Like pixels on a digital screen, fibers are the thousands of tiny threads that combine to create the look and feel of a carpet. They create the color and pattern; they define the texture and softness; and they determine how long a carpet will resist wear and staining.
Most carpets are constructed with either bulked continuous filament (BCF) or shorter Staple fibers. BCF fibers are long continuous strands twisted together to form the carpet yard. They are less prone to shedding and wear. Staple fibers are bulkier and shorter, like wool. Both are awesome products, however, BCF fiber is recommended for homes with pets. It costs a bit more, but offers improved pilling resistance.
The majority of today’s carpeting comes in four primary fiber types: wool, nylon, polypropylene (olefin) and P.E.T. polyester. What’s the difference?
Wool Carpet Fiber
From the sheep’s back to your floor, wool is considered by many to be the very best carpet material available. Sure, it’s the most expensive, but for good reason. It’s natural, durable, luxurious, soft, flame resistant, water repellant and environmentally friendly. And shockingly, it doesn’t conduct static electricity. It’s also the most stain resistant carpet available, so enjoy that red wine without worry.
Wool carpets come as Saxony, berber or twisted frieze. Use carpet cleaners designed especially for wool and you’ll enjoy your wool carpeting for a long, long time.
Nylon Carpet Fiber
Nylon is a petroleum-based synthetic fabric invented in the 1930s as a silk alternative by Dupont Chemical Company. Today’s nylon carpets are made from a newer generation of the product called “Nylon 6” or “Nylon 6,6.” These fibers are engineered to be even more durable, resist abrasive wear damage and offer almost a lifetime resistance to stains. Nylon 6/6,6 carpets can be pricey, but they’re perfect for any room — especially places where stains are likely to occur.
Olefin is colorfast, prevents moisture damage, is stain resistant, and is low in static. But it’s not as durable as wool or nylon and should not be installed in heavy usage locations.
Created in the late 1950s and gaining popularity by the ‘60s, Olefin is the second most popular fiber after nylon. It’s soft and lightweight, won’t fade and stands up to strong chemical cleaning agents — even bleach. It is less resilient than nylon and it has a low heat resistance. It’s also an oil-based product, so it attracts grease stains and may take on an undesirable sheen.
The best uses for Olefin include places with a greater amount of moisture or an informal space, like a child’s room.
Save a sheep a haircut and buy P.E.T. Polyester. This inexpensive wool alternative is environmentally friendly, has built-in moisture and stain resistance, is colorfast and feels incredibly soft. Made from recycled P.E.T. products, like plastic soda bottles, polyester carpets are stronger than Olefin and can perform as well as nylon at a much lower cost. Polyester offers a way to enjoy a soft, plush carpet at a very affordable price.
Branded Vs. Unbranded Fiber
Carpet is not like clothing. When you buy a pair of jeans, a big brand name will set you back a lot more than a no-name pair, for about the same quality.
When it comes to carpet fibers, brand names rule. Why? Because branded fiber and treatments are manufactured to strict standards set by their respective companies. Branded fibers offer better performance characteristics, improved stain, static, and crush resistance. Branded fibers also offer extended warranties backed by the fiber company, as well as the carpet manufacturer.
To achieve the premium branded fiber label on the back of a carpet sample, manufactures have to meet construction requirements set by the fiber manufacturer. The result is a carpet that meets the high expectations of the consumer, as well as protects the reputation of the brand.
In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTS) established the subclass name “triexta” as an alternative to the generic name “polyester” for a subclass of polyester fibers made from poly (trimethylene terephthalate).
This fiber, while having the same general chemical composition as polyester, has distinctive features of durability, resilience, softness and the ability to stretch with recovery that make it significantly more suitable than conventional polyester for carpet (and apparel). It also has superior water-based stain resistance. Triexta is marketed under the Mohawk brand name “Smartstrand.”
Petroleum-based fibers are slow to decay in landfills. That’s why both carpet manufacturers and retailers have teamed up to turn old carpets (and other plastic products) into new ones. As of 2007, one carpet recycler alone removed 5.5-million pounds of used carpet from the waste stream — an amount that has grown each month since.
Carpet recyclers can create premium carpets without the loss of softness or durability. Something to consider the next time you’re carpet shopping . . .