Nylon is the most popular fiber type in the residential carpet industry today. It has a solid reputation for being durable and relatively easy to maintain and is highly sought after. Let’s take a more in-depth look at nylon carpet fiber.
The Invention of Nylon Carpets
Nylon was invented in 1935 by Wallace Hume Carothers, head of research at DuPont. Its first commercial use was in women’s stockings in 1939, but it was also being used in fishing line and toothbrush bristles.
In the mid-1950s DuPont began producing nylon for carpeting, in the form of a staple fiber, after a successful six-year trial in the Hotel du Pont. Several years later, in 1959, DuPont introduced BCF (bulked continuous filament) nylon.
Nylon revolutionized the carpeting industry as the first truly synthetic fiber and quickly became the new benchmark in carpeting.
Characteristics of Nylon for Carpets
There are many features of nylon that make it an ideal choice for carpet fiber. Of key importance is its durability. Nylon is a very strong fiber, and as such, it stands up very well to abrasion. It is also highly resilient and has very good texture retention to maintain its original appearance.
Nylon’s resiliency is due in large part to the hydrogen molecule that constitutes part of its structure. This molecule can be revived by the hot water extraction cleaning method (steam cleaning). The heat from the steam cleaner actually reactivates the hydrogen molecule, so that when the fibers have begun to flatten due to foot traffic, cleaning the carpet helps the fibers to bounce back. For this reason, it is extremely important that nylon carpet is steam cleaned every 12 to 18 months at minimum (more often in very high traffic areas) to ensure longevity.
Nylon is a very absorbent fiber, so to prevent spills from sinking deep into the fibers and leaving stains, it must be protected with a stain treatment. Advances in stain treatment technologies mean that today’s nylons are more stain-resistant than ever before.
The most stain resistant type of nylon is solution-dyed nylon, which locks the color in by adding it during the production of the fiber (rather than dyeing the 'greige' fiber after production). When the color is actually part of the fiber, it is permanent and fade-resistant, and spills are unable to attach themselves to the fiber’s cells to create stains.
Nylon 6 vs. Nylon 6,6
There are two types of nylon used in carpeting: type 6 and type 6,6 (so-named for the double strands of carbon atoms it contains). While both are nylon, their molecular structure is different from one another. There has been much debate in the industry whether one type is preferable to the other. Many hail type 6,6 as the best option, due to its increased colorfastness and resistance to static. However, improvements have been made to type 6 to address these issues, and in today’s market, the differences between the two types are very minimal.
Years of testing have determined that there is no overall difference in durability or resiliency between nylon 6 and nylon 6,6. While nylon 6,6 does have a higher melting point than nylon 6, that is of little consequence to the performance of the carpet on the floor.
One additional point to consider regarding the differences between the two types of nylon is that nylon 6 is more easily recyclable back into carpet (known as cradle to cradle recycling) than nylon 6,6 is.
Manufacturing of Nylon Fiber for Carpeting
Carpet manufacturers either produce nylon in-house or purchase the fiber from an outside source and turn that fiber into a carpet. There are many companies that produce nylon to sell to carpet manufacturers, such as Invista (producers of StainMaster fiber formerly produced by DuPont).
Generally, nylons produced in-house will cost less than those purchased elsewhere. This is due to the elimination of the additional link in the supply chain and is not usually an indication that in-house nylons are of lower quality.
Cost of Nylon Carpeting
Nylon is readily available at all price points. It is a versatile fiber that can be used in a lower grade (entry-level) products for added durability over other inexpensive fiber types (such as polyester and olefin), but it is also suitable for higher-end products with longer warranties.