An Overview of Carpet Choices and Types

Understanding the Differences in Fibers and Piles

Carpet is one of the softest flooring materials available, providing a cushioned surface for your feet in almost any location. It's important to know the characteristics of the different types of carpeting available, to ensure you get a style that's appropriate for your installation space.

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    Types of Carpet Fibers

    Empty living room
    Andersen Ross/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    There are a variety of synthetic and natural fibers which are used in the construction of carpets. Below you will find the four most common materials.

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    nylon carpets
    © Bigstockphoto

    Nylon is very soft, durable, and resistant to stains. It is the most popular carpet material and is used in roughly three-quarters of all manufactured pieces.

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    polyester carpet fiber choices
    © quinn.anya

    These fibers are prized because they can hold vibrant, dramatic colors that do not fade much over time. They are non-allergenic. In many cases this material is crafted from recycled plastic bottles, making it eco-friendly. The only drawback is that it's susceptible to having its fibers flattened under repeated exposure to weight, making it a bad choice for high traffic areas.

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    3. Polypropylene Carpets

    polypropylene carpet fibers
    © 123RF

    Polypropylene is almost as soft as nylon. These fibers are extremely resilient and resistant to stains, mildew, and shedding.

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    wool carpeting
    © velkr0

    Wool is a natural, luxurious, long lasting material that is the softest carpet fiber you can find. Unfortunately low-grade wool is more susceptible to staining, while high-grade wool is extremely expensive. Some manufacturers combine wool with synthetic fibers in order to create a carpet with the benefits of both.

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    Types of Carpet Piles

    Carpet is made by looping yarn through a piece of backing material in a movement that is similar to sewing a button on a shirt. These loops can then either be left intact or cut at various angles. The way the loop is treated is known as the carpet pile. Below you will find the most common carpet pile types available for your flooring. 

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    uncut carpet pile
    © 123RF

    Also known as "loop pile" or "berber pile." This method leaves the entire loop intact on the surface of the piece. These carpets tend to be highly durable, easy to clean, and resistant to stains, making them perfect for high traffic commercial applications. Uncut pile carpets also don't show indentations caused by footprints and vacuum marks.

    The drawback is these carpets tend to be less soft and padded than their cut counterparts. Also the loops can be a snagging hazard if...MORE you have pets or small children.

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    Cut Carpet Pile

    cut pile carpeting
    © Bigstockphoto

    This method tends to produce very soft, pleasant looking carpets that are easy to clean. The drawback is that the rigid nature of the threads makes it easier to see foot marks and vacuum trails. It also makes wear and tear more obvious, which means that these carpets need to be replaced more often.

    Different styles can be created by changing the angle of the shearing that slices the loop, or by using different treatments on the thread before and after it is inserted into the backing.

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    saxony carpet pile
    © Bigstockphoto

    This is probably the most iconic carpet pile, featuring individual strands standing straight up and down to create a plush, fuzzy surface. The drawback to this style is the fact that those strands can be crushed down by feet and vacuums, leaving impressions in its surface. It is also susceptible to wear and tear, as well as staining. Saxony carpets should only be used in low traffic areas.

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    Textured Cut Pile

    textured carpet pile
    © Bigstockphoto

    This style is also called "trackless" because it doesn't show footprints and other marks in its surface as much as Saxony pile carpets. This is accomplished by taking individual yarns and twisting them into spirals, which are set using heated steam. The spiral strands do not reflect light as much as straight ones, and so when they are crushed down by a heavy object it's not as noticeable. This is suitable for mid to high level traffic areas.

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    © Matti Mattila

    In this pile the individual strands are tightly twisted and kinked, causing them to curl erratically across the surface of the carpet. This is a highly durable style that tends to hide dirt and wear, and is suitable for high traffic and commercial settings.

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    Plush Carpet Pile

    velvet carpet pile
    © 123RF

    Sometimes called "velvet cut pile" this style features short, densely packed fibers in order to create a rich and luxurious carpet surface. Unfortunately this carpet style is fairly temperamental and is prone to wearing down, scuffing, and showing footprints in its surface. This should only be used in a luxurious, low traffic setting.