Cotton, polyester or nylon (also known as polyamide in Europe): when it comes to the choice of the best material for protective equipment opinions are divided and the discussion is much more complex than it seams because there are so many aspects that need to be considered beside the price.
Whether you’re looking for high quality products, or something less standard, you can spend a large amount of time trying to figure out what will work for your needs or what won’t. Knowing the difference between textiles like cotton, nylon or polyester can clear up the confusion in what will be best for you to utilize. For example, the biggest difference between cotton and nylon and polyester is that cotton is a naturally grown product while the others are man-made.
Since cotton it is made from natural raw materials, it doesn’t cause any skin irritations or allergies; even people with ultra-sensitive skins can wear cotton but cotton also has some disadvantage when used in the production of protective garments. Since it is a natural fiber, cotton it is prone to shrinkage and wrinkles. Thus, cotton garments need to be maintained carefully. They should be washed in cold water to prevent shrinkage. Drying in the excessive heat can also damage the fabric.
Polyester and nylon fabrics have a lot in common. They’re both lightweight materials made from synthetic fibres. Both fibres are plastic compounds derived from petroleum. They were designed to be stronger, lighter and more durable than the natural fabrics they came to replace and both are very popular choices. That’s down to their durability – which is much better than that of natural fibres. And how well they respond to post-finishing processes that enhance their function. Both fabrics are flame retardant, but nylon is stronger, while polyester is more heat-resistant.
Cotton is often combined with other fibres such as polyester or nylon to produce stronger and more durable fabrics.
We have 3 options worldwide regarding the fabric used in PPE garments:
100% cotton it’s not recommended in the heavy industries type of PPEs due it’s low wear/ tear resistance (which is given by the synthetic fibres in other blends), its peeling resistance it’s extremely low (due to being 100% natural). At the same time, the fact that all the fibres are natural means that the colour pigments aren’t well stabilized inside the fabric, therefore offering an unsatisfactory colour resistance index.
Blend Cotton & Polyester
The fabric has an excellent thermoplastic property which means higher heat resistance than the polyamide blends. Polyester material is quite strong and durable. Its surface cannot be easily distorted by different factors such as abrasion. It has the same wear/tear resistance as the polyamide blends (the ones with nylon). Also, it is more hydrophobic than anything else, which means that it can absorb moisture (sweat) and it’s very quick to dry. Given its production polyester absorbs more colour, faster than nylon thanks to the properties that makes it better at absorbing water which that means that when used for PPE it has greater colour resistance to washing and is less affected by the sun.
When it involves fast-drying fabrics, polyester and nylon have an extra advantage. Both are naturally hydrophobic, which means they expel water, ideally to the surface of the garment were it will evaporate. Nylon actually absorbs some water, which suggests it takes longer for a wet material to dry.
Due to market share (58% of synthetic fibre production) and availability, it means that economically it’s more advantageous to use polyester blends. Other great properties of this material include: good insulation properties and wrinkle resistance.
The material is non-biodegradable, but can be recycled – it is also possible to purchase 100% recycled polyester
Blend Cotton & Polyamide (Nylon)
This usually is the category of blend that include nylon instead of polyester. From its inception, polyester has always been rougher than nylon. However, the refined manufacturing capabilities of today have resulted in softer polyester that, in some ways, matches nylon and positively the softness of cotton.
This blend can absorb more moisture than polyester (due to the fact that nylon actually absorbs some water instead of repelling completely) but it’s really slow to dry which means the employee using a garment made from this material has to support wet clothes for longer periods of time. It’s not as recommended to use against contact with chemical liquids due to the fact that nylon absorbs some of those chemicals inside the fabric. Also, it has poor insulation properties.
Most nylon is made from unavoidable oil refinery by-products. Like polyester, nylon is not biodegradable. Some ethical manufacturers try to reduce the potential environmental impact of making this synthetic fabric by using recycled materials to create the fabric. Unfortunately, this process is more costly for nylon than for polyester, which means that recycled nylon isn’t made as often.