint, which is a real drawback of this fabric.
Overall, there’s no denying that nylon has a lot going for it. That’s whyrecycled nylon holds so much promise.
Today we’re focused on regular nylon, let’s dive into that now. I promise I won’t string you along.
What is nylon?
Nylon is a material made of plastic polymers. It is completely synthetic, which means it has no basis in natural material. This makes it different to organic or semi-synthetic fabrics like Tencel.
It is drawn into a fibre by forcing a molten polymer solution through a spinneret, a showerhead like object that forms long thin filaments. These are then woven together to form a yarn, or it can be moulded into products.
Nylon yarn is often woven with other fabrics like spandex, cotton or polyester to form more stretchy or breathable materials.
Nylon was first manufactured in the 1930s by American chemical giant du Pont. It became increasingly popular in World War II as an alternative to silk and hemp parachutes.
At the start of the war, cotton was used in more than 80% of textile applications in the United States, the remainder largely being wool. By 1945, synthetic fibres like nylon constituted around 25% of the textile market.
Today nylon accounts for around 5% of the total textile market.
Where is nylon used?
You might be wondering what nylon is used for.
Nylon is an incredibly versatile material with many day to day uses. Here are just a few instances where you might find nylon:
- Outdoor rain jackets and waterproofs
- Windbreakers, exercise clothes and casual apparel
- Tights & Stockings
- Camping equipment (including tents)
- Electrical equipment
- Car parts
- Toothbrush bristles
What are the different types of nylon fabric?
You may have heard of Nylon 6,6, nylon 6, nylon 1,6, nylon 46 or nylon 510. What’s the difference between these types of nylon?
There are quite a few chemically different nylon types, and these will vary slightly based on their chemical structure. Here are some of the key types of nylon:
- Nylon 6,6: This was one of the first fully synthetic nylon fabrics, combining hexamethylenediamine and dicarboxylic acid. This is then melted to form fibres of synthetic clothing or crystallised for purification.
- Nylon 6: similar to nylon 6,6 in the way it is used, primarily for fashion or nylon fabrics. It is less common than nylon 6,6.
- Nylon 46: Also known as Stanyl. It’s a specific type of nylon polymer made by the manufacturer DSM. It’s not often used to make nylon fabric, instead it’s known for its strength and durability. It can be found in engine components such as transmissions, air cooling systems and brakes.
- Nylon 510: Like nylon 6,6, it was first manufactured by DuPont as an alternative fabric material. Costs prohibited it for mass fabric use, so is now largely seen on industrial sites and for scientific applications.
What are the advantages of nylon?
Nylon has a number of advantages that make it perfect for multiple uses. Here are 11 key advantages of nylon material:
- Strong and durable: nylon is a tough material that will last for years, even when exposed to extreme conditions. This durability makes it perfect for all types of product from tents to jackets to swimwear.
- Lightweight: nylon fabric is lightweight. This makes it perfect for activewear or even your climbing rucksack.
- Water-resistant: nylon is super quick drying and also resistant to water. Its surface is smooth, meaning droplets can’t be absorbed and will glide off easily. This is why it’s great for tents, jackets or umbrellas.
- Easy to clean: water cannot be absorbed, and neither can stains. This means nylon is easy to wipe clean.
- Affordable: a major pro of nylon is that it is incredibly affordable to make. This is why it’s a popular choice across fashion as well as industrial goods.
- Resistant to mildew and insects: as a synthetic material, mildew and insects will not damage nylon fabric. This makes it a great choice for products that are exposed to high humidity.
- Versatile: nylon is used to make an incredibly wide range of products, from clothing to industrial products to automotive parts. It’s also commonly found in fishing nets, and parachutes due to its high strength and lightweight build.
- Blended with other fabrics: Nylon can easily be blended with other materials to create fabrics with a specific benefit. For example, it can be mixed with spandex, cotton or polyester to give it more stretch and breathability in sports clothes.
- Colourfast: nylon is resistant to fading, meaning clothes or other products will keep their bright colours over time.
- Easy to dye: if your product requires a specific colour or design, nylon is a great choice. It can be easily dyed to your exact colour requirement.
Recyclable: Nylon can be recycled and won’t degrade each time it is recycled again. Sadly only around 2% of nylon is actually recycled today.
Disadvantages of nylon fabric:
Whilst nylon has some clear advantages, it also has a number of disadvantages. Here are some of the key disadvantages of nylon:
- Not breathable: one key con of nylon is that it is not a breathable fabric. It traps heat and moisture against the skin, which can become uncomfortable in hot or humid weather.
- Odour build up: as nylon is not breathable, nylon clothes can start to smell more quickly than natural alternatives. This is because bacteria thrive in the damp and humid conditions, meaning synthetic clothes develop odours more quickly than alternatives. Add a base layer between outer layers and your skin to help prevent this.
Not eco friendly: nylon is a synthetic material made from fossil fuels. It is a non-renewable resource that is not sustainable and bad for the environment. Look forrecycled nylon as a more sustainable alternative.
Non-biodegradable: synthetic materials like nylon are not biodegradable. This means the nylon that has been produced is either in our landfills or in our oceans. It’s estimated that 10% of all ocean plastic is nylon fishing equipment.
- Not as comfortable as natural fibres: nylon is not as comfortable to wear as many natural fibres such as cotton or wool. It can feel a little stiff and artificial on the skin, less breathable and often less stretchy. This weakness can put some wearers off.
- Water pollution: cooling nylon fabric requires large quantities of water during production. This water then carries and spreads pollutants into the water surrounding the manufacturing facilities.
Heavy carbon footprint: not only does nylon require large amounts of energy to create, it also releases nitrous oxide into the atmosphere during production. This is 300 times worse for the environment than CO2.
What are the properties of nylon?
Nylon has several great properties that make it such a versatile and popular fabric material.
It is incredibly strong and durable, perfect for anything from apparel to aeroplane components to camping gear.
Nylon can be elastic, especially when it is woven with the right fibres. Typically nylon is woven with spandex or cotton to add more stretch and breathability to the fabric.
Nylon does not absorb water as it is a synthetic fibre. Water will easily run off its smooth surface. This makes it a perfect water resistant material for tents, coats or bags. It also dries incredibly quickly.
As nylon’s chemical structure is formed from densely packed molecules, it is easy to wipe and clean. It also won’t be attacked by insects or mildew.
Other properties of nylon include resistance to UV rays, heat and other chemicals.
Want to read more?
If you would like to read more, you might find these interesting articles add a string to your bow.
Recycled nylon: why is it so sustainable?
What is recycled nylon?
Made-By fabric guide: what are the most eco-friendly materials today?
Recycled polyester: one of the most sustainable fabrics to wear