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Spools of yellow polyethylene nylon ropes. Image Credit: MDV Edwards/Shutterstock.com

Nylon: Uses, Types, and Materials

Learn more about the uses, properties, types, and advantages of this versatile material.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
June 23, 2022
 9 min read
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Nylon is the designation for a family of synthetic polymers composed of polyamides (repeating units linked by amide links). Nylon is a silk-like thermoplastic, usually made from petroleum, that can be melt-processed into fibers, films, or shapes.  In addition, nylon polymers can be mixed with various additives to achieve different property variations.

This article explains what nylon is, the purposes of using it, the history of nylon, the most popular nylon products, its properties, how it is manufactured, its disadvantages, and whether or not it is harmful. This article also looks at some of the different types of nylon: nylon 1/6, nylon 4/6, nylon 510, nylon 6, and nylon 6/6.

What Is Nylon?

Nylon is also known as Polyamide or PA. Nylon plastic is an engineering-grade thermoplastic. It is used in consumer goods, automotive, electronics, and more.

Even though there are different polyamides, they are all characterized by high temperature, chemical, and electrical resistances due to their crystalline structure. This material is durable, versatile, and exhibits high tensile strength and fatigue resistance in terms of mechanical properties. It also possesses excellent abrasion and friction behavior. Nylon can also be easily flame retarded. Its melting point varies by grade, but the most commonly used grade, nylon 6, has a melting temperature of 428 °F (220 °C). Nylon 6/6 is  509 °F (265 °C.)

What Is the Purpose of Using Nylon?

The purpose of using nylon is to create a high-quality yet light product. What is nylon used for? It is used for fabric for shirts, foundation garments, lingerie, raincoats, swimwear, underwear, and cycling wear.

Nylon is also used for a wide range of construction applications. It can be molded into a range of sheets and films. It is mainly used in sheets, tubes, pipes, screws, bolts, safety nets, plumbing fittings, and more. Nylon can be easily melted into filaments, making it useful for 3D printing and other machining.

Nylon is used to make fishing nets because it is a lightweight, strong material and can withstand wear and tear. Nylon has high tensile strength, so it can hold more weight without breaking.

Due to nylon's durability, lightweight nature, and resistance to heat and chemicals can even be used in machine parts. Some of these parts include screws, nuts, and bolts. In addition, nylon is often used in the electronics industry for items such as circuit boards and electrical cords. Parts made of nylon are typically used in mechanisms that rotate or slide because of nylon's low coefficient of friction. It is used to make appliance bearings because of its excellent abrasion resistance.

When Was the First Time Nylon Was Used?

Nylon was first used for women's stockings at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Nylon's use increased dramatically during World War II when the need for fabrics increased markedly. Nylon was used to replace silk and hemp in parachutes. It was also used to make tires, ropes, tents, ponchos, and other military supplies.

At the beginning of WWII, cotton made up more than 80% of all fibers used and manufactured, and wool fibers accounted for most of the rest. By August 1945, synthetic fibers had taken a market share of 25% at the expense of cotton. After the war, nylon parachute material was sometimes repurposed to make dresses because of nylon and silk shortages.

What Are the Properties of Nylon?

Nylon is lustrous, which means it has a shine. The plastic can be very lustrous, semi-lustrous, or dull, depending on its desired use. This is one reason it is often used as a fabric.

Nylon is elastic because when it is above its melting temperatures, it is an amorphous solid or viscous fluid in which the chains approximate random coils. Below its melting temperature, nylon has amorphous regions that alternate with regions that are lamellar crystals. The amorphous regions contribute elasticity to the plastic.

Nylon has fundamental high tensile strength and durability, making it suitable for applications that require the material to survive impacts. Nylon is also damage resistant to oil and many chemicals.

Nylon may have thin fibers but is strong and can withstand years of wear. One reason for it being resilient is that it's synthetic. Because nylon can mold into any shape, it is useful for products that require flexibility. Nylon's flexibility comes from its natural elasticity. Nylon dries quickly, which is why it is often used in fabrics where moisture-wicking is a desired property. Nylon dries faster than other fabrics because it is primarily hydrophobic.

For more information, see our guide on the Properties of Nylon.

Why is Nylon So Widely Used?

Nylon is so widely used because it is an extremely versatile synthetic plastic. Polyamide nylon has various advantages that make it ideal for many applications. It is both strong and lightweight. It is widely used for many household items as well as clothing and many other applications.

For more information see our guide on the 4 Uses of Nylon.

What Are the Various Types of Nylon?

The various types of nylon are nylon 1,6; nylon 4,6; nylon 510; nylon 6; and nylon 6,6.

Nylons can be synthesized from dinitriles using acid catalysis. For example, this method is applicable for preparing nylon 1,6 from adiponitrile, formaldehyde, and water. It has a high moisture absorbance because of the polymer's significant density of amide residues. Nylon 1,6 is not typically used for fabrics.

Nylon 46 was mainly developed to have a higher operating temperature than other grades of nylon. The advantages of nylon 4/6 include higher heat distortion temperature than nylon 6 or nylon 6/6, higher crystallinity that leads to better chemical resistance, particularly to acidic salts, and short cycle times. The disadvantages of nylon 4/6 are that it has similar moisture absorption to nylon 6/6, but the dimensional increase is more minor and has a high processing temperature.

Nylon 510 is made from pentamethylene diamine and sebacic acid and was included in the Carothers patent to nylon 66. It has superior properties but is more expensive to produce. Because its production costs ultimately prohibited the mass production of this polymer for fabric purposes, the applications of nylon 510 are used in industrial and scientific applications. Its advantages include its strength and durability. Its disadvantages include the high cost to produce.

Nylon 6 fibers are tough, possessing high tensile strength, elasticity, and luster. The fibers can absorb up to 2.4% of water, although this lowers tensile strength. Nylon 6 is generally white as a synthetic fiber but can be dyed in a solution bath before production for different color results. The tenacity of nylon 6 is 6–8.5 gf/D with a density of 1.14 g/cm3. Its melting point is 215 °C and can protect heat up to 150 °C on average.

The advantages of nylon 6 are that its fibers are wrinkleproof and highly resistant to abrasion and chemicals such as acids and alkalis. A disadvantage is that it is relatively difficult to process due to exceptionally low melt viscosity.

Nylon 6,6 is a more crystalline version of nylon 6. It is also referred to as polyamide 66 or PA 66. It has improved mechanical properties due to its more ordered molecular structure. Nylon 66 for machining has improved temperature resistance and lower rates of water absorption when compared to standard nylon 6. The applications of nylon 6,6 include wear pads, guide wheels, and slide bearings.

The advantages of nylon 6,6 are that the yield strength is higher than nylon 6 and nylon 610. It has high strength, toughness, rigidity, and a low coefficient of friction in a wide temperature range. In addition, it is oil resistant and resistant to chemical reagents and solvents.

For more information, see our guide on the 5 Types of Nylon.

What Are the Disadvantages of Using Nylon?

The disadvantages of using nylon are that it does absorb water, the water absorbed results in lower mechanical properties, it has low resistance to strong bases and acids, and nylon has a high percentage of shrinkage in cast applications.

Additionally, as nylon is fire-resistant, it quickly melts. Nylon also lacks UV resistance and becomes yellow irrespective of color, becoming fragile and rapidly deteriorating. It is also not biodegradable.

How Is Nylon Manufactured?

Nylon comes from diamine acid being forced to enter into a reaction with adipic acid. The nylon composition is then extruded through a spinneret with dozens of tiny holes. Nylon immediately hardens upon extrusion through the spinneret, and the resulting fibers can then be loaded onto bobbins.

Nylon fibers are then stretched to increase their strength and elasticity. Nylon is then wound onto another spool in a "drawing" process that makes the polymer molecules arranged in a parallel structure. After the drawing process, the resulting fibers are ready to be spun into fabric or for other uses.

Is It Harmful To Use Nylon?

No, nylon is not harmful to use. Nylon polymers are unreactive and are not considered particularly harmful to most people, making the fabric safe to use. However, some people who are sensitive to materials made from petroleum may react to nylon. Nylon may also be considered harmful to the planet since it is not biodegradable. 

Summary

This article provided a summary of the uses, properties, types, and advantages of nylon as a material for use in product and part fabrication.

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Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.