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Definition

What is nylon material?

Jul 13 2017 - 09:35 AM

Nylon clothes and similar products are made not from chips but from fibers of nylon, which are effectively strands of plastic yarn. They're made by melting nylon chips and drawing them through a spinneret, which is a wheel or plate with lots of tiny holes in it. Fibers of different length and thickness are made by using holes of different size and drawing them out at different speeds. Strands are sometimes used by themselves (for example, in the manufacture of stockings) and sometimes tens, hundreds, or even thousands are wrapped together to make thicker and stronger yarns (similar to cotton but far stronger).


In everyday speak, we "measure" the strength of nylon yarn in units called deniers, which is the weight in grams of 9000 meters of the yarn; that's loosely true because thicker and heavier materials are stronger than finer ones. You might have seen stockings for sale marked as "15 denier" without ever really understanding what that means. Roughly speaking, it's an indication of how thick (and therefore how strong) the nylon fabric is, but it's actually a measurement of the weight of the nylon fibers from which it's made. If you see stockings described as 40-denier, it means a 9-km (roughly 6-mile) roll of the yarn they're made from would weigh just 40 grams (1.4 oz)—which gives you some idea just how fine nylon yarn really is! Tights and stockings with higher denier measurements are thicker and stronger; ones with lower denier measurements are more sheer and more fragile. Ultra-sheer tights, for example, are usually less than 10 denier; thick winter tights can be 100 denier or more. However, it's very important to note that scientists are much stricter about all this: the denier isn't a measurement of strength at all. For that, we need to use carefully defined units, such as grams (force) per denier, technically referred to as the tenacity (effectively the breaking strength of a fiber and equivalent to measurements like kilograms per square centimeter or pounds per square inch for conventional materials).


Photo: Strong and lightweight: clothes aren't the only things made from nylon fabrics. Parachutes were originally made from silk; now they're more likely to be made from "ripstop" nylons. Photo by Senior Airman Micky Bazaldua courtesy of US Air Force. Right: A closeup of the criss-cross reinforcement in ripstop nylon. These little rectangles are designed to stop rips or punctures from spreading, so a tiny tear won't get bigger by racing through the whole material.

what is nylon

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