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Choosing Good Carpeting

How To Make Informed Choices

Carpeting is everywhere and it's such a common household product that it's easy to overlook the details when it comes time to shop for a new one.

How to choose wisely relies on knowing a few things about what it's made from and how it's constructed. Pairing the right materials and methods of construction with how it will be used will help ensure you get a long-lasting and durable product.

Where Do I Start & What Should I Know?

Publisher's Comments

The content of this web page is about broadloom carpeting which is roughly defined as the wall-to-wall variety. "Rugs" are usually thought of as smaller floor tapestries that cover only part of the floor. However, so that our text doesn't sound like a broken record, we're going to use the terms "carpet" and "rug" interchangeably. Just keep in mind that what we're really talking about is wall-to-wall carpeting.

How to buy carpet is really no different than choosing other types of flooring. Start by answering some questions about where and how it will be used in your home. The location has a direct connection with the amount of use and wear the carpet will experience (upstairs bedrooms typically see less traffic than a main hallway or family room).

The next step in the process is to learn about the materials it's made from and how it's put together. Carpets are made from several types of materials and methods of construction. Understanding these differences will help you become more knowledgeable about what makes some products better than others.

Be Specific On What You're Looking For

To make sure a new carpet will ultimately meet your expectations, consider the following questions:

  • Where will it be installed?
    Room use plays an important role because it helps define typical traffic levels as well as decorating style. Will the new floor covering be in heavily-trafficked areas like hallways, family rooms or stairways, or in less active areas like bedrooms?

    Durable products made from tightly twisted yarns and dense loop pile with good dirt-hiding colors will be more effective in the high-traffic areas. More delicate carpets are better suited for places with less foot traffic.

    Think about the kind of activity that typically happens in the room too. Will the carpeting be in a more stain-prone location? Synthetic fibers will typically do better warding off stains than natural fibers. You may also want to think about darker colors or multi-colored patterns to hide dirt and residual stains.

  • What textures and colors do you like/want?
    Carpeting, more so than wood or other floor choices, comes in a vast array of colors and textures. Knowing your preferences for color family and texture will help narrow down the available choices. It's particularly helpful once you start working with a designer or flooring salesperson since they're going to take their initial cues from you.

    cut pile carpeting

    While it may seem obvious that lighter colors show dirt more readily, it doesn't mean that a light color is necessarily bad. Darker colors have their downfall too in that they tend to show lint more readily than lighter colors.

    The best middle-ground option for hiding dirt is to choose a floor covering with several colors and/or choosing a color that best camouflages the dirt that's typical in your area. That may sound a bit far-fetched but the color of soil varies depending on geographic location.

  • Will you stay in your home or are you planning on selling?
    Your intentions for the home will have a bearing on the type of rug to choose. If you'll be selling soon you'll probably want to invest in more neutral colors. You're probably not interested in paying for top quality either. On the other hand, if you're staying in the home, quality, style and durability are factors that will probably drive your decision.


Learn How It's Constructed

Learning some basic "carpet-101" facts will help you make better choices because you'll understand how things like fiber and pile type affect it's look and longevity.

Carpeting begins with individual fibers that are spun together to form yarn. The yarn is then tufted or woven to the backing in various ways to form the pile.

carpet fiber word picture

Fiber

Why It's Important Fibers are not created equal. Different fiber materials have different properties. Some are better than others for particular applications like durability, softness, stain resistance or lower cost.

Several different types of fiber are used to make rugs but for the most part, 4 materials dominate the scene. They are nylon, polyester, olefin (also known as polypropylene) and wool. All of these except for wool are synthetic fibers.

  • Nylon - Most widely used of the synthetic fibers. Offers the best resiliency among the synthetics along with good stain and abrasion resistance.
  • Polyester - Is best at retaining color and won't fade over time. It's also capable of providing a very soft feel though it's not as resilient as nylon and is more prone to compaction.
  • Olefin - Olefin fibers are resistant to the buildup of static electricity while retaining good stain resistance and colorfastness. They're also resistant to the buildup of mildew from excessive moisture, one of the faults of wool fibers, and are better suited than wool in moist environments like basements.
  • Wool - Wool fibers have a structure similar to a spring that give it inherent resiliency. Wool's naturally "scaly" surface resists the accumulation of dirt but it absorbs moisture more than synthetic fibers and could develop odors in damp or humid settings. It has a softness that's hard to duplicate in synthetic fibers. Last but not least, it's natural, and environmentally friendly both from a sourcing and disposal perspective.

One additional fact to be aware of regarding the fiber is its classification - fiber will either be a staple fiber or a BCF (Bulk Continuous Filament) fiber. You may see these terms in some of the literature and brochures in the form of "..only available on product XYZ brand of staple carpets" or "...made with 100% brand 123 BCF nylon".

It's worth knowing what these terms mean because they have a relationship to a rug's "shedding" quality.

Staple fibers are shorter in length and are wound together to form the strands of yarn that make up the pile. Sometimes some of these fibers come loose and lay on the surface of the rug or stick to your clothing. Wool is a staple fiber by nature and you'll sometimes see this shedding effect on the surface of a wool floor covering.

BCF fibers are manufactured in long, virtually continuous lengths. They're made by extruding a material, such as nylon, through a dye (sort of like pushing an endless amount of play-doh through a showerhead). Then they're wound together into a strand of yarn. But BCF doesn't have the tendency for shedding like staple fibers because the pieces of yarn that make up the pile are made from continuous-length fibers, not smaller pieces like staple fibers.

One of the benefits of staple fibers is that they can be made into very fine yarns for more intricate pattern designs, something that is not as easy with BCF.

Pile Type

Why It's Important The pile characteristics play a big role in the feel and durability of the carpet. Looped berbers that are densely packed stand up to wear and tear better than taller cut piles. However a cut pile will have a softer and more luxurious feel than the loop-pile.

  • Loop - As its name implies loop pile is fashioned by orienting the yarn into loops, with both ends originating in the backing. Level-loop rugs have all the loops at the same height whereas loops of varying heights produce a pattern within the pile.

    carpet fiber loop

  • Cut - Yarns that stand straight up from the backing make up cut pile. The height of these yarns determine the thickness and to some degree, the softness of the pile.

    cut pile

    Saxony describes a type of cut pile with a uniform height and surface texture. The upright yarns are typically packed closely together for a high density.

    Plush is another cut pile, similar to saxony, but with a distinct "bloom" (a fuzziness achieved by the unraveling of the fibers) at the tips of the yarn. This gives the texture a very soft and smooth feel.

  • Cut & Loop - Cut and loop pile combines both cut and looped yarns to achieve various patterns and textures within the pile.
  • Frieze - A frieze (pronounced "free-zay") pile is actually a version of cut pile except the yarns are tightly twisted and curled. The extent of twist and the height of the pile determine the overall look of the carpeting which tends to have a less formal look than saxony which has very uniform and upright yarns.

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What Makes A Durable Carpet?

Durability is a function of how the rug is constructed and the type of cushion that's underneath it.

Carpet Cushion

The cushion, or pad as it's sometimes called, is made from several different materials including polyurethane foam, felt, rubber and jute. Most cushion is made from foam and in many cases it will be recycled bonded foam (sometimes called re-bond), distinguishable by its multi-colored look.

The right cushion is important for several reasons. Research has shown that it gives longevity to the floor covering by minimizing the crushing and wear on the carpet face. If there's nothing between the carpet and the hard subfloor, the pile takes all of the force. The cushion provides give and resilience, taking some of the load off the carpet itself.

The cushion also provides sound and temperature insulation. However if you're going to use a radiant floor heating system with your rug it's best to choose a cushion with a lower insulating value ("R-value") allowing more of the heat to pass through. Talk with your flooring specialist about choosing the right type of cushion in these circumstances.

The cushion is rated by its density which is measured by it's weight per cubic foot. According to the Carpet Cushion Council (www.carpetcushion.org) the trade organization associated with the manufacture, sale and research on carpet cushion, a minimum of 5 to 6.5 lbs/cu.ft. density for bonded cushion is recommended though more is better.

One key point to remember regarding the cushion is to follow the rug manufacturer's recommendations for their particular product. Some warranties are void if the floor covering's installed with the wrong type of cushion.

Carpet Construction

When it comes to construction focus on the following:

  • Fiber Type - Durable fibers are resilient (meaning they 'bounce back') and resist crushing and abrasion. Both nylon and wool perform well in these categories however nylon has the edge in stain resistance.
  • Pile Type - Loop pile will usually do better than a cut pile when it comes to long term durability, though density and fiber type play a role too. Loop pile, particularly if it's dense, tends to stand up to crushing and abrasion better than cut pile. You don't get the tip "bloom" (fuzziness and unraveling) that's possible with upright cut yarns.
  • dense carpet pile multi level loop carpet pile
    Dense cut pile on the left and a multi-level loop pile on the right


  • Yarn Twist - A tightly twisted yarn will have more durability and resiliency than loosely twisted yarn. Sometimes it's easy to see the yarn twist just by looking at the pile but other times it's not so evident.

    Twist is measured in number of turns per inch. You may be able to find this information on the carpeting's specification sheet. If you can't tell, ask the salesperson to look it up for you.

  • carpet pile yarn twistNotice The Variability In Yarn Twist In This Frieze Carpet - One Type Of Yarn Is Wound Tightly While The Other Is Thicker And Looser

  • Density - Density is the number of tufts of yarn in a given area. Another way of measuring this is by noting the face weight (the face is the part you see and walk on). The more yarns and the closer they're bunched together, the denser and heavier the rug. There is a flip side to this however -- taller pile that's not very dense could still weigh as much or more than shorter, densely packed pile.

    The best way to check out pile density is just by pushing your finger down into the pile and spreading apart the yarns. Dense carpeting, particularly dense berbers and loop piles are hard to get down into the backing. Another way to check this is by bending a piece of the floor covering. Rugs with lower-density pile show the backing much more readily than denser pile in this type of test.

  • carpet pile densityLess Density
    Compare This With The Picture Below - Note How The Backing Is Much More Visible

    carpet pile densityGreater Density
    This Berber Has A Dense Pile With Virtually No Backing Visible

Quality carpeting doesn't have to meet all of the above criteria but the more it does, the better it will be in more demanding applications. Style, room choice and traffic levels all factor into the decision on which type to buy so consider the above information in balance with the type of "stress" your rug will see and style options you prefer.

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What Products And Innovations Should I Know About?

For most of us, carpeting is one of those products that seems like it's pretty much all the same. We know it comes in different colors and textures but beyond that, it has a sort of 'generic' nature about it. Unless you really study it (and you may need some alternative hobbies if you do) it may seem like there's not a whole lot that distinguishes one type from another.

Well surprisingly, there is. And it's not just color or texture.

Just like any other product under the sun, makers of rugs and their fibers employ a number of different "technologies" to differentiate their products in the marketplace. These technologies affect things like stain resistance, resiliency and other attributes.

To help you sort out some of the differences here are some distinctions among the various products that are worth being aware of.

STAINMASTER®

STAINMASTER® is arguably one of the most recognized brand names when it comes to carpeting. Made by Invista™, formerly the textiles division of DuPont™, it's a brand of fiber, not a particular manufacturer's brand of carpeting. You'll see it advertised and referred to as STAINMASTER® carpeting but it's the fiber technology that's behind the name.

Here are some of the high points regarding STAINMASTER® technologies:

  • Nylon 6,6 Fiber - this is a more premium type of nylon fiber than "Type 6" nylon that's also used in a lot of rugs. It has greater strength and resiliency which adds to the product's overall durability.
  • Engineered Fibers - STAINMASTER® nylon fibers are designed with specific shapes to achieve various properties in texture, body, durability and softness. The fibers have a 'tri-lobed' or roughly a triangular cross section which varies depending on the desired properties.
  • Tactesse® Fiber Technology - this is a particular type of STAINMASTER® fiber specifically designed for softness. The fibers are finer than a human hair and uniquely shaped to provide this soft feel.
  • Hytrel® Moisture Barrier Cushion - Hytrel® is a DuPont™ film material that's applied to the top of the STAINMASTER® cushion. It prevents spills from soaking into the cushion allowing for a complete cleanup and the avoidance of 'spill reoccurrence' (from a soaked, non-protected cusion) later on.
  • Built-In Static Protection - the STAINMASTER® fibers are made with an integral carbon material that acts as little "electricity absorbers" to reduce static buildup. This not only adds to comfort by reducing the "zap" you get when you touch the nearest light switch but also reduces the potential for damaging static discharge on sensitive electrical components like computers and electronic devices.
  • DuPont™ Teflon® Protectant - the Teflon® technology is what helps the fibers repel dirt and stains by preventing them from being absorbed into the fibers.

STAINMASTER® also comes in several grades with varying performance expectations and corresponding warranty coverage. The lines include the entry level Stainmaster Carpet followed by XtraLife, MasterLife and UltraLife.

Anso® Brands

Anso® is the brand name of a family of nylon fibers used to make carpeting. It's a division of Shaw® Industries and consequently is found in Shaw products.

Anso® brands of nylon include Anso®nylon, Anso CrushRegister®, Anso Caress® and Anso f(x)™. Each type of nylon fiber employs various technologies designed to achieve certain properties.

  • CrossBond® Fiber Technology - a fancy term that describes a network of joints or "bond points" between the tufts of fibers within the rug. These small attachment points act to provide resistance to crushing and untwisting of the fibers.
  • Soft Hand™ Performance - this technology uses fibers up to 50% smaller than more standard nylon filaments, resulting in a softer feel.
  • Enhanced Body™ with Infusion Technology - this description refers to fibers made with a proprietary process that produces yarn of greater volume and density for a consistent value-for-price product.
  • R2x® Repellent Sytem - R2x® is a soil and stain repellent system that's applied on the entire yarn height, top to bottom, providing better coverage against staining. Some floor coverings are treated for stain resistance in a topical manner leaving portions of the fibers exposed to dirt and stains.

SmartStrand™ by Mohawk®

SmartStrand® is a new fiber technology offered exclusively by Mohawk® that offers both perpetual stain resistance as well as environmental benefits.

Smartstrand® is made with DuPont™ Sorona® polymer. One of the key ingredients (Bio-PDO™) is derived from corn sugar, effectively reducing the amount of fossil fuel required to produce the fiber.

The Sorona® polymer is also engineered for built-in stain resistance. Unlike other fibers that receive topical applied-on stain repellents, the SmartStrand® technology is part of the fiber and won't wear off after repeated cleaning.

It's relatively new in the marketplace so only time will tell how this new fiber holds up in the long run.

More information about Mohawk® carpet can be found on our Mohawk page (it will bring you to another page on this website).

Wear-Dated®

Wear-Dated® is another brand name fiber that's used by several rug manufacturers such as Mohawk®, Shaw®, Beaulieu® and others.

It's characterized by the use of the more durable Type 6,6 nylon fiber. It's also tested and certified for stain resistance, fading and wear. In fact, Wear-Dated® carpet is actually tested by having people walk on it the equivalent of 20,000 times to obtain realistic results. Most "foot traffic" tests are usually simulated, using something called a Hexapod test whereby a machine tries to simulate the effects of long term foot traffic.

Wear-Dated® fibers are engineered for specific roles; Durasoft for a soft feel, Traffic Control with tighter yarn twists for greater resistance to high traffic and ThermaSealed staple fibers for better performing Berber (looped) carpets.

KaraStep™ Prima Premium Cushion

Karastep™ Prima is a premium cushion made by Karastan®. It's one of 3 types of cushion within the KaraStep™ lineup.

What makes KaraStep Prima stand out is that it has a higher density than average cushions (10lbs per cubic foot as compared with the Carpet Cushion Council's minimium recommendation of approximately 5 to 6 pounds).

It's also made from something called froth polyurethane, a visco-elastic memory foam. That's just high-tech language to describe a dense kind of foam that easily conforms to any shape but bounces back. You may have seen ads for bed mattresses made from this material. When you compare this type of cushion to standard rebond cushion, you'll both see and feel a difference.

Other benefits associated with the Prima cushion include the fact that it's 100% recyclable, it's antimicrobial and hypoallergenic. It also carries the Green Label certification for low VOC emissions (volatile organic compounds) from the Carpet and Rug Institute.

More information about Karastan® carpet can be found on our Karastan web page.

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Are There "Green" Choices?

Synthetic carpeting isn't the "greenest" product around as the vast majority of it is made from petrochemicals. It takes large amounts of water to manufacture carpeting as well as a significant amount of energy.

Add to that, it doesn't easily lend itself to the recycling process and most used carpets end up in landfills. It can't biodegrade either (unless it's wool) so it'll be there forever.

No need to feel guilty however as things are changing and the 'green' movement has reached the carpet industry. It still has a way to go but there are some things you can do if you want to soften the environmental footprint of your choice.

What To Do With The Old

If you're replacing your old rug with a new one there are several things you can do to avoid having the old one add to the landfill statistic.

  • Ask flooring retailers if they'll accept your old carpet.
    Some retailers will take your existing floor covering and put it into the recycling process, saving you the trouble of having to locate reclamation centers and hauling the carpet there yourself.
  • Bring your old carpeting to a reclamation center yourself.
    While this is less convenient than if your flooring retailer or installer does this for you, it's still helping the environment. Locations that accept old rugs for recycling are increasing in number but they aren't everywhere yet so there may or may not be one located near you.

    The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) has a resource finder page on their website where you can locate your nearest used carpet collector in the United States. CARE is a joint government-industry effort to increase the amount of carpet recycling and reduce waste.

Buying Environmentally Friendly Products

The best option for an environmentally friendly carpet is wool. It's natural, long lasting and ultimately the fibers are biodegradable. Although wool was traditionally more expensive than synthetics, some wool floor coverings are now virtually on par with the better man-made rugs due to the high cost of oil used to make the synthetic fibers. You can learn more about wool carpeting here.

With synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester, greener choices involve buying a floor covering made with some recycled content.

Mohawk® uses recycled plastic bottles in their carpets made from the everSTRAND™ fiber. The fiber is made using the PET material that plastic bottles are made from. Other companies like Beaulieu® of America also use PET content in some of their products. If there's any drawback it's that the material is polyester and not nylon. While polyester has it's good points it also has some drawbacks as well.

Mohawk also makes carpeting with the DuPont™ Sorona® fiber, a third of which is made with renewable corn-based resources.

Some Shaw® products also contain recycled content of the nylon variety. Shaw Industries established their Evergreen Nylon Recycling Facility in Augusta, Georgia which recycles Type 6 nylon rugs into the raw material needed to create new nylon carpeting. You'll see the universal recycling symbol on Shaw products that contain recycled content.

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Understanding The Warranties

When you look at carpet warranties you'll usually see coverage for things like stains, wear, texture loss and sometimes static properties. What's possible to misunderstand however is that the warranty coverage is really only for gross failures in these categories.

Typically the warranty won't cover typical wear and tear nor matting or crushing or even some staining. If your warranty expectations are unrealistic, you may be disappointed. That's why it's important to read and understand the warranty closely.

In other words, don't rely on a salesperson's quote that "..this rug is warranted against wear for 7 years.." for your understanding of what is or isn't covered. The warranty may cover 'wear' but read it to find out exactly what that means. In most if not all cases, it doesn't mean the normal type of wear you'll see over several years of use.

To help clarify things, consider the following points:

  1. Understand what's meant by the terms "Abrasive Wear", "Stain Resistance", "Texture Retention" and "Soil Resistance".
    The terms used to describe what the warranty covers don't always mean what we'd intuitively think they mean. "Wear" in warranty terms means a loss of a specific amount of fibers or pile weight, not the usual abrasion and 'scruffiness' that you typically see in high traffic areas.

    "Stain Resistance" doesn't mean that the rug will be forever free from staining nor immune from every conceivable stain material. Warranties usually state that it will "resist most food and beverage stains". There's also a bunch of materials that can stain but aren't covered by the warranty (see #5 below)

  2. Warranties vary between full and pro-rated coverage.
    Some warranties offer 100% coverage only for the first few years but then pro-rate the coverage in succeeding years, down to minimal coverage in the last year. There are exceptions however. Purchasing a Karastan KaraStep™ Prima cushion in conjunction with a Karastan rug will upgrade the carpet warranty to 100% for the full 7 year term of the warranty.
  3. Understand your part of the bargain.
    There are certain things you'll have to do before you can qualify for the terms of the warranty. For staining problems, you'll first have to try and clean the stain yourself, then get it professionally cleaned if that doesn't work.

    More importantly however, you'll need to get your rug cleaned professionally (usually via the hot water extraction method) as a matter of regular maintenance (usually once every 2 years) simply to qualify for the stain coverage. And, you'll need to keep the receipts from those cleanings as proof of service.

    You'll also need to have it properly installed and maintain it (i.e. regular vacuuming) per the manufacturer's recommendations. How any manufacturer can determine if the rug was "properly maintained" without some form of vacuum police is questionable however.

  4. Understand the practicality of what's covered.
    Some warranty stipulations really beg the question as to whether it would ever be possible to determine if there's a valid warranty claim or not.

    For example, some warranties that cover texture retention state that the floor covering will maintain a "texture rating" of a certain value as measured by the "ISO-9405 international standardized rating scale". Realistically, unless your rug flattens out like a pancake 2 months after you buy it, does this really seem like something you'd submit a warranty claim on and would you know what to look for? How would you know if your "texture loss" was above or below the limit?

    The point here is that a warranty may cover a number of conditions, but the practicality of those conditions either happening or being adequately judged one way or another is questionable.

  5. The important warranty information is in the exclusions.
    Find out what the warranty excludes to get a clearer picture of what's really being covered. Most warranties don't cover stains that are oil or wax based, involve bodily fluids or are from foods made with deeply colored natural dyes such as mustard and tea.

    Matting and crushing of the pile is usually not included and if you were wondering, this doesn't refer to "texture retention".

    Some warranties don't cover rugs installed on stairs due to the pounding and abrasion that's inherent with this type of installation.

Also remember that proper installation is very important to getting the most out of a rug's performance. The Carpet and Rug Institute, the non-profit trade association representing the carpet industry, recommends that installation be done by professionals in accordance with their Standard for Installation of Residential Carpet, Standard CRI 105. In fact, some warranties require it.

You may also want to see if your installer provides a warranty for the installation process to provide some insurance against problems caused by faulty installation.

You can easily view the detailed warranty information before you buy. It's usually available on the manufacturer's website but you can also ask your salesperson too. They usually have it available in pamphlet form. It'll bore you to tears but it will give you a good understanding of what's covered, what's not and what your expectations should probably be for a given brand of carpeting.

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Buying Your Carpet & Obtaining Free Local Quotes

There's no shortage of carpet outlets and places to buy but sometimes finding them or deciding where to go first is a bit challenging. If you'd like to reverse the process and have qualified carpeting professionals contact you, fill out the form below. It'll provide you with one or a number of resources in your local area that can provide quotes for installation.

Regardless of who or how you approach buying your carpeting it helps to start with a good understanding of what makes a good product (see all the information above) and what style you prefer (frieze, loop, berber, etc.). Then, determine what your budget will be.

This last point sometimes gets lost on people but there is a wide range of what you can spend on carpeting, from cheap to very expensive. Establish your budget ahead of time and then shop. With this information in hand you'll be best equipped to winnow down the myriad choices that are available and arrive at a product that works for your room, your style and your budget.

Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Wool Carpeting - Wool carpeting is natural and "green". Discover what wool carpeting has to offer and whether it's a good fit for your home.

Kids Carpet - Why not dress up a child's room with something other than a bland single-color carpet? Kids carpeting offers your child a built-in play mat or at a minimum, a much more colorful option for their room.

Choosing Between Area Rugs Or Carpet - Check out this article to help determine whether to go with wall-to-wall carpet or an area rug.



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