Polyamide fabric is a synthetic textile made of petroleum-based plastic polymers. It's a very versatile material used in many different applications today, including clothing fabrics in the fashion industry.
Polyamide is also known as nylon, which refers to a whole group of plastics that are chemically related to polyamides, similar to aramids and sodium Polyaspartates.
Polyamide fabric is one of the most popular and widely used synthetic fabrics today next to polyester. Since its first discovery in the 1930s, it has been used by many apparel brands and retailers.
Polyamide fabric is very cheap to produce. It has fantastic properties to make cheap apparel and footwear. Its base materials are petrochemicals used to create entirely synthetic and affordable fabrics.
Compared to natural fibers such as cotton or linen, the biggest advantage of polyamide fabric is its very low cost.
Unfortunately, synthetic polyamide fabrics aren't the most environmentally friendly. Global polyamide production keeps increasing and has a catastrophic impact on people, animals, and the planet.
Here is the truth about synthetic polyamide fabric that most companies are hiding from you.
In this article:
- What is polyamide fabric?
- The difference between polyamide and nylon
- The different types of polyamides
- How is polyamide fabric made?
- Polyamide material properties
- Polyamide fabric benefits and drawbacks
- Environmental impact of polyamide fabric
- Sustainable alternatives to polyamide fabric
What is polyamide fabric?
Polyamide is a synthetic polymer made from petroleum-based plastics. It's made of extremely long and heavy molecules with repeating units linked by amide bonds.
Polyamide was one of the first synthetic fabrics discovered before the first World War. The American chemical corporation DuPont produced polyamides commercially first in 1938.
Polyamide fabric is widely used in the textile and apparel industry to make hosiery, pants, tights, leggings, stockings, coats, sweaters, underwear, sportswear, swimwear, fleece, circular knits, shoes, and accessories.
Polyamide fabric is also used to create rugs, carpets, curtains, cooking utensils, and many other household textiles, outdoor furniture, food packaging, and industrial materials.
Polyamide is generally found in parachutes, gun parts, umbrellas, fishing nets, tires, seat belts, sleeping bags, tents, ropes, tennis rackets, machine gears, and more.
Polyamide fabrics are often made of various material blends such as spandex, also known as elastane or Lycra. But polyamide fiber can be used alone.
The difference between polyamide and nylon
Both polyamide and nylon are polymers that can be classified as plastics.
Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic thermoplastic polymer. It was named by DuPont, copied from the suffixes of other fibers such as cotton and rayon.
The name was originally intended to be "No-Run" which stands for unraveling. It was later changed to "Nuron", "Nilon", then Nylon to clarify the pronunciation.
By definition, polyamide is a polymer of amino acids. Polyamides can be both natural and artificial. Proteins are natural polyamides, such as wool and silk.
But polyamide fabric on a material composition label generally refers to nylon fabric and is completely synthetic.
Nylon and polyamide are commonly used interchangeably and mean the same thing, especially in the textile and apparel industry.
Nylon 6 also refers to polyamide 6 or PA 6.
The different types of polyamides
Polyamide is the term used to describe a large family of plastics used for their affordability, durability, and strength. Polyamide fabrics are useful for different applications as many types of polyamides with different properties exist.
The most common form of polyamide is PA 66. It was originally patented by DuPont. It belongs to the polyamide family of aliphatic polyamides.
Zytel is a brand name of PA 66 from DuPont. It's a high-performance thermoplastic with high strength, abrasion, and impact resistance.
Technyl is plastic material from DOMO Chemicals. It's highly innovative and arguably one of the most sustainable PA 66 fabrics in its Technyl 4earth version.
Other types of polyamides include PA 6. It's the second most popular form of polyamide after PA 66.
Ultramid is a polyamide from BASF based on PA 6 known for its high mechanical strength, stiffness, and thermal stability.
RadiPol is a brand name for polyamide 6 by RadiciGroup used in industrial yarn and textile fibers.
Winmark Polymer Industries is another notable exporter of PA 6 from India.
Polyamide 12 is a very versatile polyamide resin with outstanding mechanical, chemical, and physical properties.
Rilsamid is a high performing material by Arkema based on PA 12. It's mainly used in fuel transfer solutions and braking systems.
Polyamide 11 is a high-performance polymer resin of 100% renewable origin. It's produced from vegetable castor oil under the brand name Rilsan PA11 by Arkema.
Polyphthalamids are high-performance synthetic polyamide resins. They often replace metals in applications such as powertrain components and electrical connectors when high-temperature resistance is necessary.
Trogamid is a high-resistance polyamide from Evonik Industries often used in sports watches, appliances, automotive and electronic applications.
Amodel Polyphthalamide (PPA) is a high strength and stiffness polyamide from Solvay. It resists high temperatures, humidity, and chemically aggressive environments.
Aramids or aromatic polyamides are heat-resistant and very strong synthetic polyamide fabrics.
They are used in bulletproof vests and known under the brand name Kevlar by DuPont, a high-strength and heat-resistant synthetic fiber.
Nomex by DuPont is another brand name of aramid used to create fireproof textiles for suits and gloves.
Similar to Nomex, Technora is a high-strength, heat, and chemical resistant polyamide brand name from Teijin.
How is polyamide fabric made?
Polyamide fabric is produced by condensation polymerization of a plastic solution. It's generally made in facilities that also produce other types of synthetic materials, including nylons, polyesters, and acrylics.
Polyamides are petroleum-based synthetic materials. They are made by combining chemicals extracted from petroleum oil, which is a non-renewable resource and inherently a pollutant.
Polyamide fabric production mostly involves the combination of monomers of hexamethylenediamine, also known as 1,6-diamino hexane, with adipic acid, also called hexane-1,6-dicarboxylic acid.
The two molecules contain 6 carbon atoms each and form together polyamide 66. Other types of polyamides are produced by mixing different starting chemicals.
The condensation polymerization process eliminates water and forms a big repeating molecule to create polyamide sheets or ribbons that are then shredded into chips.
To create polyamide fibers used in the textile and apparel industry, polyamide chips are melted and extruded through spinning, a process that employs a heated mechanical spinneret with tiny holes.
Depending on the size and shape of the holes, the characteristics, length, and thickness of the resulting polyamide fiber vary.
Polyamide production requires high temperatures (about 285°C or 545°F), consumes tons of water, energy, and chemicals. It isn't environmentally friendly.
Polyamide fibers are cooled down, washed, purified, and extended to make long filaments. They are then ready to be spun into yarns, which are woven into fabrics by textile manufacturers.
Fulgar is one international leader in the man-made fiber market, manufacturing and distributing polyamide 66. It uses traditional Italian quality, modern innovation, and technology to develop the latest generation of polyamide fabrics with a strong focus on sustainability.
Polyamide material properties
Polyamide fabric is a unique material with many unique properties. It's generally used in the same applications as polyester in the apparel and footwear industry.
Polyamide fabric is strong, elastic, and lightweight. It's a completely synthetic material so it's resistant to attacks from insects, moths, molds, fungi, and many everyday chemicals.
Polyamide usually doesn't resist harsh chemicals though. It will melt in phenol, acids, and many others.
Polyamide fabric is stiff, has excellent resiliency and tenacity.
Polyamide fabric is often used in activewear and swimwear because it's waterproof and quick-drying, unlike natural fibers such as cotton or wool.
It can also be dyed easily in brilliant colors.
Polyamide fabric isn't resistant to sunlight or UV degradation. When placed in direct sunlight, the physical and mechanical properties of polyamide will degrade quickly. A UV stabilizer is often added to polyamide fabrics in outdoor equipment.
Polyamide is also very flammable. Avoid wearing polyamide clothing while cooking, welding, or playing with fireworks.
Polyamide fabric isn't breathable like many other synthetic fabrics such as polyester, and acrylic. It's water-repellant and captures heat. It has low absorbency, wicks away moisture, and dries quickly.
Polyamide fabric is easy to care for. However, it's best to wash it with cold water to save energy and avoid damaging the fabric. If you can, wash it separately by hand with cold water and hang it to dry.
Polyamide fabric benefits and drawbacks
Here are some of the best benefits of polyamide fabric:
- Good resilience
- Good durability
- Good elasticity
- Moths, molds, insects, fungi resistance
- Good abrasion resistance
- Good wrinkle resistance
- High tensile strength
- Moderate chemical protection
- Water repellant
- Easy to wash
- Easy to dye
The main drawbacks of using polyamide fabric are:
- Poor absorbency
- Poor resistance to UV and sunlight
- Poor heat resistance
- Low thermal stability
- Low pilling resistance
- Low breathability
- Gathers static electricity
- Negative environmental impact
Environmental impact of polyamide fabric
Unfortunately, the process of making polyamide fabric isn't environmentally friendly. Synthetic fabrics like polyamide have raised deep environmental concerns.
Polyamide production releases nitrous oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere as a byproduct. It's a considerably powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to catalytic stratospheric ozone destruction, according to scientific research. It accumulates over a lifetime of about 150 years.
Nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) and 15 times more than methane because it traps far more infrared radiation.
The amount of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere is increasing by about 0,2% per year due to the high rates of global adipic acid production necessary for the condensation polymerize of polyamides.
Polyamide fabric production has huge negative impacts on the environment and human health.
Many workers in polyamide production facilities are exposed to dust and fumes. They irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
The negative consequences of polyamide fabric production don’t end there. Polyamide fabric isn't biodegradable or compostable. It increases our consumption of fossil fuels and dependency.
Polyamide fabric takes hundreds of years to decompose. As polyamide breaks down, it releases toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment.
Synthetic fabrics like polyamide destroy ecosystems and nature. They contribute to the high amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills every year.
Polyamide fabric releases plastic microfibers into the environment that pollute entire food chains, kill land and marine wildlife, and endanger human health.
These plastic microfibers are consumed by fish and birds and end up in our food, lungs, and stomachs.
Every year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced, as reported by the United Nations. 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually. Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. And the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.
Large quantities of water are used to produce polyamide. The textile industry is responsible for 17-20% of the world's wastewater, according to the World Bank.
Wastewater transport pollutants to rivers, water sources, and the ocean. Only 20% of the world's wastewater receives proper treatment, as reported by the United Nations.
Sustainable alternatives to polyamide fabric
Luckily, there is hope for a better future. Sustainable alternatives to polyamide fabric exist.
Many ethical fashion brands and designers around the world don't use polyamide fabric at all.
Instead, they use environmentally friendly natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen, and hemp, regenerated cellulosic fibers such as lyocell, cupro, and modal, or recycled polyamide.
Polyamide is almost infinitely recyclable. It can be recycled, recreated, remolded, and become brand new again to create new products without having to use new resources.
Unfortunately, recycling is a costly process. Synthetic fabrics like polyester, polyamide, and acrylic are often used in clothing because they are cheap. Recycled polyamide is more expensive to produce than virgin polyamide material.
Econyl is one popular brand of recycled polyamide. It's made of regenerated fibers from post-consumer plastics, carpet flooring, fishing nets, and other industrial wastes.
Up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil and 57,100 tonnes of CO2 emissions can be saved for every 10,000 tons of Econyl raw material. It reduces the global warming impact of polyamide by up to 80% compared to the raw material from oil.
Q-NOVA by Fulgar is another brand name for recycled polyamide. It's certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). It's produced with the MCS process, a mechanical regeneration system that doesn't require chemicals.
Repreve is also a popular recycled polyamide brand by Unifi. It's a sustainable fabric made from pre-consumer waste. It's used in swimwear, lingerie, outdoor gear, and hosiery.
It's time to rethink how we produce and consume clothes. One of the best ways to be more sustainable is to choose eco-friendly and high-quality fabrics.
Many amazing ethical clothing brands use recycled polyamide to create new clothes, reduce plastic waste, and promote the circular economy. Some of them are:
- Patagonia, an industry leader in ethical and sustainable active and outerwear.
- prAna, an outdoor brand that makes clothing for positive change, to inspire new generations to thrive and stay active.
- Kaira Active, multifunctional activewear made sustainably from regenerated fishnets for yoga and surfing.
- Kaio Swim (EU), sustainable and timeless swimsuits and bikinis that are 100% committed to slow fashion and ethical production.
- Burberry (UK), a British luxury fashion house that creates innovative menswear and womenswear.
- Kowtow (AU), a New Zealand-based fashion brand that creates sustainable, ethical, elegant, and timeless womenswear
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.
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