Skip to content
Science, Maths & Technology

How is nylon made?

Updated Monday 26th September 2005

Find out how nylon is so much more than just a nice pair of stockings

Nylon is a well-known synthetic polymer (derived from the Greek words ’poly’ meaning ’many’ and ’meros’ meaning ’parts’).

It was invented by Wallace Carothers, and first brought to the public’s attention in October 1938.

Nylon thread [Image: Pop Top Lady under CC-BY-ND licence] Creative commons image Icon PopTopLady via Flickr under Creative-Commons license
Nylon thread [Image: Pop Top Lady under CC-BY-ND licence]

Soon after its introduction it was used to make parachutes, ropes and tents during the Second World War, as well as nylon stockings and toothbrushes.

It’s a strong synthetic fibre, which resists abrasion. Nylon doesn’t shrink or stretch through washing, but it is degraded by ultraviolet light.

Nylon is made when the appropriate monomers (the chemical building blocks which make up polymers) are combined to form a long chain via a condensation polymerisation reaction.

The monomers for nylon 6-6 are adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine. The two molecules are combined to create the polymer and water (H2O) is produced as a by-product.

The water is removed from the production process as its continued presence stops the creation of more polymer.

The polymer chain can be made up of over 20,000 monomer units, connected together via an amide group, which contains a nitrogen atom.

The nylon molecules are very flexible with only weak forces, such as hydrogen bonds, between the polymer chains, which tend to tangle randomly. The polymer has to be warmed and drawn out to form strong fibres.

If you would like to know more about the synthesis of organic compounds, The Molecular World is an Open University course that introduces these fundamental ideas.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Fantastic plastic Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Dreamstime video icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Fantastic plastic

It's such a key part of our lives - but what exactly is plastic, and how does it work?

Video
5 mins
Wool Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Wool

The molecular make-up of wool is what gives it its spring

Article
Iron transport and storage Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 3 icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Iron transport and storage

This free course, Iron transport and storage, looks at the methods that have been developed by organisms for the uptake, transport and storage of iron: a process made more complicated by the insolubility of its oxides and hydroxides. You will examine iron storage in mammals, including humans,. This is achieved by ferritin which stores iron as a hydrated iron (III) oxide an example of biomineralisation.

Free course
5 hrs
Carbon in land plants Creative commons image Icon Astrid Photography under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Carbon in land plants

In autumn, green plants start to release the carbon they've held in trust all summer.

Article
Mosquitoes & Malaria Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Mosquitoes & Malaria

In the Rough Science programme Call of the Wild, Rough Scientist Ellen has to develop a mosquito repellent

Article
Chemical plants Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Chemical plants

Plants provide us with an enormous array of chemicals essential to industry and to our daily lives. But why are the chemicals there and why does the plant produce them?

Article
What can you do with leftover coffee grounds? Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Skitterphoto article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

What can you do with leftover coffee grounds?

If your office is anything like the OpenLearn one, you'll be generating a load of waste coffee grounds everyday. Maybe we shouldn't be throwing it all away...

Article
Sherry is not just for Christmas Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Javarman | Dreamstime.com article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Sherry is not just for Christmas

OU organic chemistry Professor Peter Taylor explains why Jerez’s finest export is too good to left gathering dust while waiting for Christmas to come.

Article
Kitchen lab: Why does custard get lumpy, and why bother cooking at all? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Kitchen lab: Why does custard get lumpy, and why bother cooking at all?

What is it that makes custard go lumpy? Can you make your own baking powder? Is your kitchen really a disguised lab?

Article