Because carpeting is soft and welcoming, it would stand to reason that carpeting is perfect for basements. After all, basements can be dark and cold places that need as much softening as possible.
But one apparent truism says that carpeting does not belong in basements. Some say they doubt carpet's ability to recover from moisture. They note that even the least amount of moisture causes mold growth, leading to health problems. Carpeting in basements leads down a path that ends with no carpeting in basements.
This is not true. Carpeting is one of the best flooring materials to use in basements. Besides making cold basements feel warmer and more welcoming, carpeting actually can dry out quickly, even when flooded. Like any other basement flooring, vigilance is crucial to maintaining the product over the long-term.
Best Carpet Qualities
Before discussing specific brand recommendations, the following are basic qualities that make a carpet best-suited for basements:
- Low Pile: High-pile (thick) carpet takes a longer time to dry out, should it get wet. The lower the pile, the faster the drying process.
- Cut-Pile: Carpet is usually made of fiber loops that can be left as-is, cut, or combined loop and pile. Cut pile carpeting tends to be more durable and easier to extract water from, should the need arise.
- Maintain the Padding: Carpet padding is very dense and acts as a sponge to trap water within and underneath it. Carpet installation always requires the addition of padding, so you cannot do without it. But be aware that drying out the padding takes longer than drying out the carpeting itself.
- Artificial Materials: Carpet derived from organic materials (for instance, wool) will not stand up to moisture as effectively as artificial materials. Nylon, Olefin (polypropylene), and polyester are the most popular types of artificial carpet fibers.
- Sectioned: If you buy wall-to-wall carpeting and part of it gets so soaked that removal is necessary, the entire carpet must come out. If you buy carpet squares, though, you can excise the water-logged part of the carpet with surgical precision. Not only that, carpet squares are a DIY-friendly install.
- Waterproof: Some carpets are considered waterproof, because they have special backings that prevent moisture from passing through.
Basement moisture ranges the spectrum, from mere dampness to outright flooding. At one end of the scale, in certain climates, it can be seen as a fact of life that must be managed. At the other end, basement moisture can be a huge issue indeed and a real estate deal-breaker.
Tracking down moisture in the basement prior to the installation of flooring is a tricky business. The source often seems like a shifting target. But you can narrow down the sources of moisture in your basement into three categories:
- Leaks: Water leaks can come from cracks in the foundation wall, up through cracks in the floor, and down through air-vents in the side of the foundation, etc. You are not always so lucky to catch an active water leak in the process. But even dried-up leaks can be identified by remnants such as calcium deposits and other trailings that are left behind.
- Humidity: Even above-grade rooms have moisture in the air. Moisture-laden air inhabits many basements. Often, the source is easier and less invasive than you might fear. A displaced dryer vent hose spewing exhaust into the basement will spike basement humidity levels. Dehumidifiers are always a great idea in basements, even ones that appear to be dry.
- Floor Moisture: A crack in the concrete floor will emit moisture. But even a stable, intact concrete floor can wick moisture upward. Tape down a square of clear plastic and leave it in place for about a week. If the floor is wicking moisture, the plastic will fog up.
Carpeting in Basements: Pros and Cons
- Carpeting does no worse in basements than two other popular types of flooring materials: engineered wood or laminate. Straight concrete (stained or painted) and ceramic or natural stone tile are practically impervious to water leaks or condensation—with tile and sheet vinyl running a close second.
- Carpet has a breathability factor greater than other types and that even light moisture can be mitigated with dehumidifiers.
- In the event of large water leaks, carpeting can be dried out quickly enough before mold or mildew develop. However, this job must be taken on by professional water extraction companies.
- Carpet adds a certain R-value (or level of insulation) and warmth to basements, which can tend to be cold.
- Not only does carpet get water-soaked, but its pad does, too. The argument extends to the mold and mildew that can develop in carpeting material, turning the basement into an unsafe environment.
- Research has shown that dirt is as much a factor in the growth of mold and mildew as moisture is. Carpeting traps dirt and vacuuming is not always successful at pulling it up.