Selecting a carpet is a pleasant but important process, a decorating investment you’ll want to enjoy for years to come. This guide will give you basic information on carpet fibers and construction, how to judge quality and performance, and how to determine which carpet is best suited for each room or area. You’ll also see how you can maintain your carpet through proper care and cleaning to enjoy its special beauty year after year.
The specific construction or manufacturing method of carpet affects both its appearance and performance. Most carpet is made by one of four methods: tufted, woven, needle-punched, or hand-knotted.
Tufted carpet is made on a high-speed machine that stitches big loops of yarn through the backing fabric. A latex coating locks the loops in place, and a secondary backing material is applied for more strength and stability. Over 90 percent of the broadloom carpet made in America is tufted. It’s efficient to produce and less expensive than woven carpet.
Woven carpet construction is similar to weaving a fabric. The pile, weft, and warp yarns interlace on the loom, allowing for wide versatility of design. In needle-punching, layers of carpet fibers are punched through a mesh fabric core by thousands of barbed needles. The result is a thick, felt-like carpet, resistant to water, insects, mold, and sun. This type of carpet was developed first for indoor/outdoor use. It’s relatively durable, but limited in available styles.
Hand-knotted carpets and rugs have been crafted (mostly in wool) for centuries, primarily in the Middle East and China. Commonly referred to as Oriental rugs, yarns are painstakingly pulled through a backing which is suspended from the ceiling during their manufacture. Each piece is knotted by hand following distinct traditions of color and pattern. These rugs are usually very expensive.
The backing material holds the surface yarns together and provides a firm foundation for your carpet. Polypropylene is a synthetic material used in most common types of backings for woven and tufted constructions. It is strong, durable, resists mildew, and is well suited for humid climates.
Jute is a natural plant fiber that is strong, durable, and resilient. It holds adhesives well but may mildew in very damp conditions. Foam backings can be substituted for the secondary backing in tufted carpets. Although not quite as strong, jute requires no additional underpad, and jute carpets are usually glued down.
Don’t skimp on padding. Quality carpeting needs quality padding for maximum carpet durability, comfort, and beauty retention. Carpet padding is also referred to as underlay or cushion. Quality padding contributes to durability by absorbing foot-traffic pressure. Quality padding is available in sponge rubber, foam rubber, urethane foam, bonded urethane, or felted combinations of hair and jute. These are manufactured in various densities, thicknesses, and weights to meet light, medium, and heavy traffic conditions.
The primary purpose of padding is to provide a firm support for the carpet. A dense, resilient pad is recommended, because it performs better than a thick, soft pad. Check with your manufacturer for minimum padding recommendations.
Judging Quality and Durability
A knowledgeable salesperson can explain the relative merits of different carpets. There are also some general guidelines to help you determine the durability of a carpet and how well it will keep its original good looks. Durability depends on three important factors: The type of fiber, the pile density, and the yarn twist.
First, a strong, resilient carpet fiber will resist abrasion and bounce back after being stepped on. Nylon is the strongest, most resilient carpet fiber used today. Second, the density of the pile is critical to good wear, resiliency, and appearance. The denser the pile, the better the carpet will perform. And third, carpet with tight yarn twist will resist wear, matting, and crushing. It will also be easier to maintain and clean.
Check pile density. Press on the carpet with your fingers to see how easily you push through to the backing. Then, with tufts facing outward, bend the carpet into a U and see how much of the backing shows. The less backing you see, the denser the carpet. Look at the twist. Yarn twist, particularly in cut pile, is critical to carpet permanence. All pile yarns in the cut pile carpets have been heat-set for permanence. The tighter the twist, the better the carpet will retain its appearance. Look to see the cut ends of the carpet pile are neat and tight.