Polyester is a term that we are used to seeing when looking at washing instruction labels or the material make-up or various products. We have a good idea of what we are getting with this synthetic material and know that the poly-prefix relates to the plastic content. But what about polyamide? While this term may not be so well known, the materials themselves are very common. So, what are polyamides, how are they created, and are they any better than polyester?
What is polyamide fabric?
There are a few different materials out there that we can class as polyamides. The most common is nylon, but other materials such as kevlar are also polyamides. It all comes down to their creation and construction compared to other materials.
Are polyamides synthetic materials?
The majority of polyamide fabrics that you will see in the world of clothing are synthetic, which means that they were created through man-made processes and are often classed as plastics. The majority of the time, this will be nylon. However, there are some polyamides that aren’t synthetic. This all comes down to the composition of the material. Polyamides are fabrics where there are lots of macromolecules with a recurring peptide bond. While this doesn’t sound like anything natural to us, it does relate to the structures of silk and wool. Still, because of its most common use as nylon, let’s focus on that material.
How are polyamides like nylon made?
This is a strange and drawn-out process to create the individual fibers of nylon and then larger pieces of material. It all starts with a liquid of polymer molecules, which are then spun and dried to create fibers. These monomers actually originate from crude oil and are then combined with adipic acid to create nylon salt. After heating and melting the salts, they are spun and loaded onto a large bobbin, ready to be stretched out. Fibers are then drawn and spun again ready for use in fabrics. Other this means adding dyes and mixing the nylon with other materials.
Does this mean that polyamide isn’t an environmentally-friendly choice?
There are lots of environmental and ethical considerations with any material and you have to make your choice based on your personal preferences. For example, there are lots of people that prefer to use natural materials, such as natural polyamides like silk and wool. This is because of the energy used in creating the man-made materials and the pollution created. There is also the fact that a plastic material like polyamide isn’t going to break down in the environment. However, other people would prefer a man-made fiber like nylon because of its beneficial properties and because there is no animal by-product or risk of exploitation.
How long have we used nylon as a synthetic alternative to other materials?
Nylon has been with us for a long time. It was one of the first major synthetic fibers created and became an important material during the war effort. This is when the patent for nylon first appeared and manufacturers began creating nylon ropes and parachutes that had the properties needed for the best possible performance. After all, those pieces of equipment had to be the best they could be to save lives and continue the fight. It soon found its way into the world of clothing, for similar reasons, and remains a common material in various sectors. Nylon stockings are one of the more famous examples from the mid-century, with women choosing this synthetic alternative for its feel and durability.
What are some of the benefits of using nylon over polyester?
The polyamide nylon is a popular choice as a synthetic material, but it isn’t the only option. Polyester is also common in various forms for clothing and practical items. There are benefits to choosing nylon over polyester. One of the best features of polyamide is its durability. It can hold up to greater wear and pressure than polyester, party due to the additional stretch to the fabric. So, you can get a little rougher with activewear or other materials and not worry so much about it tearing. It also has a good resistance to alkalis and other agents that could damage the material, while still being a great option for dyes. It is also lighter than you might expect from a man-made fabric.
Then there is the fact that polyester tends to be a lot more oleophilic. This means that it can hold the odor in the particles a lot more than nylon. This is a problem if you ever wear a polyester fleece near a bonfire in winter or if you sweat a lot in a polyester shirt. The smell may not disappear completely.
Are there any downsides to using nylon over polyester?
One of the biggest downsides to polyamide is that while it does have hydrophobic properties, it doesn’t repel and wick away moisture to the same extent as polyester. Therefore, it might not have the same benefits in activewear for athletic pursuits. It also isn’t well suited to winter wear because it will retain moisture and become cool to wear, rather than insulating. In the summer, it can prove to be cooling and comfortable because of its breathability and lightweight construction.
Then there is the way that polyester retains its shape compared to nylon. While nylon is beneficial in some ways for having that stretchier abrasion-resistant finish, there are potential issues with it losing its shape over time. Polyester is more rigid and doesn’t have the same problems of the fibers pilling.
Polyamides are more common than we might realize.
While few of us are going to experience the feel or beneficial properties of kevlar anytime soon, it is a different story with nylon. This material has become a common staple in the world of clothing and is rightfully celebrated for its many positive factors. So, if you ever see the word polyamide on a clothing label or on a sheet of material, chances are that you are dealing with nylon.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my toddler however, that is typically a challenge with her limited attention span, messiness, and desire to always have clean hands. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and fond memory for the both of us.