Choosing the Best Carpet for Your Home: Determining Carpet Performance
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 quality carpet for your home? The first step is understanding the differences among the various carpet styles.
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.
Yarn Twist, Nap, and Tuft
While fibers will differ, most carpet is made in the same basic way:
- The extruded fiber is bundled together and twisted into a yarn.
- Heat is applied to lock the carpet fibers into shape.
- Hundreds of needles arrayed across a machine sew the yarn into a backing.
- A second backing is later attached for added strength and stability.
However, the yarn twist, nap, and tufts per inch will each have an impact on the carpet’s overall performance. Here are some things to keep in mind:
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.
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 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.
Three Basic Carpet Types
Generally, carpet is manufactured in one of three tuft styles:
- Cut pile: Includes saxony, textured saxony, frieze, and cable carpet
- Loop pile: Includes berber
- Cut and loop pile: Patterned styles
Each carpet type has its own set of pros and cons. Your design aesthetic and lifestyle will play a big factor in deciding which carpet type will best meet your needs. For example, a loop pile can be a great option in a high-traffic room, as it generally does a better job at hiding stains and traffic patterns than a plusher cut pile such as a saxony. However, loop piles are more susceptible to snagging than saxonies. Therefore, if you have a cat or dog, a loop pile such as berber may not be the best option. To learn more about the pros and cons of each carpet type, see Taking a Closer Look at Carpet Types.
BCF vs. Staple Fibers
Another consideration with cut pile carpets is whether to choose one made from bulk continuous filament or staple fibers. The bulk continuous filament (BCF) process uses one long, continuous strand of fiber to make the carpet yarn. With 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.
One drawback of the staple process is that 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 BCF carpet.
The Color Difference
Color is added to carpet in two basic ways:
- 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).
- 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.
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
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. For more information on carpet style options for each room, see Choosing the Best Carpet for Each Room of Your Home.
Have more carpet questions? See the WFCA's carpet store locator to find highly trained carpet retailers in your area who can help you select the best carpet for your home.
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