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Guide to Materials: Polypropylene, Polyester, and Nylon

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

Published: September 26th, 2017

Updated: April 4th, 2019

Synthetic fabrics are used to create a number of popular products. While these materials can be found in clothing, they’re actually used in a wide range of things. From shampoo bottles to wedding gowns, you can find synthetic fibers in just about any item! The three most common synthetic textiles are:

  • Polypropylene
  • Polyester
  • Nylon

What is the history of these materials? How are they used? Let’s take a look at polypropylene, polyester, and nylon!

What is Polypropylene?

What is Polypropylene?

Polypropylene is considered a superhero in the world of plastic. The material is an excellent insulator and can be engineered into a variety of different products or melted down and recycled into something new.

The properties of polypropylene include:

  • Wards off water
  • Eco-friendly
  • Can be recycled
  • Chemical resistant
What is Polypropylene?

Who Invented Polypropylene Plastic?

Robert L. Banks Source: upload.wikimedia.org

Polypropylene was invented by accident in 1951 by two scientists named J. Paul Hogan and Robert L. Banks. A few years later, it was recreated and perfected by Italian chemist Professor Giulio Natta. This plastic’s popularity exploded, which influenced widespread production for businesses in Europe.

Robert L. Banks Source: upload.wikimedia.org

What is Polypropylene Used For?

Surprisingly, polypropylene is used to make a wide range of products, including car batteries, shampoo bottles, carpet, rope, packaging materials, and tote bags. Its affordability and versatility make it the perfect material for manufacturing and textiles.

These products can also be made from polypropylene!

What is Polyester?

What is Polyester?

When you hear the word polyester, what do you think about? Most people think of a sweater they bought for cold winter days or the rug underneath their coffee table in the living room. Polyester may be soft, but it’s actually made from plastic and is scientifically known as polyethylene terephthalate.

The properties of polyester include:

  • Dries quickly
  • Easy to wash
  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Extremely durable
What is Polyester?

Who Invented Polyester Fabric?

James Dickson Source: i.pinimg.com

Polyester was invented by British scientists John Whinfield and James Dickson in 1941. The fabric was originally used for clothes during World War II because cotton was almost impossible to find. Nowadays, polyester is blended together with other fabrics to increase an item’s durability and strength while remaining soft and fluffy.

James Dickson Source: i.pinimg.com

What is Polyester Used For?

While polyester is used in clothing, like raincoats and towels, it also makes other household items, including hoses, curtains, towels, and pillowcases. The material is also found in athletic wear since it absorbs water and dries slowly, keeping you cool for your evening jog or gym workout.

Polyester can also be found in these items!

What is Nylon?

What is Nylon? Source: www.contrado.co.uk

When it comes to stretchable textiles, nothing beats nylon. It’s perfect for making stretchy, durable fabric. In fact, nylon is widely known for its ability to stretch like a rubber band and still retain its original shape. Overall, this versatile fabric can’t be beat!

The properties of nylon include:

  • Highly resistant against molds, mildew, rot, and chemicals
  • Extremely flexible
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Difficult to rip or tear
What is Nylon? Source: www.contrado.co.uk

Who Invented Nylon?

Source: upload.wikimedia.org

Nylon was invented by British chemist Wallace Carothers in 1935, but it didn’t become available to the public for another five years. When the fabric finally hit shelves, it was marketed in the form of stockings and was a major hit for women everywhere.

Source: upload.wikimedia.org

What is Nylon Used For?

Nylon was used in the military during World War II to make parachutes and mosquito nets. Although this textile is still used in these items today, it can also be found in gloves, luggage, wedding gowns, ponchos, and combat uniforms. Nylon is a great material if you’re looking for something lightweight and difficult to break.

These products are also commonly made from nylon!

What Are the Differences Between Polypropylene, Polyester, and Nylon?

Fabric

Polypropylene, polyester, and nylon are all synthetic fabrics, meaning they’re made by human hands and don’t naturally occur in nature like cotton or silk. They have many differences like UV blocking abilities, flexibility, drying time, and water absorbency.

Take a look at this chart to compare and contrast polypropylene, polyester, and nylon!

Fabric

Polypropylene

  • Does not absorb water
  • Dries quickly
  • Less UV resistant
  • Moderately resistant to stretching out
  • Moderately resistant to shrinking
  • Mildew resistant
  • Floats

Polyester

  • Absorbs some water
  • Dries slowly
  • More UV resistant
  • Resistant to stretching out
  • Resistant to shrinking
  • Mildew resistant
  • Does not float

Nylon

  • Absorbs the most water
  • Dries quickly
  • Somewhat UV resistant
  • Highly flexible and resistant to stretching out
  • Resistant to shrinking
  • Mildew resistant
  • Does not float

Polypropylene
Polyester
Nylon

Does not absorb water

Absorbs some water

Absorbs the most water

Dries quickly

Dries slowly

Dries quickly

Less UV resistant

More UV resistant

Somewhat UV resistant

Moderately resistant to stretching out

Resistant to stretching out

Highly flexible and resistant to stretching out

Moderately resistant to shrinking

Resistant to shrinking

Resistant to shrinking

Mildew resistant

Mildew resistant

Mildew resistant

Floats

Does not float

Does not float

What’s the Difference Between a Non Woven and Woven Fabric?

Woven fabrics are created by weaving fibers, like silk, together to form a t-shirt, blanket, or pair of socks. Non wovens are made from synthetic fibers derived from plastics like polypropylene, polyester, or nylon. They get their name because the fibers are unable to be woven together and must be pressed together mechanically on a conveyor belt.


What Does the D, T, and GSM Stand for in Fabrics?

D, T, and GSM are used among textile manufacturers to describe the density, weight, and thickness of fabrics. They can also be found on the tags of bed sheets, tote bags, or t-shirts!

Denier (D)

Denier (D)

D stands for denier, which is a unit of measurement that refers to fiber thickness and weight. Each denier represents one gram of mass; therefore, if you have a 600D polyester tote bag, that means the polyester fibers weigh 600 grams. The higher the number, the thicker the fabric.

Thread Count (T)

Thread Count (T)

T stands for thread count, which measures the number of threads interlaced in woven fabrics per square inch. The higher the thread count, the more tightly woven the fabric, meaning there are less “pockets” or gaps, which increases strength and durability. Not to mention, the higher the thread count, the softer the material.

Grams per Square Meter (GSM)

Grams per Square Meter (GSM)

GSM stands for grams per square meter, which measures the weight of fabric in sheets. Non woven fabrics are made from plastic and laid out into sheets during the manufacturing process. Since there are no fibers being woven together, denier and thread count can’t be used. That’s why GSM measures sheets of fabric instead.

Before You Buy

Not all synthetic fabrics should be treated the same. Knowing what to expect when it comes to buying products made from polypropylene, polyester, and nylon is important. No matter what material your item is, you should keep these factors in mind before making a final decision:

  • Financial investment
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the item
  • Perceived value
  • Intended use
Financial Investment

Financial Investment

Knowing your materials can help save you money in the future. For example, buying polypropylene reusable grocery tote bags are more cost-effective when compared to cotton ones because they’re resistant to water, chemicals, and mold.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Item

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Item

If you’re in the market for a new car, you wouldn’t go out and buy just any old car. You’d take into consideration things like price, fuel mileage, space, year, make, and model. The same concept can be applied to buying a raincoat, tent, or folding chair made from polypropylene, polyester, or nylon.

Perceived Value

Perceived Value

It’s always great when you get really high-quality materials like those made from nylon, polypropylene, or polyester, at a great value. You might have only spent $30 for that polyester winter coat, but people will think it came from a designer store.

Intended Use

Intended Use

If you need athletic clothes that absorb moisture, polyester is the perfect synthetic fiber. However, if you want athleticwear just because it’s comfortable, try finding a pair of nylon leggings. How you’re going to use a product will ultimately determine which material you should get.

Overall, you should always purchase things that financially benefit you in the long run. It’s also important you know the pros and cons of each material. By doing this, you’ll wind up with the perfect item.

The Bottom Line

Polypropylene, polyester, and nylon are all fabrics that are essential to our daily lives. From clothing and coolers to car parts and umbrellas, we rely heavily on these synthetic materials. If you’re ever in the market for a tent or bridal veil, be sure to see what it’s made from. You might be surprised!

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is a Copywriter at Quality Logo Products®. She has a BA in English from Aurora University and has had her work published for Print + Promo. If you need her, you'll find her with her nose stuck in a book, on a quest to learn something new, or planning her next adventure.

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References

C, G. (2017, August 20). The Definitive Guide that You Never Wanted: Backpack Fabrics. Retrieved from https://pangolinswithpacks.com/the-definitive-guide-that-you-never-wanted-backpack-fabrics-566aa1567af9

Creative Mechanisms. (2016, May 4). Creative Mechanisms Blog . Retrieved from https://www.creativemechanisms.com/blog/all-about-polypropylene-pp-plastic

Fieldtex Products, Inc. (2017, July 10). What Is Fabric Denier? Retrieved from http://blog.fieldtexcases.com/denier/

Mental Floss. (2015, March 08). A Brief History of Nylon. Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/61845/brief-history-nylon

Plastics. (2018, October 24). Polyester: Not Just Your Father's Leisure Suit. Retrieved from https://www.plasticsmakeitpossible.com/whats-new-cool/fashion/types-of-fabric/polyester-not-just-your-fathers-leisure-suit/

Standard Fiber. (n.d.). About Denier. Retrieved from http://www.standardfiber.com/materials/bedding-basics/about-denier/