Carpet Fiber and Performance
Carpet is made of several leading fiber systems - nylon, polyester, triexta, polypropylene and wool - each with its own features and benefits that directly affects its performance.
What fiber should you choose?
Beautiful carpets are made using all of these fiber systems and can easily go anywhere in the house as far as style is concerned. Beyond fashion, the next big issues are performance and price.
Among the sturdiest of all carpet fibers is nylon and is a great choice for most settings. Nylon carpet has been one of the most popular options and for good reason - its tough, believe it or not, stronger than steel, and can stand up to years of traffic and abuse. It holds color well so it won’t fade much even in direct sunlight. It resists dirt, can be treated against soiling and staining, and it wears exceptionally well. Because of its strong performance features, it’s also one of the more expensive synthetic yarns. The topical treatments used to give nylon its stain protection do have a tendency to wear off over long periods of time. That said, some of the best stain resistant treatments are found on carpets made of nylon.
Carpet mills have learned to make soft nylons which have all of the performance features you’d expect with a softness to the touch – referred to as “hand” – that may surprise you. Soft nylons typically are pricier but well worth it if softness is a key consideration.
There are actually two different types of nylon used in the manufacture of carpet: nylon 6,6 and nylon 6. Nylon 6,6 is a superior fiber in that it is a bit tougher and longer lasting. But the differences between the two are not significant.
Polyester (PET) is not new, but it is gaining favor and accounts for nearly half of all carpet sold today. Soft and naturally soil and stain resistant, it is also less expensive than nylon. The two major drawbacks of polyester are that it does not wear as well as nylon and it can be prone to soiling. That being said, polyester offers distinct and compelling advantages to consumers as an affordable and stain-resistant option.
Polyester also has an incredible recycling story. Several mills convert plastic PET bottles into carpet-grade polyester saving literally billions of tons of plastic from going to landfills.
Two more things about polyester: it is a great choice for bedrooms where its lower price allows you to select a thicker, denser pile for a luxurious feel underfoot. For those people who prefer to replace carpet more often, polyester can be a great lower-cost alternative that allows you to keep up with changing home furnishings trends. It has also become a favorite in multi-family settings.
Made in the U.S. by Mohawk Industries, the world’s largest flooring manufacturer, triexta is marketed under the brand name under its SmartStrand franchise. Made of bio-based materials – up to 60% is corn or soy based – it has an unparalleled environmental sustainability story. Mohawk also markets SmartStrand Silk Forever Clean, a high-performing soft carpet made of triexta, and, now SmartStrand Silk Reserve, it's top of the line product. Along with great performance, it represents the newest generation of soft fibers. Triexta's stain and soil resistance is built right into the fiber, does not readily absorb moisture as some other carpet fibers do, and can stand up to heavy traffic. As such it is a premium product that commands a higher price point. Mohawk's line of triexta carpets offer protection against soil and spills and also feature the company's Pet Protection warranty against all pet accidents.
Polypropylene (olefin) is a generally less expensive fiber that does not wear as well, but it has one thing that makes it an ideal carpet fiber – it is extremely stain resistant since color is an inherent part of the fiber. Think of polypropylene fiber as a carrot, the color runs right through it, versus nylon which is like a radish, color on the outside of the fiber, not inside. Because it doesn’t wear as well as other carpet fibers, it is recommended for berber style and level loop carpets which give it better performance characteristics than a cut pile construction.
The best known brand name in flooring, Stainmaster, is a branded nylon program – essentially a licensing arrangement that allows certain mills to buy Stainmaster fiber and turn it into carpets that meet strict specifications and are subsequently allowed to carry the Stainmaster name. The company that makes Stainmaster fiber – Invista, a onetime spin off of DuPont – does not make carpet; it makes nylon which is then converted by mills into carpet. Nevertheless, Stainmaster is a great product and a great brand name, however it’s availability is somewhat more limited nowadays as carpet mills often extrude their own nylon.
Stainmaster is one of the original stain-resistant fiber systems and gets its performance from a topical treatment added to the fiber. Stainmaster is well known for its ability to stand up to household stains.
The Stainmaster program has been extended to other products besides carpet and includes ceramic tile and vinyl.
This natural fiber has been used in the construction of carpet for centuries. It is soft, warm and comfortable, wears extremely well, plus it’s easy to clean although it is not stain resistant. Still, because of its significantly higher price and more complicated (and more expensive) installation, wool is a much higher-end product. At the same time, some of the designs you'll find wool you won't find anywhere else.
Sisal, Jute, Coir
Natural fibers and seagrasses are also getting increased attention as consumers are drawn to the natural look and feel of these products. They are generally woven and can be quite rough - most are literally grasses and, in the case of coir, coconut husks. Still, they bring a sophisticated look and feel to any space. These are often seen in area rugs, which is where I'd recommend them.