How Is Nylon Made?


What is Nylon?

  • Nylon is arguably the first synthetic fiber invented by mankind. It was invented in the early 1920s but saw little use until World War II, when silk became extremely rare and nylon was found to be an effective substitute. From then nylon was used to make parachutes, clothes, military uniforms, tires, machine parts and other necessary items. It didn't become popular with the public until 1940 when nylon stockings became commercially available. Since then nylon has found thousands of other uses and is a normal part of our lives.

How is Nylon Made?

  • Nylon is made through a complex chemical reaction known as ring opening polymerization. In this reaction, a molecule with a ring shape such as hydrocarbons found in petroleum are submitted to various types of acids and bases. The ensuing chemical reactions cause the ring-shape molecular structure to flatten and lengthen. These molecules are caused to connect with one another to form molecular chains by being heated well above 600 degrees Fahrenheit. When done, what you have is a liquid with a high surface tension. If it cools down it will harden into a solid useless mass, so while it's still a liquid it is extruded through a hole with a diameter slightly greater than that of a human hair. As it cools it forms a single length of continuous thread that, despite being thin, is very strong. The thread is wound around spindles and can be used to weave textiles in the same fashion as cotton or wool thread.

Problems with Hydrolysis

  • Typically nylon, being the result of petroleum derivatives, is very strong and long lasting, like plastics. There is one problem, however, with this is process called hydrolysis. It's a chemical reaction during which the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in nylon's molecular chain can be broken away from the chain to produce water. This is the primary means by which nylon decays. It does not happen over time, but is instead a reaction to contact with certain caustic materials such as sulfuric or hydrochloric acid. This means that, while nylon is very durable, it is completely unsuited to any task that would bring it into contact with any type of strong acid.

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