Nylon is a thermoplastic amide polymer.* Invented in 1935 by DuPont chemical engineer Wallace Carothers and first used for toothbrush bristles, nylon is the most used synthetic fiber. In 1940 it was introduced as a substitute for silk in stockings. Nylon is very similar to silk, and with Japanese occupation of China the supply of silk was restricted. Then in 1942, nylon replaced silk in parachutes. Ripstop nylon, developed for sturdier parachutes, is now used for tents and awnings, coats, ponchos, and bags. And solid nylon is used for gears, rollers and bearings in light applications. By the way, it is still widely used for toothbrush bristles.
Nylon is also used in mattresses. Invacare and Paramount Mattress use nylon in covers of institutional and healthcare mattresses. Some Beautyrest Recharge mattresses use a nylon/polyester blend. Boyd Specialty Sleep uses nylon tricot in the covers of the support modules for its Broyhill Cube Series mattresses.
The two variations of nylon used today are nylon 6,6 and nylon 6. With essentially the same final product, the difference between these two is how they are made. The 6 stands for the six carbon atoms in the precursor molecule. Nylon 6,6 was patented by DuPont, so other manufacturers had to find another way to make nylon. DuPont‘s process simply linked two six-carbon chain molecules together with amide bonds (which also exist in silk). Other manufacturers discovered how to open the ring of an aromatic molecule (one with a six-carbon ring) and link it to others. Either way, what you get is nylon.
Two other types of fiber developed from nylon are Kevlar® and Nomex®. Nomex replaced asbestos in fireproof clothing, and Kevlar is used for bulletproof vests. These are called aramids, because they are actually made of carbon rings.
Nylon is not widely used in mattress covers. Except for the Beautyrest Recharge, it is used in top panels of healthcare and institutional beds. The advantage of nylon in this usage is that it can be resist fluids and still be breathable. This protects the mattress foam core and is easy to clean without trapping heat the way totally impermeable vinyl would. Boyd uses it for its support cubes so they can be removed and reinserted easily.
Thermoplastic means that it gets softer when heated.
Polymer means that it is made of bonded chains of similar molecules.
Amide means that one molecule is bonded to the next by an amide group: one atom of nitrogen with a hydrogen atom (NH) linked to a carbon atom with a double bond to an oxygen atom (C=O). The link can be typed out as NH-C=O. The two components are linked to the N and the C respectively.
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