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I was buying some carry out and I asked for a nylon bag. The cashier, who is not a native speaker, gave me a look and offered a 'plastic bag', which is what I wanted to begin with.

I don't know why I used "nylon" instead of "plastic"; I'm not a native speaker but I'm fluent in English and that got me thinking:

Is there any difference between "nylon bag" and "plastic bag"? Can they be used interchangeably?

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Can you provide a picture of what you would call a nylon bag? It's not a term that would be used with takeout food in the U.S. – choster Feb 3 at 20:57
    
I don't know what one would call a "nylon bag"; what I meant in that particular conversation is a typical "plastic shopping bag", like this one upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/Hemdchentuete.jpg (even though that is a fancy one) – ventsyv Feb 3 at 21:00
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I'm no materials scientist, but I'd be pretty sure the type of plastic used to make "disposable" bags (from supermarkets, etc.) isn't "nylon". – FumbleFingers Feb 3 at 21:05
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@Kristina: I was a teen in the 60s. And I really hated nylon shirts (and sheets too! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 3 at 21:16
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Nylon is a specific type of plastic -- the plastic used to make the thread in "Nylon" hosiery. It is occasionally used as the plastic in "sorta hard" plastic things -- perhaps some of the plastic snap-lid containers you might buy to store food in the fridge -- but has never, to my knowledge, been used to make "plastic bags". The plastic in "plastic bags" is traditionally polyethylene (often called "polly"), though I suspect that other plastics are used as well. – Hot Licks Feb 3 at 21:41
up vote 16 down vote accepted

No, they can't be used interchangeably (in the US) since nylon bags and plastic store-purchase-type bags are different materials entirely.

Nylon bag (typically called a laundry bag)

Nylon bag from anypromo.com typically called a laundry bag

Plastic shopping bag

Plastic bag from uline.com

Edit: and to Aml's point, nylon is a synthetic woven fiber and plastic is not.

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1  
In my native language there is no distinction between the two (at least in informal use, I'm sure scientists differentiate) so I conflated them as well. – ventsyv Feb 3 at 21:17
    
That's interesting ventsyv, which is why I think this question shouldn't be closed. We're both English speakers yet the same word, in common use, means different things to us. I feel smarter now! :-) – Kristina Lopez Feb 3 at 21:23
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All nylon is plastic, not all plastic is nylon. – Todd Wilcox Feb 3 at 22:02
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Nylon is polysemic; (a) it is the name for one of a set of related polymers; (b) it is the name for the woven material often made from these. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 3 at 22:49
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A "(disposable) plastic shopping bag" is usually made out of LDPE (low-density polyethylene) film. I'm not quite sure why, but LDPE isn't usually made into fibers, though UHMWPE (ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene) is with trade-names Dyneema/Spectra. – Nick T Feb 3 at 22:50

Yes, Nylon is a plastic, but the lightweight plastic bags they give you at stores are not nylon. Nylon works well as a fiber, so a 'nylon' bag could refer to a woven bag, such as are re-used instead of re-cycled. {And I don't think it was construed as requesting a bag for nylon stockings.}

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Nylon is a plastic but not all plastic are nylon. Similarly, not all woven plastic are nylon - some are polyester or microfiber or rayon or dacron (which ironically is the same type of plastic as plastic bags). Also, not all nylon are fibres. Nylon is commonly used as plastic ball bearings and washers due to it's low friction. Toys typically use nylon bearings – slebetman Feb 4 at 4:00

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