The Ultimate Carpet Buying Guide
December 20th, 2019
Making any good purchasing decision is hard.
Buying carpet is no different. You must consider many factors when buying carpet. Most of these factors will not be thoroughly discussed with the sales people at a home improvement store.
In this guide, we are going to consider the types of carpet fiber (and which is right for you). We will also be discussing four key aspects that you should consider when making a carpet buying decision:
- Quality of look and feel
These are all very important qualities to consider when buying carpet. With some careful consideration, you should be able to find a quality carpet within your price range.
Let's start with some key terms
There are some terms that you may come across during your research. Some of these will be used throughout this guide as well. Before we dive into the guide, let’s introduce these terms in the context of carpet fibers.
Hydrophobic. This means that the carpet fiber doesn’t absorb moisture. Fibers that don’t absorb moisture often resist staining as well.
Oleophilic. This means that the carpet fibers attract oils. Fibers that have this property will be susceptible to oily and greasy spots and spills.
Abrasion. This refers to the scarring of the sides of the carpet fibers. Carpet that has significant abrasion will often look worn and dingy. Many confuse this with carpet wear or dirty carpet. But this is a form of carpet damage and can’t be corrected once it has occurred. Some types of fibers are more susceptible to abrasion than others.
Resiliency. This refers to a fiber’s ability to return to its normal position after it has been matted or altered in some way. Carpet fibers with a high resiliency will resist long-term furniture indentations and matting.
Denier. This refers to the diameter of fiber strand (its width). Thinner can be softer, but won’t wear as well.
Onward to fiber types
Nylon is the most common fiber type used in carpet. This is no coincidence. Nylon carpets may very well be the best type of carpet. When considering most carpet fibers, you will notice that they have pros and cons. Nylon, however, has no weaknesses (except cost).
While nylon isn’t naturally stain resistant, modern nylon carpets go through a stain-resistance carpet treatment. This gives them significant protection from spills. It’s still important to clean up a spill quickly. But if you do, odds are it will come out.
Nylon is a synthetic fiber invented by DuPont. It accepts color well. This means that nylon carpets can be made available in a wide variety of color choices. It is also a very durable carpet fiber. Carpets made from nylon are likely to last longer than carpets made of nearly any other fiber.
If you read the key terms above, you would have seen resiliency. Resiliency is the ability of a fiber to return to its original shape after it has been altered. Nylon fibers have a high resiliency. This adds to their durability and reduces the odds that furniture indentations will permanently affect the carpet.
If you aren’t sufficiently sold on the quality of nylon, I’ll add a final point. Nylon carpets respond the best to carpet cleaning. This means that you can assume higher quality results from cleaning when you have a nylon carpet than you would be able to with other carpet types.
With all of these benefits, expect to pay more for a nylon carpet than any other fiber type (except wool).
Olefin is perhaps the second most common fiber type behind nylon. You are most likely to find olefin carpets in commercial or outdoor settings. It is a synthetic fiber that is quite common in berber (loop pile) carpets.
Olefin fibers are hydrophobic. As mentioned above, this means that they resist absorbing moisture. Because of this, olefin is very difficult to stain. Most spills are easily removable. This even includes red stains such as Kool-Aid or wine.
Due to olefin being hydrophobic, color must be put into the fibers through a process called solution dyeing. This makes the color dyes an integral part of the fiber. Because of this, colors aren’t likely to fade. It also limits the color options, however.
Olefin is often the least expensive carpet fiber.
Given all of these advantages, olefin has many disadvantages as well.
- It is a weaker fiber type.
- It is prone to abrasion and wear.
- It has very low resiliency (indentations don’t return to normal).
- It looks dingy very easily.
- It has a low temperature melting point. This means that even friction from sliding a heavy piece of furniture across the carpet can sometimes cause scarring.
- It is very difficult to clean. Results from carpet cleaning will often be unsatisfactory.
- It likely won’t last long.
As you can see, olefin has many disadvantages. The use cases for olefin are very narrow, and unless you are buying carpet for a commercial or outdoor situation, it’s probably not the right choice for you.
Polyester can be easily confused with olefin. Carpets made from these two fibers often look very similar. They also share many of the same properties.
Perhaps the two biggest differences between polyester and olefin are:
- Polyester is a bit more expensive.
- Polyester is softer.
There really aren’t any good use cases for polyester. If you are considering this fiber type, you’re probably better off with a cheaper olefin carpet. In the event that the softness is a selling point to you, you will definitely want to buy a carpet made from a different fiber.
Acrylic is an uncommon fiber type. It is a synthetic fiber that mimics the properties of wool. It is made from acrylonitrile and is much cheaper than wool. Acrylic carpets can be found under the brand names Acrilan, Orlon and Creslan.
Acrylic is hydrophobic and resists soiling, staining, static, and mildew. It also resists fading and is easier to clean than wool.
On the flip side, acrylic is less durable and has a lower resiliency than wool. Oils and grease can stain acrylic very easily.
Sometimes you will find acrylic in a blend with wool. This will make the wool/acrylic blend cheaper than a plain wool carpet. Generally speaking, though, you won’t see a lot of acrylic carpets on the market.
Blends are generally either:
- A mix of nylon and olefin.
- A mix of nylon and polyester.
- A mix of acrylic and wool.
- A mix of wool and nylon.
There is no real benefit to purchasing a blend. They exist only to provide nylon and wool carpets at a slightly cheaper price. Be careful when buying a cheaper nylon or wool carpet as you might be getting sucked into buying a blend.
Wool is the only natural fiber to make this list of fiber types. While still very uncommon, you are more likely to find a wool carpet than any other natural fiber carpet.
Wool is an expensive carpet fiber. It is very soft, fire resistant, and very high quality.
It is also susceptible to moth damage and can be difficult (and risky) to clean and maintain.
When having wool carpets professionally cleaned, always notify your cleaning professional ahead of time. Most of the cleaning solutions that carpet cleaners use are not wool-safe. They will need to bring a wool-safe cleaning solution with them.
Triexta (often called PTT) is typically seen under the brand names Sorona by DuPont or SmartStrand by Mohawk Industries.
Triexta is the newest common fiber type on the market and seems to be one of the best available. Like nylon, triexta was developed by DuPont.
Triexta looks like nylon but it is softer than nylon. It naturally resists stains, fading, and is very durable. It is hydrophobic (doesn’t absorb moisture), but it is oleophilic (attracts oils). It also is naturally stain resistant and unlike nylon doesn’t require any chemicals to resist stains.
To add to the list of advantages of triexta, it’s also generally cheaper than nylon. The only real disadvantages are the fact that it’s oleophilic and may not be well suited for heavy foot traffic conditions.
Generally speaking, I believe the best choices are either nylon or triexta. I would probably lean towards nylon, but the lower price of triexta might be a nice selling point for you.
Wool carpets are also very nice. But their high price point and maintenance difficulties can be a turn-off.
I would only suggest olefin in a commercial or outdoor setting when you are prepared to need to replace it after just a few years. I would never recommend polyester.
After you consider the fiber type of your new carpet, you need to consider the construction. There are several types of carpet construction that are at least somewhat common.
Berber (loop pile)
A berber carpet is a carpet where the fibers are looped over on themselves. Instead of having individual fibers sticking up from the carpet, you have loops.
In some berber designs, these loops will be very tight. This makes the carpet almost feel knotted. Other designs will have loose loops that you can place your fingers through.
Berber construction can sometimes hide carpet wear. This makes it a popular choice in commercial settings where traffic can be high. It’s a less common choice in people’s homes though.
Standard (cut pile)
This is the most common carpet construction. There are no loops and the fibers tend to the shorter side. Fibers will often be an inch or less in length.
Groovy baby. Shag carpets were fairly popular in the 70s. Since then, their popularity has greatly declined.
Shag carpets will often look like longer versions of standard carpet construction. The fibers are long. Sometimes they are several inches long even. Instead of standing upright, the fibers lie down.
Shag carpets are extremely rare nowadays. If you see a carpet that appears to be shag, it’s probably frieze instead.
Frieze carpet construction has tightly twisted carpet fibers that are longer than standard cut pile carpet fibers. It’s fairly easy to get frieze confused with shag, but they aren’t the same at all.
Frize construction tends to be a bit more durable than standard cut pile and much more durable than shag. It can be a good choice for high traffic areas.
The disadvantages of this construction type are:
- It tends to be slightly more expensive.
- You may not like the super-casual appearance.
Generally, I recommend sticking with a standard cut pile carpet type. If high traffic and heavy wear is a concern, you may want to consider frieze or berber.
After picking out and installing your new carpet, you need to consider how to maintain it. Maintaining the carpet correctly is very important if you want it to last a long time and to look its best.
It’s easy to skimp out on vacuuming. But vacuuming once a day is important for carpet longevity.
Dirt in your carpet doesn’t just make the carpet dirty. It also causes more abrasion to occur. This will wear your carpet out and make it look dingy. You can counter this by vacuuming daily.
Move furniture around at least once every six months
If you leave the furniture in place for too long, the indentations can become permanent. This is even true with nylon, wool, or triexta carpets that have a high resiliency.
Also, keeping the furniture in the same place will keep the traffic lanes consistent. This will cause uneven wear patterns on your new carpet.
By moving the furniture around regularly, you can avoid both of these problems.
Treat spills and stains immediately
When you’re finally sitting down to a delicious dinner and a meatball falls off the top of your spaghetti mountain and lands on your new carpet, it’s a problem.
You might be tempted to wait until you have finished eating before you clean it up (or just leave it to the dog). However, the longer that tomato-sauce covered meatball sits there, the greater the chance of a stain.
You can reduce the chance of staining on your carpet by cleaning up spills quickly. Don’t let them sit long, and the chance of keeping the carpet stain free increases.
Clean the carpets at least once a year
Store-bought cleaners work pretty well. Professional cleaning is even better.
By cleaning the carpets at least once a year, you help to keep the carpets clean and sanitary. You also keep them smelling good and reduce abrasion in your carpet.
This is a crucial step to protect your carpets and help them last as long as possible.
Further reading and sources