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How To Choose Carpets

How To Choose Carpets - House & Home

A guide to carpet styles, fibres and padding, as well as tips regarding carpet tiles and area rugs.

Carpet is by far the most popular of all floor coverings. This is attributable to its warmth, softness and sound absorption. It is also easy to maintain, durable and available in a variety of colours, patterns and textures. It is sold by the yard in either broadloom or body carpet form. Broadloom is 6’ and wider and used in wall-to-wall applications. Body carpet is narrower at between 27” to 35” and appropriate for use on stairs and hallways. Installation of broadloom is tricky and requires a professional.

When selecting carpet, choose the best quality available within your budget. High grades, which are more expensive, are not necessary for low traffic areas like a bedroom. But you may want to consider a better carpet for high traffic areas such as halls and main living areas.

Practicality should also guide your selection. Carpet is best suited to bedrooms, halls, family rooms, and living and dining areas. Wall-to-wall is not recommended for areas that will be in constant contact with moisture like kitchens and bathrooms, since cleaning can be problematic and carpet does not resist the build-up of mold and mildew like other materials.

Maintenance is quite easy if you spot clean and remove stains immediately. Weekly vacuuming and a shampoo once or twice a year will keep carpet in great shape. Any loose tufts should be clipped, not pulled.

Consider these factors when selecting carpet:

Carpet styles

The texture of a carpet depends on its pile. Pile is the top surface of the carpet and it varies in height and density. The tighter the weave and the more stitches or tufts per square inch, the more durable the carpet will be.

Looped pile

  • made of yarn that is looped at the same height and left uncut
  • most common type of carpet
  • available in a variety of heights from short to shaggy
  • very durable under heavy use
  • easy to clean
  • soil and spills remain on surface

Cut pile

  • made by shearing off the tops of level-looped pile
  • cleaner, more refined appearance than looped pile
  • choice of amount of twist in yarn

Random or tip sheared

  • made of a combination of looped and cut pile
  • brings together elegance of cut pile and practicality of looped pile

Velvet

  • refers to velvet loom on which it is woven
  • direction of the pile makes surface appear as either highlight or shade; this is because cut pile threads will change direction
  • depending on pressure on surface, footprints may show up when walked on

Sculptured or curved pile

  • variety of designs possible with two or more levels
  • can combine looped or cut pile
  • dirt can get trapped in grooves

Shag or short shag

  • woven or tufted carpet with yarn that is not tightly twisted
  • long pile that is either looped or cut pile
  • will show dirt faster than shorter pile
  • requires frequent vacuuming

Plush

  • a heavy cut pile
  • pile is deep and tightly woven
  • may show footprints when walked on

Saxony

  • most popular type of carpet
  • only available in cut pile
  • a moderate to tight twist of yarn

Carpet fibres

The fibres of the yarn used to make the carpet is another important consideration, as this will affect both price and lifespan. Natural and synthetic materials are used, either on their own or in combination with one another. The most frequently used fibres are:

Wool

  • most commonly used natural material
  • deep and warm material, well suited for carpets
  • wears well, resilient, retains original texture
  • flameproof, abrasion resistant
  • easily cleaned (but not as easily as synthetics) and maintained
  • price depends on quality and ranges from cheap to expensive

Acrylic

  • wears well with low static generation
  • easily cleaned
  • the synthetic option that most resembles wool
  • resists moths, mildew, sun-fading, soil stains
  • available in many colours

Nylon

  • longest lasting of all synthetic fibres
  • exceptional colour and texture retention
  • easily cleaned, although will show soil more than other fabrics
  • inexpensive

Modacrylic

  • similar to acrylic but more costly
  • usually blended with other acrylic fibres
  • resistant to moths, mildew and abrasion
  • easily cleaned and maintained
  • colours are limited

Olefin (polypropylene)

  • mainly used for indoor/outdoor carpet
  • very durable, appropriate for heavy traffic areas
  • resistant to moisture, mildew, abrasion, piling and shedding
  • inexpensive
  • easily cleaned, most stain resistant of all fibres
  • resilience is low
  • least attractive of all synthetic fibres

Polyester

  • used mainly in shag or semi-shag carpets
  • wide colour selection
  • good colour retention
  • appropriate for any area indoors
  • easily cleaned, resistant to most soiling
  • highly durable, little piling or shedding
  • resistant to mildew, abrasion, moisture
  • not as warm as other fibres

Sisal and other grasses

  • inexpensive
  • cool to the touch
  • available in natural colours
  • weaving patterns are usually understated

Carpet padding

Padding is placed between the subfloor and carpet above it. It enhances the performance of the carpet by providing additional acoustical value, thermal insulation, comfort and prolongs the life of the carpet. Carpet is available with or without attached padding. The following are the most commonly used:

Felt

  • made of 100% animal hair or a blend of animal hair and other fibres
  • provides good insulation and is long lasting
  • can be expensive

Sponge rubber

  • suitable for high traffic areas
  • appropriate for wall-to-wall installations
  • flat or waffled finish, waffled is softer but not as durable as flat finish
  • gives a soft, resilient feel

Foam rubber

  • medium-weight cushion
  • durable and less expensive than other padding
  • flat or waffled finish

Urethane foam

  • available in three types: bonded (firmest), densified prime (plush), prime (soft and resilient)

Manufacturing techniques

Carpet is made by one of three methods: weaving, tufting or bonding.

Weaving

  • traditional method of making carpet
  • uses a loom to weave pile yarns and backing yarns in one step
  • produces durable and attractive carpets
  • most expensive manufacturing method

Tufting

  • 90% of all carpet made uses this method
  • 25 times faster than weaving, therefore cheaper than weaving
  • uses needles instead of weaving
  • pile yarn is stitched into a pre-fabricated backing with a row of needles
  • capable of producing more styles than weaving

Fusion bonding

  • manufactured by heat fusing face yarn to backing
  • not many carpets are made this way
  • carpets are flat with few textural variations possible

Quality factors

Generally, short pile height, dense carpets with closely packed surface yarns and closely woven backing are the most durable and expensive. Carpet should be assessed based on the following factors. All this information may not be available from a retailer, but they are a good indication of what to look for.

Face weight

  • amount of yarn on face of carpet
  • the more yarn per square yard, the more durable

Pile height

  • height of yarn between top of pile and backing
  • the shorter, the more durable

Density

  • how tightly the yarn is woven or tufted into carpet
  • the more strands per square yard, the more durable

Carpet tiles

Carpet tiles are small squares of carpet measuring about 18” square with self-adhesive backs that are laid to create a carpet look. Carpet tiles offer the advantage of replacing pieces that are damaged without having to remove the entire carpet. It’s cheaper than traditional broadloom and easy to install for the amateur. If visibility of seams is an issue, choose tiles with a higher pile to conceal the seams better than lower piles. Carpet tiles are best suited to wall-to-wall applications and do not require padding underneath.

Area rugs

Similar to carpet, but not as permanent, rugs can vary in size from almost any room size to a narrow runner (see Choosing An Area Rug for more info). They are used over hard-surface floors to define an area, protect the surface below or to add warmth to a space. Their mobility makes them easy to clean and quickly adaptable. Rugs are appropriate for most spaces in the home and are available in an infinite variety of patterns, colours and designs. Standard sizes are 4’ by 6’, 4’ by 9’, 9’ by 12’. For more information on area rug sizes and decorating with area rugs, check out Cameron MacNeil's video. Below are some common types.

Carved rugs

  • made from broadloom carpet with pattern carved into surface
  • ends usually bordered by fringe
  • those with thick and dense pile are best wearing

Natural fibre rugs

  • imported from India and China
  • woven grass or straw
  • colours are derived from natural colouring of material, from light tan to dark brown
  • less durable than other rugs, but will withstand normal use
  • require little maintenance

Flokatis

  • a deep, shaggy rug from Greece
  • fluffy texture is derived from hand woven wool that has been hand-twisted
  • once woven, rug is placed beneath a waterfall to soften wool
  • available mainly in white, off-white, grey, less frequently in bright colours

Rya

  • shaggy, rough wool rug from Scandinavia
  • woven fringes of knotted pile
  • available in many bright colours

Oriental rugs

  • traditional rugs of Iran, Turkey, China, Pakistan and India, each with their own regional designs
  • usually rectangular in shape with a central area surrounded by patterned borders, also available in runner size
  • the royalty of area rugs, antique oriental rugs can cost thousands of dollars
  • real oriental rugs will be one-of-a-kind and handwoven, wither knotted or flat-woven
  • if the rug is handmade, hand knots will be visible at pile base
  • the best will have hundreds of knots per square inch, this is necessary to create intricate patterns
  • colours range from pastels of Chinese rugs to bright reds of Persian rugs
  • popular for use in formal areas with low traffic
  • a lower price alternative are machine-made oriental rugs

Kilim

  • flat-woven rough wool rug that has no pile
  • resembles a tapestry
  • made by weaving coloured wefts
  • cheaper than hand-knotted rugs
  • available in bright colours and patterns
  • reversible
  • less formal than oriental rugs

Dhurrie

  • traditional flat-woven Indian rug similar to kilim
  • available in wool or cotton
  • large variety of colours and designs
  • reversible

Serape

  • Mexican hand-woven rug made of wool
  • coarse with fringed ends
  • reversible
Photographer: 

Kim Christie

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