Carpet Fibers 101: Polyester

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Polyester remains a popular choice in carpet fiber due to its lustrous appearance, high level of stain resistance, eco-friendly properties, and low cost. Here we examine polyester in more detail.

Polyester Invented

The invention of polyester is not attributed to one single person, but rather was a collaborative effort amongst several scientists. It was first researched by DuPont’s Wallace Hume Carothers but was set aside so that he could devote his efforts to developing the other synthetic he was working on at the time: nylon. More than a decade later, British chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson patented polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – what we commonly know today as polyester.

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Characteristics of Polyester

As mentioned above, there are several characteristics of polyester that make it a suitable choice for carpeting.

Appearance

Polyester by nature has a high lustre appearance, which translates into carpets of beautiful colors. Compare a polyester carpet with a nylon carpet of the same color, and you will notice the difference: the polyester appears much more vibrant, while the nylon has a more dull or matte finish.

Stain Resistance

Perhaps one of the biggest draws of polyester is its inherent stain resistance. Polyester is referred to as a closed-cell fiber, which means that it does not have any open dye sites for stains to adhere to.

That is not to say that it is completely stain-proof, of course. However, most of the spots on a polyester carpet that people attribute to staining are more likely due to soiling. Soiling is different from staining. In the case of a stain, a substance has come into contact with the fiber and has embedded itself into the fiber, by attaching to open dye sites within the fiber. Soiling, on the other hand, is the result of a residue left behind on the fiber, either from a cleaning product that was not fully removed or from the oils on the bottom of your feet. This residue becomes a magnet for dirt, and then gives the appearance of a stain on the carpet.

Eco-friendliness

Although synthetic fibers are not as ecologically-friendly as natural fibers (such as wool) polyester is one of the most eco-friendly synthetic fibers, much more so than nylon. The amount of embodied energy used to create one KG of nylon fiber is double that required to produce the same quantity of polyester fiber. (Source: O Ecotextiles)

Additionally, polyester is easily recycled. In fact, much of the polyester in today’s carpet industry is made from recycled PET, derived from the ever-popular plastic soft drink bottles. This helps to keep millions of these bottles out of landfills and saves on the use of resources in the production of polyester.

Durability

One noted weakness of polyester is that it is not as durable as nylon carpet fiber. Historically, polyester couldn’t come close to the strength of nylon and thus was recommended for lower-traffic areas of the home.

Today due to many technological advancements, the gap between polyester and nylon has been drastically reduced. Manufacturers have been working to improve the performance of polyester, and now polyester is stronger and more durable than ever before. Manufacturers are confident in the longevity of the new polyester, demonstrated by the longer warranties the higher-end polyesters now carry.

Whether its durability can match that of nylon, at this point, only time will tell. With this new generation of polyesters on the market, it will be a few years before we can fully compare their performance against both nylons and polyesters of the past.

Cost

Relative to nylon, polyester carries a lower cost, due to the lower cost of raw materials and production. Thus, it is a great option for budget-driven renovations, and it offers good value for the money. Polyester carpets are available at almost every price point and quality, offering a vast selection of styles.

The Bottom Line

One of the most important rules in carpeting is that the quality of a carpet cannot be determined by one factor alone; rather, it is a combination of many factors that predicts the overall performance of the carpet. As such, it is not a hard rule that any polyester carpet will be inferior to any nylon carpet.

For example, a polyester carpet with a high twist and dense construction will outperform a nylon with a lower twist and lower density. There are many different qualities available, so be sure to examine all of the components of the carpet before making your final selection.