Guide to Different Carpet Types

Here's what you need to know before choosing a carpet.

Carpet Samples in Warm Colors

Samples of carpet coverings on a white background

Photo by: Shutterstock/Photogalia

Shutterstock/Photogalia

By: John Riha

If you’re looking to buy new carpet, you’re in good company. According to the trade journal “Floor Covering Weekly,” carpet accounts for more U.S. sales than all other flooring types combined.

With good reason: It’s inexpensive, easy to install and comes in hundreds of colors, textures and styles. Plus, it’s soft and warm to the touch and a good sound blocker. Got kids learning the trumpet? Carpet their room.

With many types of carpet available, making a decision isn’t easy. Here’s a guide to get you started:

Carpet Glossary

Density. The closeness of the yarns in a carpet. Denser pile translates into better quality.

Fiber. The basic material in a carpet, fiber is either manmade (nylon, polyester, polypropylene/Olefin, acrylics) or natural (wool, sisal).

Pad. Also called "cushion" or "underlay," carpet pad is the thin foam, fiber, or rubber layer beneath carpets. It prolongs the life of a carpet, serves as an insulator and adds comfort.

Pile. The visible surface of a carpet, pile consists of fiber tufts in loops that are either cut or uncut. Also called "nap."

Carpet Construction

The two main types of carpet construction are defined by the way the carpet fibers are attached to their backing.

Loop pile means the fibers are bent into little loops. It’s a very durable, stain-resistant carpeting, but has a low profile and limited cushioning. Within the loop pile family are:

  • Level loop is also called Berber. This type of carpet features short loops that stand up well in high-traffic areas.
  • Multi-level loops mean the tops of the loops vary in height to give a carpet a patterned texture.

Cut pile carpets cut the yarn tips so there aren’t any loops. Cut pile carpets tend to be denser and softer than loop pile. There are several types of cut pile:

  • Plush has an even, smooth texture with a formal appearance.
  • Saxony has a smooth finish, but the fibers are longer and twisted to give each fiber more body. It’s popular, but the longer fibers mean footprints linger and furniture creates dents.
  • Textured cut pile has fibers of uneven lengths to create a rougher surface texture.
  • Frieze carpet has long fibers and isn’t recommended for high-traffic areas. In its most extreme form, it’s known as shag carpet.
  • Cable has long, thick fibers and is very comfortable underfoot.

Cut and loop is yet another type of carpet that has both cut pile and loop pile fibers and combines the best qualities of both. It’s good for hiding dirt and stains.

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Types of Carpet Fibers

Carpet is made from various synthetic and natural fibers. Each has different characteristics.

  • Nylon is the most popular. It’s durable and resistant to wear. It’s not good at fighting stains, so some varieties include a stain-resistant treatment.
  • Olefin is resistant to moisture, mold, and mildew and makes a good carpet for basements and outdoors. It’s tougher than nylon but not as comfortable to walk on.
  • Acrylic is often used as an inexpensive alternative to wool. It’s not widely available.
  • Wool is the premier carpeting and the only natural fiber made into carpets. It’s durable and stain-resistant, and it’s considered an eco-friendly floor covering.

Judging Quality

There’s no universal grading for carpet quality, so beware of manufacturer’s claims to offer one. Instead, consider weight and density.

Weight indicates how many fibers are present in the carpet. The more fibers, the heavier the weight and the higher the quality of the carpet.

Density shows how many fibers are in the pile and how closely packed the fibers are. The denser, the better. You can “field test” density with your fingers — if you can feel the carpet backing, the carpet won’t be very dense.

Popular Misnomers

Two types of area rugs that are commonly called “carpets” are Persian carpet and sisal carpet. Both have loop pile construction.

Choosing Carpet: What to Consider

Before choosing a carpet, consider these factors.

How to Clean. Carpet requires regular vacuuming and occasional deep cleaning. Choose a stain- and soil-resistant style to simplify cleanup.

Best for: Bedrooms, living and family rooms, playrooms and dining rooms.

Pet Friendly? Moderate. Carpet is most prone to damage from messes and traffic, so choose a style that is durable and stain treated, won't snag claws and disguises pet hair. One benefit: Carpet can trap allergens to prevent them from circulating in the air.

Underlayment. Proper underlayment is vital to extend carpet longevity, add cushioning, keep your home quieter and keep carpet cleaner. There are three basic types: foam, rubber and fiber. Check with your manufacturer to determine which is best for your carpet.

The Lowdown

When it comes to the environment, carpet manufacturing has come a long way. Consider this: Some manufacturers are making carpet fibers from recycled soda and water bottles. The bottles are sorted, ground into chips and cleaned; the chips are then melted, extruded into fiber and spun into carpet yarn. Other carpet fibers are crafted from corn sugar. Plus, manufacturers are taking steps toward greener production, from reducing greenhouse emissions to extending carpets' longevity to reduce waste. The industry is also minimizing environmental impact by recycling carpet at the end of its life, whether into new carpet or other products, such as roofing shingles and automotive parts. About 90 percent of the U.S. carpet market is supplied by mills in Georgia.

Carpet is a good thermal and acoustic insulator. It's slip-resistant, easy to stand on and great for children to play on. It's available in a wide variety of colors, patterns and textures. Carpet can help trap allergens and some styles are eco-friendly. Be aware, though, that some carpets can soil easily, and loops can be snagged. Carpet is a relatively high-maintenance floor covering and it doesn't last as long as hard surfaces. You should try to avoid carpets that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Carpet prices typically range from $1 to $10 per square foot, uninstalled. Installation is generally best left to professionals.

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