Nylon Carpet vs Polyester Carpet

Nylon carpet vs Polyester carpet

Polyester carpet vs Nylon carpet?

When shopping for carpet, people tend to focus on carpet basics like fiber. Some assume that nylon is better than polyester because it has been used longer and considerable subsidiary markets (i.e., like stain/spill guard treatments) have grown up around the fiber technology.  However, carpet fiber is just one factor that needs consideration.  Equally important are carpet construction factors like density, filament type and twist level.  Carpet construction greatly influences value, price and performance..  When shopping for carpet, it helps to have a good understanding of these factors in order to make the best decision.

Carpet Fibers

Let us focus on fibers to here since they are the basic element.

Carpet Fiber: Carpet’s Building Blocks

The four basic fibers used in carpet today are nylon, polypropylene (Olefin), polyester and wool.  Since synthetic fibers make rule the majority in the US carpet industry, let us focus on them.   Each type of fiber has its own strengths and weaknesses. These attributes are the determining factors for end-use performance and manufacturing.  Keep in mind there is no perfect fiber for all the all inclusive intentional end-use and carpet is subjected to incredible abuse from foot traffic, spills, pets, furniture and stains.

Typical Carpet Fibers

Carpet History in terms of Synthetic Fibers

During World War II, there was an increased demand for wool (i.e., the dominant carpet material at that time), however wool was needed for military uniforms and blankets. The military need provided the industry with incentive to research and create alternative fibers. This move culminated in the introduction of synthetic (i.e., or man-made) materials for many uses. After the war, manufacturers continued to develop various synthetic materials. By the 1960’s, DuPont’s man-made nylon and acrylic materials supplied most of the carpeting industry’s needs. In 2004, nylon accounted for 68 percent of the fibers used in carpet manufacturing, followed by polypropylene (22 percent) and polyester (9 percent), with wool constituting less than 0.7 percent of the total. Per 2017, there again was a dramatic shift. Nylon held 25% of residential carpet market and Polyester grew to 48%.

Carpet Fiber Market Share 2017

Nylon: Durable, Resilient & Versatile

Nylon Carpet Fibers 101

Nylon is typically more expensive than other synthetic carpet fibers, but historically has better value in terms of performance. This cost can vary considerably within the manufacturers realm in terms of fiber or filament quality relative to the manufacture’s warranty. A greater or longer warranty influences the price and this has much to do with better fiber, better carpet construction and better stain guard treatment.

Carpet Fiber Resiliency

Nylon is the most versatile of all carpet fibers, providing flexibility in creating a variety of carpet styles.  Moreover, Nylon is one of the strongest fibers providing a great choice for heavy traffic areas in residential or commercial use. Nylon fibers offer good resiliency, good twist and good abrasion resistance.  Much of the resiliency outside the fibers chemical make-up (i.e., that directly correlates to the fiber’s strength and elasticity) has to with the Nylon fiber shape.  The Nylon fiber or filament can be extruded in various shapes that when incorporated in a carpet construction provides additional strength and resiliency. The trilobal shape pictured below is the most common. The shape of the fiber also provides soiling resistance (i.e., meaning “soiling” is hidden well)  and effects the perception of color and luster. Please note, the Nylon fiber is a poor performer when fading is a consideration (i.e., keep those UV rays to a minimum).

Nylon Carpet Fiber
Carpet Filament Shapes

Nylon offers impeccable stain resistance when stain treatment is applied. Since Nylon is not inherently stain resistant, a tremendous amount of R&D on treatments have grown up around the fiber and are continually refined. As such, Nylon carpets have historically proved their durability, resiliency and excellent stain guard treatments.

Nylon Fibers

Polypropylene (Olefin):  Colorfastness & Naturally Stain Resistant

Olefin Carpets

Olefin (Polypropylene) is one of the most colorfast fibers on the market.  Unlike the other fibers presented, polypropylene is hydrophobic and as such will not absorb water. Olen fibers are solution dyed to impart color.  Solution dyeing is a pigmentation process in which color is actually built into the fiber when it is formed As such, the color becomes an inherent part of the fiber.  The color will not fade, even when exposed to intense sunlight, bleaches, or other harsh chemicals.

Olefin or Polypropylene Chart

When considering fade and stain resistance for your home, Olefin is a great performer. Rooms with strong sunlight are no problem for Polypropylene. Also, they work great in basements or shore homes where mildew is a great concern. Since Olefin is not as resilient as the other fibers, Olefin is typically offered in a Berber carpet design (i.e., a low-profile loop). As such, Olefin is not a good choice for a high traffic room.

Polyester:  Great Stain Resistance, Soft, & Budget-Friendly

Polyester fiber and Polyester carpets have come a long way in the past decade. In 2017, they gained the market share in residential use (i.e., 48% from 9% in 2004) as well as commercial applications.  This increase in market share has as much to do with the amount of R&D as it does considering the cost savings to produce the fiber. Polyester is the perfect choice for stain-resistance. However, Polyester is still not as resilient as nylon, but when Polyester is incorporated into a well constructed carpet it performs well.  As such, a polyester carpet with a high pile and medium-to-high density is a good choice for shoppers interested in appearance retention and long-term wear.

Carpet Fiber Recovery

A major recent advancement in Textile Technology was the creation of  PET Polyester (i.e., Polyethylene Terephthalate) fibers and their incorporation into the carpet industry.  This new polyester is much stronger and durable. The creation and the positive end-user performance ratings were the driving force in Polyester’s ascent to market share leader.  PET Polyester also offers:

  • Exceptional softness
  • Fade resistance
  • Improved strength and better abrasion resistance
  • Natural and permanent stain resistance, including pet urine

A PET polyester fiber carpet with a high pile and medium-to-high density is a great choice ensure maximum appearance retention and long-term wear.

Nylon, Olefin and Polyester Fiber Comparison

Polyester carpet vs Nylon carpet comparison

Carpet Polyester or Nylon comparison

Carpet Manufacturer Warranties

When looking for a good value, look past the warranties and “brand names“. There are carpets that still provide the inherent benefits of a synthetic fiber at a lower price. However if you are certain that you need or want performance and longevity, please do not disregard the warranties in general. Much research and engineering has gone into today’s carpet manufacturing. Again, a longer warranty influences the price and this has everything to do with better fiber, better carpet construction and better stain guard treatment.

Essentially, the type of carpet fiber you want depends on your priorities and needs.  Family rooms and hallways in an active households may require a better-grade nylon carpet.  Rooms without frequent use (and abuse) may not need a high-performance nylon.  For the budget minded shopper, a tightly twisted, medium dense PET polyester carpet that is multicolored (or a Frieze construction) may be all that you need to help hide traffic and soil.

As with any large purchase, do your homework, read your warranties and be sure to communicate your needs and wants to your design consultant.

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