The 5 Most Common Types of Carpet Fibers Explained: Pros, Cons, & Reviews

The 5 Most Common Types of Carpet Fibers Explained: Pros, Cons, & Reviews

When you're looking to purchase new carpet, choosing the right fiber for its intended application can make all the difference. You want to make sure you select a carpet that will look great in a room, feel comfortable underneath your toes, and won't wear out or stain too easily.

So let's look at the pros and cons of each of the most common carpet fibers available to help you make the right decision.

There are 2 main groups of carpet fibers: Natural and Man Made.

Natural fibers are "staple" fibers; short lengths of fibers turned into spun yarns by yarn spinning processes (silk is the only exemption, as a silk filament is of an indefinite length).

Synthetic fibers are "continuous filament" fibers, given the fact that manufacturers can make them as long as they desire. In some cases, they can be cut into staples to resemble natural fibers.

Natural Carpet Fibers:

Wool: Wool is unique in the sense that it comes sheep. And New Zealand has garnered a special place in this world in producing very high quality wool for use in both carpets as well as rugs. Due to its cost, which can easily be 2-3 times that of other fiber types, wool is only found in few homes. You'll be happy to know that Zerorez is a WoolSafe® approved service provider.

Pros:

  • Naturally flame resistant (may not support a flame, like human hair)
  • Resistant to mild acids
  • Excellent soil hiding characteristics (Needs cleaning long before it looks dirty)
  • Flexible, strong, resilient
  • Easily dyed (think easily stained!)

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Easily dyed (think easily stained!)
  • Static at low humidity
  • Some bugs love to eat wool
  • Excessive alkalinity will cause fiber degradation (Think left over residue from cleaning agents)

Verdict:

Although wool is easy to clean, stains require lots of care because, just like human hair, wool is very sensitive to most stain removal agents. Getting urine out of wool fibers is a real challenge. Using off-the-shelf enzymatic treatments is not recommended, because these products are designed to digest the protein residue in urine, and wool is (yes, you guessed it), protein! Bleach will dissolve wool.

After cleaning, it may take longer to dry because it can retain up to 30 % of its weight in water while feeling dry to touch. So, if you plan to have lots of kids running around with Kool-Aid in their hands and pets that are prone to accidents, wool may not be your best choice.

Wool is a staple fiber, and carpets made with a "loop" design should not be vacuumed with regular upright vacuums. The brush will pull the ends of the staple fibers out of the yarn giving a fuzzy look that's basically irreversible.

Silk: Silk is even more unique then wool. First off it's produced by a silk worm who eats mulberry leaves to make the silk yarn, which it spins into a cocoon. It's from this cocoon that we unspin to get the silk fiber as one long continues string. The silkworm was first domesticated in China over 5000 years ago.

Pros:

  • Naturally non-flammable
  • Very Strong
  • Very anti-static

Cons:

  • Very absorbent
  • Very Expensive
  • Damaged by alkaline cleaners
  • Possible texture change after wetting

Verdict:

Silk fibers are mostly found in fine oriental rugs, as it's the only natural continuous filament fiber. Silk is very challenging to clean, and is never a good choice for wall-to-wall installations and normal household use.

Other natural fibers not commonly found on wall-to-wall installations are: Cotton, jute, rayon, sisal, and sea grass. We will look at these in the future as we review fibers used in the construction of oriental and area rugs.

Man Made Carpet Fibers:

As the name implies, man-made fibers are produced in a factory setting and by definition are considered synthetic. All the fibers mentioned here have a petroleum base, which means that oil is the main ingredient and contributes to its cost.

Nylon:

Pros:

  • Strong
  • Resilient
  • Clean and wears well
  • Economical
  • Mildew and moth proof

Cons:

  • Not many worth mentioning

Verdict:

Today's nylon gives you the best bang for your buck. With the soil resistant treatment it gets during the manufacturing process, it's hard to stain. In the case of staining, it's very resistant to the chemical processes needed to attempt stain removal. There are 2 kinds of nylon carpet fibers: type 6 and type 6.6.

Type 6.6 is a further improvement of type 6, which in itself already has many of the desirable characteristics of a near perfect carpet fiber. Type 6.6 is more costly then type 6, however ultimately the better choice as it is more fade resistant. Nylon can be "solution dyed," meaning that the dye is added before it is extruded as a fiber. The result is that the color is built into the fiber. Nylon is very abrasion resistant. A dense, cut pile (as opposed to loops), solution dyed, 6.6 nylon will give you many years of service.

Olefin:

Pros:

  • Solution dyed (resists fading)
  • Least absorbent
  • Economical
  • Stain resistant

Cons:

  • Not resistant to oily soil
  • Low melting point
  • Poor resiliency

Verdict:

Olefin looks like nylon, almost feels like nylon, and it's almost stain-proof. Sounds like the best deal, right? Well, that's until you get oily soil (the majority of soil) that doesn't want to clean up. Olefin installed in high-traffic areas tends to get flattened and dark fairly easily. Olefin doesn't restore due to its poor resiliency, and can easily melt down from simple activity like dragging a chair across it. Olefin may cost less money, but it won't last as long as other fibers.

Polyester:

Pros:

  • Solution dyed (resists fading)
  • Stain resistant
  • Economical
  • Some polyesters are made from recycled plastics.

Cons:

  • Poor resiliency
  • Susceptible to crushing/matting
  • Attracts oily soils

Verdict:

Polyester has some of the same issues as olefin. However, it's quite durable and resistant to wear. Polyester offers a wide selection of textures and colors. It is non-allergenic, sheds moisture, and resists moths and mildew at a lower cost than wool or nylon. While polyester is susceptible to pilling, shedding and oil-based stains, it otherwise cleans fairly easily and is enhanced by stain treatments. Some polyester fibers are recycled from plastic bottles, so if environmental concerns are a major issue for you, ask for polyester fibers that have been reclaimed from post-consumer use products.

Putting it all together

This blog is a good starting point in gathering knowledge about carpet fibers and their different characteristics. Some carpet fiber features might appeal and make sense in your particular situation and some may call for a compromise. If your interest is because you're looking to buy new carpet, may I also suggest a companion blog that speaks to the issues of buying new carpet and even has some retailer recommendations. Here a Zerorez we have a unique perspective on carpet. As professional carpet cleaners we see how well it performs and lives up to claims that carpet manufacturers make. For in-person advice feel free to reach out to us either by phone or e-mail. Zerorez Socal, 866-937-6739 or ebollmann@zerorezsocal.com.

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