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Wool Carpeting

Lots Of Benefits & Earth-Friendly Too

Wool carpeting typically falls well behind synthetic carpets in terms of quantity of sales but that doesn't mean it's a "less worthy" carpet. Whether it's due to good marketing by the synthetic carpet makers or some other reason is open for debate. Cost might be one factor but regardless of the reason, wool carpet is certainly worth taking a closer look when considering carpet options.

For one, it's eco-friendly. It's made from a sustainable resource (thanks to the willing sheep population) and because it's natural, it's biodegradable. Try that with a nylon or polyester synthetic carpet.

And don't forget that wool has the benefit of thousands of years (perhaps more?) of evolution behind it. Thanks to nature, the wool fiber has been "naturally engineered" with a host of benefits.

Those benefits translate right into a carpet that's made from wool. Synthetic carpets do their best to try and mimic those attributes but as the saying goes, it truly is hard to beat Mother Nature.

Before you become a sheep yourself and simply follow the synthetic-carpet herd, give wool a closer look. It may offer you just the right choice for your next floor covering.

Why Should I Consider Wool?

If you're reading this article, you have some interest in wool carpeting. Maybe it's something you've considered for a while or maybe it's just because you saw a sample at a flooring center or came across an ad and just wanted to know a little more about it. Regardless of your motivation, it'll help your overall carpet-buying decision to have at least investigated wool carpeting as an option.

Benefits Outweigh The Drawbacks (For The Most Part)

One of the knocks of wool carpeting over the years has been it's high cost relative to the synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester. Yes, it can be higher in price but with the higher cost of oil in recent years, the price of synthetic carpeting goes up too because the raw material is oil-based. This means you can find a wool carpet for close to what some synthetics cost.

So let's look at the benefits of wool:

  • Environmentally Friendly
    Wool is a natural fiber, shorn from the coats of sheep usually native to either New Zealand or the United Kingdom. It's biodegradable as well as recyclable so it won't spend centuries taking up space in a landfill like a synthetic carpet will. It also takes less energy to produce than synthetic carpets.
  • wool carpeting

  • Helps With The Indoor Environment Too
    Not only is it good for our world as a whole, wool also helps your home's environment too. It can absorb about 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp which make it a cheap but efficient humidifier (and dehumidifier too). In warmer humid conditions it absorbs some of the moisture in the air making it feel cooler. When the air dries out it releases the moisture helping to humidify the air.

    Wool carpeting has also been shown to be an effective 'filter'. It's natural fibers can absorb and retain chemicals such as formaldehyde (present in certain wood products and other building materials) and nitrogen dioxide, a by-product of smoking and combustion (think heaters, fireplaces, stoves, etc.).

  • Resists Compaction - Naturally
    The structure of a wool fiber is naturally coiled which gives it a built-in "bounce-back" or resiliency. Synthetic fibers only get this through artificial means which can potentially be lost over time. This helps give a wool carpet longevity that can outlast synthetic fiber carpets.
  • Naturally Good At Repelling Dirt
    Wool fiber has an overlapping "scaly" outer structure which looks and acts somewhat like roof shingles. This helps repel dirt and liquids by shielding the inner part of the fiber. It also helps hold the dirt and spilled liquids near the top surface of the carpet giving you a better opportunity of cleaning dirt and spills.

    (The reason it readily absorbs humidity or water vapor but "holds" liquids near the surface is because wool fiber is hygroscopic. This means it absorbs moisture in vapor, not liquid form. Small pores in the outer sheath allow it to breath, letting vapor pass but repelling liquid moisture. It's similar to wicking fabrics that repel liquid moisture on the outside but allow moisture vapor from the body to pass through.)

  • Accepts And Retains Colors Well
    Wool fiber's protein-based chemical makeup readily accepts dyes and locks in the color for superior intensity and color fastness. Carpets made from New Zealand wool, which is natrually white, make an easy pallet for applying color.
  • Flame Retardant And Doesn't Melt
    Wool is naturally flame retardant and self-extinguishes. It also doesn't melt like a synthetic fiber will. The real-world scenario for this is when something very hot like a burning ember from a fireplace ends up on the carpet. Even if it quickly gets extinguished on a synthetic carpet, it still leaves an unsightly melted burn mark. The charred wool fibers on the other hand could be brushed off and picked up.

...But Nothing Is Perfect - A Few Drawbacks Of Wool Carpets

We've extolled the many virtues of a wool carpet but it also has a few warts too. Nothing major mind you, but a few things to consider to help balance out your decision making.

  • Shedding
    Wool fiber is by nature a staple fiber. Staple fibers are shorter filaments wound into yarn that's made into the carpet's pile. This is in contrast to synthetic fibers that are manufactured in very long continuous filaments (also known as Bulk Continuous Filament or BCF fibers).

    Carpets made from staple fibers sometimes have the tendency to shed some of the filaments as they naturally work themselves loose from the yarn that makes up the carpet. They usually lie on top of the carpet and/or get caught up on your clothes if you've been down wrestling with the toddler or family pet.

    This usually isn't a big deal and you shouldn't see continued large-scale loss of carpet pile but it may be a nuisance and something you want to consider.

    For more information on what you should know when choosing a carpet like Staple and BCF fibers, texture and pile density, take a look at our carpeting page.

  • Can Be Damaged By Alkaline Substances
    Highly alkaline substances like certain detergents, soaps and household cleaners can damage the wool fibers and mar the carpet.
  • Wool Is Food For Pests Like Moths
    Moth and carpet beetle larvae feed on wool. But the carpet can be treated with an insecticide called Permethrin to deny these pesky critters their smorgasbord. It's just a question of whether you want chemical substances like this on your carpet.

    There are conflicting bodies of information on the long term effects of Permethrin in the home. A Greenpeace study1using 8 retail carpet samples available in the UK found varying amounts of the chemical in the carpet samples from high to low. A report2 in the German public health document Das Gesundheitswesen identified some (but varied) ill effects on people in contact with carpeting treated with the Pyrethoid family of chemicals (of which Permethrin is a member).

    However the World Health Organization's report3 on this compound recounted no reported ill effects nor any expected adverse effects to humans. Another report published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health also proclaimed no adverse health effects.

    1. "Hazardous Chemicals In Carpets" - http://www.greenpeace.to/publications/carpet.pdf

    2. Das Gesundheitswesen, 1996, vol. 58, no12, pp. 673-681

    3. International Programme On Chemical Safety report, Environmental Health Criteria 94 - Permethrin

    4. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health Volume 205, Issue 6, 2002, Pages 459-472

    There are wool carpets that don't have this type of treatment applied and may be a good option for consumers looking for all-natural products with minimal to no adverse implications on the home's environment. See the section below for some sources.

Also keep in mind that any carpet, wool or synthetic, retains it's good looks by keeping it clean. Professional cleaning as well as regular vacuuming is what it's going to take to keep it beautiful and resistant to the wear and tear on the fibers from accumulated dirt.

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Cost - Expense Vs. Value

Does wool carpeting cost more than synthetics? For the most part, yes. But one important factor to keep in mind is the value your getting with wool. Another way to look at is your return on investment. Wool may cost more for the initial outlay but it may also outlast your synthetic carpet, essentially mitigating any initial cost differential. That's assuming you don't replace the carpet at the same time you would a synthetic one just for a change of style.

As a comparative example the cost for synthetic fiber carpets (nylon, polyester, olefin) runs from about $2 to $15 per square foot whereas wool ranges from $5 to $26 per square foot. These prices include pad and installation, and reflect various brands through through a home design center in the upper midwest US.

In this example, you can see that there's some overlap between the wool and synthetic prices. This is a rather crude comparison since the cost is influenced by a number of factors. However the point is that not all wool carpeting prices are in the stratosphere and that some can be had for the equivalent price of good synthetic carpet.

When you factor in today's high oil prices and the diminishing likelihood that they'll come down, synthetic and wool carpet prices may move even closer.

So while you may have to pay more for wool carpeting, don't forget to weigh the benefits that go along with it, including the intangibles like its environmentally-friendly aspects.

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Who Makes It And Where Can I Find It?

It's The Fiber That Counts

There are numerous makers of wool carpeting just as there are for synthetics. But just like with synthetics however, there are a limited quantity of fiber sources. For wool floor coverings, there are two main players -- British wool and New Zealand wool (well, we should really say it's the sheep). Carpets made with British or New Zealand wool will be marked as such with their trademark symbols (British Wool® and Wools of New Zealand®).


What makes them premium sources of wool is the fleece that's produced by the sheep in these regions, benefiting from natural adaptation to the environment in these parts of the world. The wool fiber from British and New Zealand sheep produces the qualities like resilience and texture needed for quality carpeting.

It's not just the type of sheep and where the wool is from that's important however. Branded wool fiber such as that from Wools of New Zealand is the product of extensive experience in the proper processing and testing of wool. It's no different than the branded synthetic carpet fibers that are typically a higher quality fiber than unbranded because of the technology, experience and quality control exemplified by these producers.

Where To Find Wool Carpeting

You can shop for wool carpeting at various sources. Home design centers in your area (places that specialize in home products like flooring, cabinetry, countertops, etc.) are a good place to start. Flooring specialty centers usually carry wool carpeting although discount carpeting centers may not. Interior design firms are also another source for wool carpeting.

The Wools of New Zealand website has a source locator for wool carpeting with their brand of wool fiber. Click on the "Where To Buy" link at their site and follow the prompts for your specific location to find a source near you.

To get you started, here is a sampling of manufacturers to get you familiar with the some of the brand names.

Karastan® touts itself as being the largest processor of wool carpets and rugs in America. They use the Wools of New Zealand brand of fiber in their carpets and rugs. The Karastan® website has a store locator function to find local sources of their carpet.
Godfrey Hirst
Godfrey Hirst produces both wool and synthetic carpeting and is located in Australia. The Hycraft brand is their wool carpet product, made with Australian wool.
Nourison is a producer of both broadloom (wall-to-wall) carpet and area rugs. Carpets are made from 100% wool as well as synthetics and blends of wool and synthetics. Retail sources can be found using their dealer locator function on their website.
EcoByDesign is one of the websites under the EcoChoices umbrella offering safe, earth-friendly products for the home. EcoByDesign offers several varieties of all-natural chemical-free wool carpeting. No chemicals, dyes, pesticides or stain protections are used.
Natural Home Design Center
Natural Home Design Center located, in California, offers the Biohaus™ wool carpet. It is 100% wool that's produced with no pesticides, dyes or chemical stain protections.

Sometimes it's just more convenient to have carpeting professionals come to you instead of having to search for them yourself. If you'd like to find local carpet sources that can also provide free estimates, fill in the form below. Doing so will set the wheels in motion to have several local carpeting professionals contact you at your convenience, with no obligation whatsoever.

If you're truly interested in wool carpeting be sure to communicate that to the carpeting sources that contact you.

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

Choosing Carpeting - Carpeting comes in a variety of materials, each with their own attributes. Discover what's available and along with how to choose a quality carpet.

Area Rug Or Wall To Wall? - Not sure whether to use wall-to-wall carpeting or an area rug? This article breaks down the pros and cons of each to help you determine what might be best in your home.

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