The Right Vacuum for Soft Carpet

Man vacuuming a carpet
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So-called “soft carpets” have taken the flooring industry by storm, and they are not going away anytime soon. The luxurious feel of these softer carpet fibers has proven immensely popular with both consumers and retailers alike. Soft carpets are available in nylon, triexta, and polyester fibers; and in styles ranging from thick friezes to shorter looped Berber styles. While they have many benefits, there is one potential drawback that consumers often don’t realize until after their carpet has been installed: these soft carpets can be next to impossible to vacuum.

Why They’re Hard to Vacuum

Soft carpets feel so soft for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the fibers used to make them are much finer than traditional carpet fibers. Finer strands have a softer feel than do thicker strands. Secondly, each carpet tuft is made up of an increased number of fiber strands compared to standard carpets. Some soft carpet brands, such as Mohawk SmartStrand Silk, contain up to three times more fibers than traditional carpet.

The additional fibers in soft carpets increase the density of these carpets, which makes it more difficult to push a vacuum through them. Some consumers report struggling to maneuver their vacuum, previously unproblematic on their old carpet.

Ideal Vacuum Characteristics

This certainly doesn’t mean that soft carpets can’t be vacuumed. It may mean, depending on what vacuum you currently use, that you have to switch to one that’s better equipped to handle the challenges of a soft carpet. There are a couple of features to look for in a new vacuum, to help make your soft carpet easier to care for.

Adjustable Height

Many vacuums are able to be raised or lowered, depending on the surface on which they are being used. This feature is essential for soft carpets, to ensure proper airflow.

A vacuum that is too low for the carpet can not only be impossible to push through the fibers, it can also be damaging to the carpet. The suction on a vacuum is meant to lift dirt particles out of the fibers, but if it is placed too close to the carpet backing, it can actually lift the carpet slightly off the padding underneath. This can eventually lead to buckling of the carpet.

Additionally, the carpet fibers can be harmed by a vacuum brush that is too low. Meant to gently agitate the fibers in order to assist in dirt removal, the rotating brush can be too abrasive if it is too close to the fibers. This can lead to blooming, causing a distorted, fuzzy appearance.

Experts recommend starting with the most elevated height setting on your vacuum. If it is too easy to push and doesn’t appear to be making contact with the fibers, lower it one setting at a time until the brush sits on or just above the tips of the fibers.

Large Wheels

Upright vacuums with larger wheels are more easily able to get through long, dense carpet fibers. Consider the wheel size in relation to your carpet’s fiber length when selecting your vacuum.

Optional Beater Bar

Many vacuums use a beater bar, or powerhead, to brush up the carpet fibers in order to effectively clean between the fibers. Beater bars can pose a risk to certain styles of carpet. A beater bar should not be used on looped styles of carpet (such as Berber) or on very long, thick shag or frieze styles.

Look for a vacuum that has the option of turning the beater bar off, or of removing the powerhead and replacing it with a suction-only attachment.

The Right Vacuum

The issue of difficult vacuuming has become big enough that Mohawk, the manufacturer of many soft carpets (including the aforementioned SmartStrand collection) has responded with a list of recommended vacuums for soft carpets. The full list can be found on Mohawk’s website.

The benefits of soft carpet are numerous, but, like almost anything, there are some disadvantages as well. If you do not currently have a vacuum with the features listed above and are unable or unwilling to purchase a new one, then soft carpet may not be the best option for you. Carpet is a big investment in your home, however, and the cost of having the proper tools (such as a vacuum) to care for it is worth the performance and enjoyment you will get from your soft carpet.​