Choosing the Best Carpet for Your Home

Choosing the Best Carpet for Your Home

Saxony, frieze, or berber? Plush or textured? Solid or pattern? Wool, polyester, olefin, or nylon? When shopping for new carpet, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when faced with the many fibers, textures, patterns, and color options available. So how can you choose the best carpet for each room in your home? The first step is understanding the differences among the various carpet styles.

What Determines Performance?

While many carpet styles may look similar, there are some key components that help determine the carpet’s quality and price:
  • The type of fiber used to make the yarn
  • The process by which that fiber is transformed into yarn (twist)
  • The sewing technique (tufting) applied to turn the yarn into carpet
  • The carpet’s density and weight

The Fiber Difference

More than 90 percent of today's carpet is made from synthetic fibers, which include nylon, polyester (P.E.T.), olefin/polypropylene, SmartStrand, and Triexta. Carpet is also made from natural fibers such as wool, sisal, and jute. Each fiber has somewhat different characteristics (see Carpet Fibers) that will impact the carpet’s performance. For example, nylon carpets are highly durable and stand up well to stains, making them a great choice for high-traffic areas. However, in areas where moisture is a concern, olefin and polyester carpets may be better options, as these fibers are quicker drying and more mildew resistant.

While fibers will differ, most carpet is made in the same basic way:

  1. The extruded fiber is bundled together and twisted into a yarn.
  2. Heat is applied to lock the carpet fibers into shape.
  3. Hundreds of needles arrayed across a machine sew the yarn into a backing.
  4. A second backing is later attached for added strength and stability.

More on Performance

Here are a few rules of thumb to help determine how well a carpet will perform:

yarn twistYarn Twist
When it comes to yarn, the tighter the fine fiber strands (referred to as filaments) are twisted into yarn, the stronger and more resilient the carpet made from that yarn will be. Carpets with a tighter twist are far more resistant to matting and crushing.


shorter napShorter Nap
The height of the carpet's nap is also important to the overall performance of the carpet. The higher the yarn stands above the backing of the carpet (referred to as the pile height), the more likely a carpet is to crush. Think of traffic paths or marks where furniture has been placed on top of the carpeting. Generally, the shorter the pile height, the more resistant the carpet will be to this type of crushing.


tufts per inchTufts per Inch
Carpet that has more yarn (or stitches/tufts) per inch will also be more crush and matt resistant. With a highly dense carpet, it is nearly impossible to push your fingers in between the yarns. This crowding and packing together of the yarns is what protects the carpet from crushing.  


The Color Difference

Color is added to carpet in two basic ways:

  1. Solution dyed – Color pigments are mixed in with the liquid polymers, producing fiber strands that are colored all the way through (much like a carrot).
  2. Topically dyed – Carpet fibers are made first into white synthetic fibers, then dyed topically, leaving the color on the surface of the fibers (much like a red radish).

Carpets made from solution-dyed fibers have superior fade and bleach resistance because the dye color goes all the way through the carpet. This can be a plus for use in rooms that get a lot of sunlight that could cause fading.

Three Basic Carpet Types

Carpet is generally manufactured in one of three types of tufts:
  1. Cut pile – Including saxony, textured saxony, frieze, and cable carpet
  2. Loop pile – Includes berber
  3. Cut-and-loop pile – Patterned styles

With cut piles, the yarns can be made from either:

  • Bulk continuous filament (BCF) – One long, continuous strand of fiber is used to make the carpet yarn. or
  • Staple fibers – Each fine filament starts out as a short strand (about 7 inches long) before it is spun into yarn and then tufted into carpet.

With the staple process, shorter, unsecured fibers can come loose from the yarn pile, producing pilling on the surface of new carpet. This piling does not occur with a BFC carpet.

A Closer Look at Carpet Type

The following table gives a general description, as well as a few pros and cons, of each carpet type. Remember, the specific fiber, yarn twist, and density will affect the price, warranties, and performance of each.

Carpet Type Pros/Cons

Cut Piles

Saxony

Made from smooth cut piles, saxony carpet is most commonly referred to as plush carpet and is what often comes to mind when we think of traditional wall-to-wall carpet in the home. Thousands of perfectly even, straight, solid-colored strands of fiber give this carpet its thick, soft feel.

Pros:

  • Thick and soft underfoot
  • Good for low-traffic areas
  • Offers a traditional, rich, velvety look that never goes out of style
  • Works well in casual and formal décors

Cons:

  • Has less “personality” than other styles
  • Shows footprints and vacuum marks
  • Tends to wear much quicker than other carpet styles
  • Stains can show more easily on solids and light colors

Textured Saxony

 

This cut pile, also referred to as a textured plush, is typically made from slightly textured yarns, but instead of being straight, as in a standard saxony, the fibers are kinked or twisted in different directions and then steamed to create a permanent curl.

Pros:

  • Thick and soft underfoot
  • More versatile and casual looking than saxonies
  • Hides footprints and vacuum marks better than saxony
  • Shows less wear and tear than saxony styles
  • Comes in solid or multi-colored styles
  • Textures can work well with most any décor

Cons:

  • Less durable than other styles
  • Can show signs of wear quicker than some other carpet types

Frieze

 

This cut pile offers a tighter “twist” than textured saxonies. The yarn actually curls over, creating a very durable product and a more informal look. Frieze carpets with very long piles are commonly referred to as a “shag” carpet.

Pros:

  • Soft underfoot
  • Highly durable
  • Does a good job at hiding footprints, dirt, and vacuum streaks
  • Provides a distinct “trendy,” casual look

Cons:

  • Typically costs more than saxony styles
  • Requires special care – avoid use of a vacuum with a harsh rolling brush
  • Doesn’t work as well with formal décors

Cable

 

This cut pile is constructed of thicker, longer yarns, giving it a chunkier, rugged look.

Pros:

  • Cozy, comfortable, and luxurious underfoot
  • Offers a neutral backdrop to match most décors

Cons:

  • Extremely long fibers make carpet more prone to crushing and matting, especially under heavy foot traffic
  • More prone to shedding
  • Can be harder to clean and vacuum than saxony styles

Loop Pile

 

Loop pile is how all carpet actually begins — uncut. Each uncut tuft is brought back into the backing, giving this carpet a knobby appearance. Loop pile can be made up of smooth, level loops (all the same height) or multi-level loops to form a pattern or add more texture (berber). Commonly used in commercial settings, loop carpets are typically made from less-expensive olefin or nylon fibers and often combine different color fibers to produce a multi-color effect.

Pros:

  • More durable than cut piles
  • Looped design offers a cushiony feel underfoot, especially those made from wool and nylon fibers
  • Hides stains and traffic/ vacuuming marks, especially multicolored styles
  • Offers a uniquely rustic look that works with many interior design schemes
  • Higher loops create a more luxurious and elegant appearance
  • Short and densely packed loops are easier to clean and can prevent dirt from filtering into carpet
  • Spill resistant – highly absorbent
  • Often less expensive than a cut pile carpet

Cons:

  • Not as soft underfoot as a cut pile, especially if made from olefin or polyester
  • More susceptible to snagging and/or running; it is possible for things, such as pet claws, to get caught in the loop and pull the loops out
  • While stain-resistant, some stains can be difficult to clean, particularly oil-based stains
  • May require special care: Beater bar attachments should not be used when vacuuming berbers

Cut and Loop (also called cut and uncut or sculpted)

 

This style features a combination of both loops and cut pile yarns to create a patterned design. A big trend in the 70s and 80s, this carpet has experienced a rebound in popularity, with modern styles featuring geometric designs, pin dots, linear styles, animal prints, and more color combinations than ever.

Pros:

  • Helps hide vacuum marks
  • Gives the floor a more interesting texture and visual appearance
  • Offered in a variety of colors, finishes, and designs

Cons:

  • Typically more expensive than like-quality saxonies, friezes and berbers, due to the intricacy involved in creating patterns
  • Cut fibers often bend or flatten over top of the looped fibers, producing a worn-out look – an effect that is more likely in high-traffic areas

 

Matching Function with Style

Once you understand the different carpet types, you can then make a better decision as to which style will work best in your home. Each room serves a different purpose and will thus have different practical requirements to consider.

Carpet for Bedrooms

Carpet for BedroomsThe best carpet for a bedroom depends on whose bedroom it is. Carpet in a master suite or a guest room, for example, is less likely to become soiled and stained than carpet in a room used by a child or teen.

For an adult bedroom, softness and comfort underfoot are most often top of the list. In this low-traffic room, just about any fiber in a plush or texture style will work well. Wool is an ideal option for adding a soft, luxurious look and feel to a bedroom. But as a natural fiber, it can be bit pricey. Synthetic carpets are usually more budget-friendly, and may be a more realistic option if you have a large bedroom. Nylon, a highly durable synthetic option with the softest feel, is typically the most costly synthetic option. Polyester carpeting is usually less expensive than nylon, and, like most natural fibers, it is also non-allergenic, making it an ideal choice for allergy sufferers. However, as an inexpensive material, polyester carpeting can shed or pill.

A good choice for a child's bedroom is a soft, nylon or an inherently stain-resistant polyester carpet.

Carpet for a Living Room

Your lifestyle and personal taste are key factors in choosing the best carpet for living rooms. In busy families with children and pets, where the living room gets daily use, stain resistance and wear are of top concern. A solution-dyed or stain-treated product, possibly one with some type of added odor treatment, is a good option.

If your living room is for formal use only, consider a classic cut pile saxony or a sophisticated cut and loop patterned carpet. A textured plush or a frieze will work well for a more casual lifestyle.

Carpet for a Family Room

Carpet for Family RoomFamily rooms in active households with kids and pets demand carpets that are stain and soil resistant and constructions that can stand up to a lot of traffic. Dense textures, loop piles, as well as many patterned carpet styles tend to show less matting and traffic patterns.

A multi-colored, textured looped carpet, such as a berber made from wool or nylon, will likely be more forgiving of tracked in debris and everyday mess.

Carpet for a Dining Room

Carpet for BedroomsWant to give your dining room an elegant look? A plush saxony carpet can be a great choice. Triexta or P.E.T. polyester carpets with inherent stain resistance, solution-dyed nylon carpets, or nylons with advanced stain resistance are all safe bets for dining rooms, where occasional soiling from spilled food and beverages is a concern. Products that feature anti-microbial and other topical treatments will also help protect against spills.

Carpet for Hallways and Stairs

For stairs and other high-traffic areas such as hallways, a low-profile, densely packed carpet can add to the life expectancy of carpet. Because of its resilience, nylon carpet is often recommended in pulled-down textures or level-loop constructions.

For stairs, the direction of the pile should run from the top of the stairs to the bottom (not sideways). This ensures better wear and also prevents noticeable gaps between fibers where the carpet bends over each step. Stairways that are open on one or both sides require the carpet to wrap around the outside edge of the staircase, presenting the possibility of a portion of the backing to show. Here, a higher-grade berber will work much better than a lower-grade option. Seams are also a concern on stairs, particularly where the carpet joins around posts. A longer pile such as frieze, tends to hide seams better than short or looped piles.

Carpet for a Basement

A big concern in basements is most often moisture. Carpets made from man-made fibers, such as olefin (polypropylene), and polyester, do a good job at standing up to moisture and tend to dry more quickly than natural fibers such as wool. A lower pile will also dry quicker. A dense, multi-color loop or level loop construction is a good choice for basements. If concerned about the possibility of flooding, carpet squares may be a better option than wall-to-wall carpeting, as soaked squares can be more easily replaced.

A Word on Carpet Cushion

Carpet cushion serves a vital purpose, acting as both a shock and spring to help improve carpet’s overall wear. Without the use of the appropriate carpet cushion, even the highest-quality carpet will surely flatten and quickly look worn. Prior to purchasing carpet, be sure to review the carpet manufacturer's cushion recommendations with your carpet retailer.

The Final Choice

With any carpet selection, it’s always important to ask your local, specialty carpet retailer for recommendations for your specific use. Remember to ask about any special care requirements and installation considerations. See the WFCA's carpet store locator for highly trained, local carpet retailers that have the experience and industry knowledge to help you select the best carpet for your home.

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Date: November 19, 2016
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I got more information from this than the carpet sales people. I found it extremely helpful.
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I got more information from this than the carpet sales people. I found it extremely helpful.
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Date: September 19, 2016
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Thank you for taking the time to make such a helpful article! Very informative!
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I have learned more from this site than all of the carpet sellers I visited. Thank you very much.
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Great, unbiased information.
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Date: June 26, 2016
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Simple and too the point. How can I find sellers who will eagerly disclose: The carpet’s density and weight, Yarn Twist, Nap Height and Tufts per Inch?
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It was informative.
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very informative
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Information was easy to understand and very helpful.
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Date: June 20, 2015
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I am just starting to look for carpet replacement for my townhome and this article was great, I now have a little knowledge about carpet replacement than I had before

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