Are you looking for the most durable carpet fiber, or the most durable carpet?
Carpet Fiber Type Comparison
Many different types of fiber are used to make carpet, some natural and some man-made. Following are the simple PROS & CONS of the four most popular carpet fibers used in carpet manufacturing processes today: Nylon, Polyester, Olefin, and Wool.
Quick Carpet Fiber Comparison Chart
- Nylon has History – Nylon was the first commercial synthetic fiber used in the carpet industry. As such, from Nylon 6 to Nylon 6,6 (and all the variations beyond), Nylon has had significant improvement in strength, resiliency and stain treatment guards. Also, many manufacturers of Nylon fiber and carpets offer extended wear warranties.
- Nylon has good Elasticity – Nylon can stretch up to 33% of its length and still regain its original shape. An important consideration for heavy traffic areas.
- Nylon is very Abrasion Resistant – This means that Nylon has the ability to resist surface wear caused by rubbing from another material.
- Static Resistant – Nylon stops the “winter sparks” from flying.
- Heat Sets Well – Upon a “heat set” treatment, nylon retains its crimp, twist, and dye extremely well. Heat setting is a typical treatment in the production of fiber and yarn where the fiber or filament is introduced to a heat source.
- Good resiliency – Nylon can be crushed for extended periods of time and still regain its original shape. As such, Nylon carpet is great for heavy traffic areas or where furniture is placed on it.
- Non-Absorbent – Nylon dries quickly. Inherently, the fiber will absorb less than 8% of its weight in water (i.e., otherwise referred to as, Hydrophobic).
- Mildew Resistant – Nylon cannot supply a means of a food source. However, mildew can grow on the fiber or carpet when another food source is present.
- Nylon responds and reacts well to most professional cleaning methods and treatments since many of those supporting technologies were created for Nylon carpets.
- Nylon exhibits problems with bleaching, fading, and pet urine. Nylon has these issues because of the way it must be dyed (i.e., Nylon is acid dyed vs. a solution dye) and some inherent polymer or chemical makeup.
Polyester fibers are one of the least expensive to produce. Fiber and carpet manufacturers have significantly improved the performance characteristics in the past decade with the introduction of PET Polyester into the market place. Although it has some excellent qualities, and is a great fiber for clothing, it does have some limiting factors when used in carpet.
- Since polyester does not have dye sites, it is usually dyed with a disperse dye or solution dye method which makes it very resistant to bleaching, fading and soil-to-dye reactions.
- Stain Resistant – Polyester is resistant to water based stains. The fiber also exhibits Low Absorbency. As such, the fiber is quick drying.
- Polyester is difficult to dye and usually must be solution dyed which limits some color variety.
- It is not resistant to oily stains, and in fact an oily spill or spot left without proper cleanup can oxidize and even chemically bond with and/or become a part of the fiber.
- Crimp Loss – Early polyesters had issues. A new polyester carpet was fuller, fluffier and more luxurious than anything on the market. Six-month-old polyester was an owner’s nightmare. Due to loss of twist and crimp, long strait fibers were left in the traffic areas, which caused matting and tangling and destroyed the original look of the carpet. Definite improvements have been made by heat setting and using finer yarns, but crimp loss can still be a problem. This is a characteristic of polyester, not a defect.
Olefin (i.e, also called polypropylene)is a very versatile carpet fiber. It is also used frequently in carpet backings, face yarns and even astroturf. Olefin has become almost synonymous with one of its trade names “Herculon” a trademark owned by Hercules Corporation, a major manufacturer of olefin.
- Olefin is very moisture resistant. It will absorb only one tenth of 1% of its weight in water. This leads to some pros and some cons.
- Very difficult to stain.
- Great for outdoor applications (stadium or pool)
- Chemical Resistant – Most chemicals and bleaches won’t damage it at all
- Solution dyeing makes it resistant to fading.
- Lightweight – It is the only common carpet fiber that will float on water. ( Except celluloid)
- Strong – It wears well except for resiliency factor (see cons).
- It has good cleanability and stain release. (Except oil/petroleum-based stains – see cons)
- Olefin is not a resilient fiber. When crushed it does not regain its original shape easily. Traffic areas tend to lie down, showing “apparent soiling”. Furniture marks can be permanent reminders to the owner of where his furniture used to be.
- It is a very heat sensitive fiber. Its melting point is around 300 degrees but damage can occur at lower temperatures.
- Olefin can be damaged by Friction – Even dragging a heavy piece of furniture across an olefin carpet can cause permanent marks from the heat generated by friction.
- Like polyester, extended exposure to oil-based soils may become permanent.
- Olefin is very difficult to dye due to its low absorbency rate. It is almost always solution dyed.
- Quite often, Olefin is in a glue-down situation, which creates a potential to brown from soil wicking from the base of the yarns due to incomplete soil removal. Over wetting and/or slow drying increases the likelihood.
Wool comes from the fleece of sheep or lambs. This is one of the oldest fibers used by man, dating back over two thousand years. It is still one of the finest face yarns available for carpet. Wool is chemically made up of standard organic elements including sulfur, which accounts for the wool smell when it is damp.
- Wool has excellent soil hiding capabilities. Wool will not exhibit or show soil as much as other fibers. The reason for this is that wool is an opaque fiber (as opposed to synthetics which are transparent) and wool doesn’t refract and reflect light like synthetics. The naturally dull appearance provided by the scales of the epidermis makes soil much less apparent to the human eye.
- Wool is very strong, elastic and resilient. Wool face yarn in a well-constructed carpet will stand up to the heaviest traffic and still look beautiful. (Notice the carpet in most casinos and finer hotel lobbies and hallways).
- Natural crimp makes wool and excellent insulator.
- Good Absorbency – This means that wool reacts well to a number of dye types and techniques. Keep in mind, this means easy staining also.
- Soil Release – Wool responds very well to cleaning as moisture makes the fiber swell and release dirt.
- Wool is naturally flame retardant.
- Wool is a very expensive material. This arises mainly from the processing cost, the cleaning, and the preparation, etc., rather than the actual cost of the raw material.
- Fiber Distortion – Wool is very prone to distortion by excess agitations such as jet streaks and wand marks. This is particularly pronounced when it happens under heated conditions.
- Stains Easily – Due to its absorbency and ease of dyeing, wool is also easily stained by wine, Kool-Aid and other acid dyestuffs. Remember that absorbency is the same quality that makes wool so desirable as far as dye acceptance and obtaining the beautiful rich colors that you often find in wool carpets and oriental rugs.
- Chemical Sensitivity – Wool is sensitive to alkaline chemicals above a pH of 9.5 after prolonged exposure. This exposure will tend to make wool brittle and discolor somewhat. This problem is sometimes referred to as “felting”. Wool is also very sensitive to chlorine bleach, such as Clorox, which is normally found in homes and grocery stores. Chlorine bleach will completely dissolve wool within a matter of minutes. The New Zealand Wool Bureau recommends water-based cleaning solutions with a pH not lower than 5.5 and not higher than 8 pH. Staple Yarn – Fuzzing can be a source of problems because wool only comes as a staple yarn and excess agitation can cause that fuzzing effect