The Inside Story on Carpet and Rugs

The wide variety of available floor coverings can be a bit overwhelming. Here's what you need to know — before heading to the store to pick out your next carpet or rug. 

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Style Underfoot

Carpeting and rugs, no surprise, are essentially fabric. And, as in the fabric world, there are different ingredients that go into it, either natural or synthetic.

Natural Fibers: Wool

Wool is top of the pops natural fabric-wise, in terms of wearablity, holding dyes well — and it cleans up in a jiffy. Wool is a staple yarn (small strips spun together) so it can fuzz up a bit and pill (think of your favorite old wool sweater). It’s not hypoallergenic, which means you might sneeze a bit if allergic to wool. Take a tour of this home, that was featured in HGTV Magazine

Natural Fibers: Mohair

Mohair carpet is a popular choice for rooms geared towards warmth, particularly in cold climate areas with harsh winters. Although ideal for making a space feel cozy and helping homeowners keep warm, mohair is known for its tendency to shed which will require maintaining its fiber buildup frequently. This can be done with a carpet brush or high-end vacuums which come with hand-held carpet care attachments. Before considering wall-to-wall mohair, test its itchiness by holding it up to arms, legs and necks to see if the skin has any reaction.

Natural Fibers: Seagrass

Seagrass and sisal are both excellent options for homeowners interested in introducing pattern and texture in a way that feels organic. Available in a wide range of colors and weaves, these natural fibers can make a room feel more relaxed or tailored, depending on how it's applied. Browse more pics of this pastel-infused home

Natural Fibers: Animal Hides

Woven and/or stitched hide tops the list of the most luxurious floor coverings. Sculptural and artistic in construction, hide is just as durable as it is beautiful. Although it stands up to high traffic use and also ages well, hide is meant for dry spaces and works best when used in masculine, streamlined contemporary and/or rustic aesthetics. 

From: Kelly Hinchman

Synthetic Fibers: Acrylic

Acrylic carpet and rugs are made to replicate wool but, fooled you, it’s not. Acrylic is also a staple yarn and can pill and fuzz. Acrylic is color fast and resists stains and sun bleaching. It won’t give you the hives as wool can, but is a bit harder to clean.

Synthetic Fibers: Nylon

Numero uno in the wall-to-wall carpet world, nylon is the defending champ due to its ability to just say "no" to stains, static electricity and wear. Nylon is a continuous filament or a yarn that starts out as chemical stew and is then extruded or stretched into fibers. Its nature reduces shedding and it absorbs dyes well.

Synthetic Fibers: Olefin/Polypropylene

Ideal for indoor-outdoor rugs, these synthetic materials allow you to turn an alfresco space into a bonus living room, dining room or outdoor kitchen — with all the barefoot comfort of the indoors. See more pics of this Los Angeles home

Synthetic Fibers: Polyester

Polyester carpet is another staple yarn that wears well and won't make you sniffle. It handles sun well but is a bit more difficult to clean than nylon or wool. It is not as resilient as those mentioned above and has a tendency to lie down on the job. In other words, it crushes underfoot and doesn’t bounce back as well as the others — but its resiliency makes it a great choice for a kids' room or other space where wear and tear can be an issue. 

Loop Styles: Berber Carpet

Invented by the Berber of Seville (joke), Berber carpeting is made up of rows of fabric loops that can all be one length or different lengths. It’s tough stuff, too. Keep in mind that you will see the seaming in Berber more than in other styles. It also crushes underfoot and doesn’t rebound well from foot traffic.

Loop Styles: Cut Pile Carpet

Cut-pile is created by lopping off the tops of carpet loops and creating two separate yarn tufts. There are a variety of cut-pile styles: Plush, Saxony, Velvet and Cut and Loop. Velvet is thick and cushy but it shades, or leaves footprints after having been walked on. Saxony fibers (twists of fiber) behave as unruly split ends and have to be heat set (ouch!) like your perm. Plush is what is probably under your feet at the moment (a common flat cut) and Cut and Loop is just what it says. 

What Lies Beneath: the Backing

Carpeting is tufted, meaning it's unceremoniously punched through something called primary backing. A secondary backing is then applied over this to make sure those little fabric buggers don’t escape out the back way. Backing is generally made of either natural fiber such as jute, or polyester. Woven carpets that are made by weaving the top and backing together into one piece don’t require backing.

What Lies Beneath: Felt Padding

Felt padding is made of animal hair or jute (the glossy fiber of certain Asian plants—Corchorus olitorius and C. capsularis—for all you botanists). It is quite pricey and works well with woven carpets.

What Lies Beneath: Urethane Foam Padding

Urethane foam is the most common form of padding and comes in many densities. When shopping for it do the Mr. Whipple and squeeze the Charmin out of it to check how dense the product is. If it flattens easily between your fingers, there isn’t much there but air. As shown here, some carpets come with polyurethane foam already attached.

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