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.
How To Wash Polyamide Fabric
The good news is that a good strong piece of polyamide fabric should be tough enough to withstand the machine washing process. You won’t have to worry about damage from the drum or other items in the wash. However, you do need to make sure to put it on a cold cycle as the hot water could cause damage. If you are unsure of the best setting to use on your machine, you could hand wash the item in cold water and a little detergent. It may be more time-consuming in some ways but helps you avoid any further issues.
How to Care For Polyamide Fabric
The best way to care for polyamide is to do as little as possible to it. The washing process should be a quick and cool as possible to prevent any shrinkage in the hot water. This also means that you should avoid putting the material in the dryer or trying to deal with any creases with an iron. High direct heat could cause a lot of damage. Give the item time to air dry instead to help it retain its shape. Always remember to read the care instructions on shop-bought polyamide items in case of further risks – especially if it is a blend.
Is Polyamide Fabric Toxic?
Toxic is a strong word. There is always going to be a risk of chemicals from any synthetic material, especially something like polyamide that has so many plastic fibers and has gone through so many chemical treatments. It is questionable just how toxic polyamide is to humans that wear it all the time. How much does the plastic leach onto your skin and what sort of impact will this have on skin health and general toxicity levels? That is one of the good things about polyamide’s use in outerwear more than anything else. Although, there is still the risk of an environmental impact when out in this material in the rain. There is also the concern of pollution from the manufacturing process and discarding polyamide materials in the landfill.
Can you dye Polyamide Fabric?
You can try and dye polyamide fabric if you get some for garment making. However, you shouldn’t expect to get a very good result. That is because synthetic fibers such as polyamide don’t take up water and dyes very easily. Traditional water-based dyes aren’t likely to hold at all. There are some alternative products around that are designed for synthetics with a heat-based process. But, you need to be careful to match the right dye to your fabric and to take care not to damage the plastic polyamide material in that high heat. The best thing to do is to try and find a good piece of polyamide material that is pre-dyed and treated in a color that suits your project, rather than trying to turn white polyamide into a more interesting color. Otherwise, you could end up with splodgy misshapen material that is no longer any use for your project.
Is Polyamide Fabric Waterproof?
When talking about the weatherproofing of polyamide clothing, we need to look at the difference between water resistance and waterproofing. There is a strong chance that any item made from polyamide fabric will be water-resistant to some point. The tight construction of the synthetic fibers should allow water to run off pretty well and very little to soak through the material to your skin or other clothes. You may survive a short rain shower completely dry but may find that heavier and persistent downpours are more of an issue. It all depends on the weave and any additional coating or property added to the material. For example, a good waterproof jacket isn’t going to be waterproof based on the use of polyamide alone. The construction would also take into account the design of the seams and linings.
Is Polyamide Fabric Warm?
Polymide is warmer than you would think for such thin synthetic material. Normally we associate warm materials with thicker piles, such as fleece or wool. That is because air is trapped in the fibers and we can also feel a lot cozier in the softer fabrics. Polymide is completely different with that thin glossy sheen. However, there is also very little breathability in some of the tighter knit polyamide fabrics. This means that air and heat become trapped within the layers. It is a different kind of warmth and not necessarily the most comfortable kind. But, you shouldn’t get too cold wearing one of these polyamide jackets without a nice thermal layer underneath. Of course, if you were to find a material that was a little looser in its weave, there would be a cooler feel because of the added breathability.
Is Polyamide Fabric Expensive?
Polymide isn’t the cheapest synthetic fabric around but it isn’t the most expensive either. There is the potential that any polyamide fabric you find will be a little more expensive than hoped for because of the different processes involved in its creation. The cost will ultimately depend on the supplier and what other treatments have occurred to create the precise material you are after. You could find some supplies with basic sheets of polyamide that offer a fair price and others that want a lot more for a rare color or something else. Make sure to shop around and see what you can get in your local area. Don’t stick with the first option you come across.
Is Polyamide Fabric Stretchy?
Some polyamide materials are stretchy provided they have other fibers in them to allow for this movement. On their own, most plastic-based materials are quite tough and rigid for a more durable piece of equipment. This is the case for a lot of polyamide-based materials such as kevlar. These materials need to be tough and rigid to hold their form and provide adequate protection. However, there are other materials, such as nylon, where there is more of a stretch because of the manufacturing process. It is important to know the properties of any piece of polyamide before buying to be sure it is suitable for your sewing project.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.