Important Considerations When Choosing New Carpet

The fiber you choose will affect performance and cleaning results 

Most people would like to have their carpet restored to a “like new” condition when it is professionally cleaned. Unfortunately, that outcome often is not possible. The most significant factor that will determine how your carpet responds to cleaning is its fiber content.

Most wall-to-wall carpet is made from nylon, polyester, triexta or olefin (synthetic fibers), or wool (a natural fiber). The two fiber characteristics that determine how the carpet will respond to cleaning are resilience and color stability.

Resilience

Resilience refers to the ability of carpet fibers to “bounce back” or be restored to their original shape or texture. A high-resilience fiber will “fluff up” after a heavy object such as a piece of furniture has been removed. Similarly, foot traffic and soil buildup cause carpet to become matted down in traffic areas. High-resilience fibers have a built-in “memory” that causes them to want to return to their original shape or texture when cleaned.

Not so with low-resilience fibers. Once they are matted down, whether from furniture or foot traffic and soil, they will remain matted. Cleaning will have only a minimal affect. Thus, low-resilience fibers will often look “uglied out” in high-traffic areas after only a few years of use.

Color Stability

Color stability is the other important fiber characteristic. This refers to the carpet’s ability to retain its color. Will sunlight or atmospheric gasses cause it to fade? Will bleaching agents remove the color? Will spots and spills containing food dyes cause difficult to impossible to remove stains?

How do the fibers compare?

Nylon and wool are highly resilient fibers. When professionally cleaned (and to some extent even when vacuumed ) they tend to bounce back to their original shape or texture. In this sense, they are “restorable fibers.”

On the other hand, polyester, triexta (a newly classified fiber very similar to polyester), and olefin have poor resiliency. Once they have flattened out, well, to borrow from Humpty Dumpty, “all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t make polyester or olefin bounce back again.”

Regarding color stability, polyester, triexta, and olefin have the advantage. As a rule, these fibers are “solution dyed.” This means the color is added while the fiber is being made. Think of a carrot. Crack open a carrot and the color is the same on the inside as the outside. The result is fibers that are virtually stain and fade-proof.

In contrast, nylon (usually) and wool (always) are dyed after the fiber has been made. Think of a radish. Cut open a radish and you see that it’s white on the inside and the reddish color is only on the outside. Nylon and wool are far more susceptible to fading and bleaching and to a lesser extent to staining as well.

So, what is the best choice?

Generally, I recommend nylon, although a number of factors such as budget, traffic, and style can sway my recommendation. Wool is a great carpet fiber. If properly maintained, it can last for decades. On the other hand, it is significantly more expensive than any synthetic fibers and is the fiber most susceptible to color damage.

Nylon shares the high-resiliency characteristics of wool at a fraction of the cost. The advent of topical treatments that resist spots and stains (e.g., Stainmaster, Scotchgard) leaves it less susceptible to color and stain damage.

Recently, triexta, and to a lesser extent polyester, have been touted as “as good as nylon” at a lower cost. I’ve heard that claim before. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. In the showroom, they may look indistinguishable from nylon. But once they have been in service for a few years, the traffic pattern looks ugly and cleaning won’t restore it. Until experience shows me otherwise, polyester and triexta are carpet fibers I cannot recommend.

Finally, there is olefin. Usually, you will find olefin only in berber styles among residential carpets. My experience with olefin berber has been surprisingly good. Most spots are removable and while in time the traffic pattern flattens out and doesn’t restore when cleaned, usually they hold up for a number of years.