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The Very Fibre of a Carpet tile
To many of us, a carpet tile is nothing more than a decorative and functional item. We look at what colour suits our space the best and how many tiles we need and away we go. But there is a fascinating history to the material that makes up most carpet tiles that we simply take for granted; nylon.
Nylon was first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station, and was introduced to the commercial marketplace in 1938. Its first appearance was in a nylon bristled toothbrush and then - more famously - women’s stockings in 1940. Its main purpose was to deliver an alternative to the Asian silk and hemp that was used in parachutes, and had become increasingly hard to source during the war. It was so successful a replacement that it went on to become a staple part of the make-up of many military items such as tyres, tents, ropes and ponchos to name but a few.
In 1940, John W. Eckelberry of DuPont stated that the letters "nyl" were arbitrary and the "on" was copied from the suffixes of other fibres such as cotton and rayon. A later publication by DuPont explained that the name was originally intended to be "No-Run" ("run" meaning "unravel"), but was modified to avoid making such an unjustified claim and to make the word sound better. It may very well be an urban myth, but it has also been suggested that nylon was an amalgamation of "New York" and "London".
There are several derivations of nylon but the two most popular are Nylon 6 and Nylon 6,6 with Nylon 6,6 being the original invention. Nylon 6, or Polycaprolactam, is a polymer developed by Paul Schlack at IG Farben to reproduce the properties of Nylon 6,6 without violating the patent on the original Nylon 6,6. Unlike most other Nylons, Nylon 6 is not a condensation polymer, but instead is formed by ring-opening polymerization. This makes it a special case in the comparison between condensation and addition polymers. It was given the trademark "Perlon" in 1952.
Since its introduction, nylon has gone on to become an integral material for varied products from rope and guitar strings to mechanical uses such as gears and machine screws.
But why is nylon the preferred ingredient for carpet tiles? What makes it such a perfect material? To answer this we need to establish the qualities of nylon.
Nylon can be very lustrous, semi-lustrous or dull, meaning that it lends itself to a multitude of colour options. It’s an extremely durable material, its high tenacity fibres for instance, are used for seatbelts, tyres, ballistic cloth and other uses. Nylon is also incredibly resistant to abrasion, which means it can withstand the rigours of constant footfall and furniture movement. It is also highly resistant to insects, fungi, animals, as well as moulds, mildew, rot and many chemicals. As we live in a world where the human body is susceptible to allergies and breathing disorders, having a carpet tile material that doesn’t contribute to these agitators is of particular benefit. Its ability to withstand chemicals means that the consumer can use everyday cleaning materials to maintain the aesthetics of the tiles.
Carpet tiles come in many shapes and colours, but the one constant that ensures their suitability is the fact that nlon forms at least two-thirds of the make-up of a tile. This incredible material which has over the decades seen itself in so many varied products has become the preferred choice for carpet tile manufacturers across the globe.