Nylon is often associated with the fabric of the same name but can be used to make all manner of things from fibre to  moulded objects.

Different nylon types are known by their numbers e.g. Nylon 6,6; Nylon 6,12; Nylon 4,6; Nylon 6; Nylon 12 etc

It is a polyamide plastic typified by amide groups (CONH)

Wallace Carothers at the Dupont Chemical company  discovered polyamides in 1931. On the 28th October 1938 commercial production of nylon 6,6 began.

Interestingly it was  first used to make the bristles on Dr West’s Miracle Tuft toothbrush.

But nylon is really synonymous with stockings.

On October 27, 1938, Charles Stine, vice president of Du Pont,announced that nylon had been invented. Unveiling the world’s first synthetic fiber not to a room full of corporates or scientists but to the three thousand strong women’s club members who were gathered at the site of the New York World’s Fair for the New York. He exclaimed ” nylon can be fashioned into filaments as strong as steel, as fine as a spider’s web, yet more elastic than any of the common natural fibers.” Thinking that “strong as steel” meant indestructible stockings, the women at the forum burst into applause.

Commercial production of nylon stockings began in 1939, and by the end of 1940 over 64 million pairs had been sold.

But the outbreak of World War 2 meant nylon had to be used for other more military things.

“The strength of nylon comes from amide groups in its molecular chain, which bond together very well. It also has a very regular shape, which makes it well suited to creating fabrics designed to stand up to intense forces.”  This made it ideal for the parachutes and ropes needed in war times. It is still  used now  for bulletproof vests and other hard-wearing items.

In 1941, nylon moulding powders began commercial production but nylon mouldings were not widely used until the 1950’s.

Today nylon fibres are used in textiles, fishing line and carpets. It is the second most used fiber in the United States.

Nylon films are used for food packaging. Because it can resist intense heat it is ideal for  boil-in-the-bag meals. Ugh!

Moulding and extrusion compounds find many applications as replacements for metal parts, for instance in car engine components. Intake manifolds in nylon are tough, corrosion resistant, lighter and cheaper than aluminium (once tooling costs are covered) and offer better air flow due to a smooth internal bore instead of a rough cast one. Its self-lubricating properties make it useful for gears and bearings.Electrical insulation, corrosion resistance and toughness make nylon a good choice for high load parts in electrical applications as insulators, switch housings and the ubiquitous cable ties. Another major application is for power tool housings.


On the whole nylon, like most petroleum products, is not considered to be  biodegradable which means the accumulation of  an awful lot of trash.

For example an estimated £100 million worth (based on 2015 prices) or around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year . At least 60% f that will be synthetic fibres.


But it seems ( according to Wikkipedia),  that Nylon 4 or polybutyrolactam can be degraded by the (ND-10 and ND-11) strands of Pseudomonas sp. found in sludge. This produces γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as a byproduct.[1]Nylon 4 is thermally unstable.[2]


The nylon4 portion in the blend films composed of nylon4 and nylon6 was degraded and completely disappeared within 4 months in two kinds of composted soils gathered from different university farms as well as pure nylon4 film reported previously, while the nylon6 portion remained even after the burial test for 15 months. Nylon4 powder was also degraded to carbon dioxide in the degradation test in an activated sludge obtained from a sewage disposal institution in Kogakuin University. Three species of microoganisms (i.e., ascomytous fungi) were isolated through the inoculation from the nylon4 film partially degraded in the soil on a medium containing nylon4 powder as a carbon source. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Appl Polym Sci 86: 2307–2311, 2002


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