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How Is Nylon Made?

Weaving nylons into patterns makes it stronger and enables the manufacture of products such as nylon rope.
Umbrellas are made from nylon.
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  • Originally Written By: Carol Francois
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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    2003-2014
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Nylon is made through a complex two-step chemical and manufacturing process that first creates the fiber’s strong polymers, then binds them together to create a durable fiber. The term is commonly used to refer to a broad range of polyamides, or synthetic polymers, and encompasses a range of often very different products. Clothing, rope, hard plastic mechanical parts, parachute coverings, and tires are all examples of the synthetic material in action. In most cases the manufacturing process is different for these different items, but the chemical part of their creation tends to be very similar.

Polymerization

The first thing the manufacturer must do is to combine two sets of molecules. One set has an acid group on each end and the other set has an amine group, made up of basic organic compounds, on each end. There is some room for variation, but using hexamethylene diamine monomers and adipic acid is a common combination. When these two substances are combined, thick crystallized “nylon salts” result. These are commonly known as nylon 6, 6 or simply 6-6. The name is based on the number of carbon atoms between the two acid groups and the two amine groups.

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This material can be chemically created in a different way as well, namely by molding the same molecules into a different structure. In this alternate method, the acidic molecules are all at one end of the structure, and the amine molecules are all at the other. This compound is then combined into a chain of carbon atoms. In either case, the crystals that result must be soaked in water to dissolve them, then acidified and heated to create a chain that is nearly unbreakable on a chemical level.

Heating and Spinning

Manufacturers typically use a specially designed machine to get the polymers heated to the right temperature, then combine the molecules to form a molten substance that is forced into a spinneret, separating it into thin strands and exposing it to air for the first time. The air causes the strands to harden immediately, and once they are hard they can be wound onto bobbins. The fibers are stretched to create strength and elasticity, which is one of the material’s main benefits.

From here the filaments are unwound and then rewound onto another, smaller spool. This process is called drawing and is used to align the molecules into a parallel structure. The strands that result are multipurpose threads that can be used for a variety of different purposes. They can be woven or bound as they are, or they can be combined and further melted.

Manufacturing Process

After the material has been wound onto the smaller spool, it is ready to be turned into whatever product it is destined to become. From a technical standpoint it is nylon at this point, but not in any form that consumers would recognize, and it usually needs more refining in order for it to be useful in the market.

Most products are created by weaving or fusing the filaments together. Where materials and synthetic fabrics are concerned, the tighter the weave, the stronger and more water resistant the material will be; for plastics and other hard molded items, the hotter the temperatures for melting, the more seamless and shiny the final product. Ropes and cording usually depend on complex twisting and fusing, and most are actually made up of hundreds if not thousands of individual strands bound together to create a very tough end product.

Nylon can also be mixed with other fibers to create combination materials. When combined with cotton, it produces a resilient type of fabric that holds its shape but is soft to the touch. It can also be woven into patterns to reinforce strength, improve appearance, or meet other design requirements. In industry and military uses it can be poured into molds and used for machine parts, tire treads, and food storage containers, either in isolation or in combination with other plastics and synthetic materials.

History

These sorts of products first became popular at the dawn of the Second World War as a less expensive and more efficient alternative to silk and woven hemp, both of which were the standard parachute materials of the day. It was also useful in the war effort when it came to tire production; tires made of chemically bound polymers tended to be more durable and less prone to wear than those made from standard rubber.

Since that time the material has found a range of everyday uses, though it is still common in a number of industry and military endeavors. Synthetic clothing is very popular in many places, particularly for sports; with a lighter weave it is also the standard in stockings and hosiery. It is used in ropes and cording, and in all manner of shoes and accessories; its water-wicking properties also make it popular for use in things as different as umbrellas and synthetic wool sweaters. Though these products all seem really different from the outset, how they are made — at least in the beginning — is usually pretty uniform.

Environmental Concerns

In addition to being somewhat complex, the manufacturing process has also raised a number of environmental concerns. Many producers use crude oil to isolate the polymers, which can lead to the depletion of fossil fuels and environmental pollution due to runoff. The chemical production of adipic acid also frequently creates nitrous oxide, a known greenhouse gas, as a byproduct. This gas has the potential to erode the ozone layer and promote air pollution.

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Discuss this Article

anon927801
Post 17

What are the two chemicals used to make it?

anon354029
Post 16

Would there be any health issues in using nylon stockings as a filtering bag when making almond milk?

anon298929
Post 14

Any idea about the actual chemical reactions to create nylon?

burcidi
Post 13

I think polyamide nylon is like the best invention ever!

I really felt grateful for nylon when I had to buy sports clothing for when I go hiking and surfing. You cannot wear any traditional fabrics made of things like cotton when you're doing sports like these. You need something that absorbs the sweat from your skin so that your skin stays dry or you will get hypothermia.

The only fabric that can do this is nylon. So it's definitely a God-send for sportsmen.

serenesurface
Post 12

@feruze-- Well, nylon is a type of plastic. It was discovered when scientists were trying to figure out how to make a plastic that was flexible but also durable and they came up with nylon.

So nylon is a sub-category of plastic but its chemical components is slightly different from other kinds of plastic. For example, nylon has oxygen molecules whereas, PVC plastic (polyvinyl chloride) has chloride molecules. So the composition of the product differs depending on what kind of plastic it is.

bear78
Post 11

@anon240589-- Is nylon and plastic the same thing?

Is there any difference between how they're made?

Because I know that one of the arguments for not using plastic grocery bags is also that it's bad for the environment. So I'm just curious if they are made of the same chemicals and go through the same process.

anon240589
Post 10

Nylon is bad for the environment though! First, it's petroleum based, meaning that it uses up the earth's natural resources. Also, when it's burned it produces a toxic chemical!

anon203140
Post 9

nylon underskirts and night gowns still top the table in my eyes. this is nylon at its sexiest and best.

anon169413
Post 8

can you tell me why is nylon useful for science and textiles?

BlogLove
Post 5

The great thing about nylon is that it can be used for a variety of different things. One thing that comes to most people’s minds when they hear “nylon” is nylon stockings, or the netting in bridal veils. However nylon can also be used to make all sorts of items, such as shorts, swimwear, luggage, life vests, and water proof bags. It’s also used to make both mascara brushes and the mascara itself. It’s also used in mechanical construction to make things that require durability and flexibility at a relatively low cost. In addition, it’s used to make carpet and can be used to make some car interior parts.

vogueknit17
Post 4

I remember reading about people actually using paint on stockings at one point because other stockings were so hard to find. That is dedication.

watson42
Post 3

During World War II, nylons and other stockings were limited so that the nylon could be used to make all sorts of materials for the war effort. It's amazing how differently people treat war now- I cannot imagine how the American people would react if the government required the limited use of anything for the current war efforts.

anon96289
Post 2

i think this website is really helpful and quite interesting. also it has helped me with my science.

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