What to Know Before Buying Carpet

How it looks is just the beginning.


Buying carpet for the first time can seem overwhelming, but when you know all the pros and cons of the most common carpet styles and fibers-as well as a few translations of showroom lingo-it's a task that any homeowner can tackle with finesse. The carpet styles we're highlighting here can be installed wall to wall, or ordered in a specific size with bound edges to be used as an area rug (a great solution for oddly shaped rooms). Professionals are better suited to discussing your needs for specialty rugs, such as Orientals, so you'll probably want to visit a special retailer for these kinds of purchases.

Two kinds of construction are most common when it comes to rugs: tufted and woven. Most carpets are tufted, consisting of rows of machine-punched yarns held together by adhesive and backing, and they last between five and seven years. Woven carpets, on the other hand, are known for their long lifespan: 20 to 30 years, thus making them more expensive than tufted options. The first thing to do when shopping for carpet is to ask for a sample to identify its style of pile, or the yarn that was used to make the carpet. If the yarn has been sheared, it's known as "cut" pile, which is different from "loop" pile, a kind of yarn that's been left in its original form.

Samples can help you understand how high the pile of a carpet is, as deeper pile can feel softer to the touch, but a short pile is easier to care for. You'll glean even more information from the carpet's label, which lists the fiber content and where it was made, as well as other details as required by law. Most of the styles and fibers listed in the following guidelines are used in both woven and tufted carpets, and understanding their differences can help you shop for the best option for your home.

In addition to the pile, you'll also want to ask about a carpet's padding, which can help offset ground-in dirt and even absorb sound. You'll need to lay down the proper padding before installing an area rug, but most floor-to-floor carpets should be installed by professionals, as they're able to disguise seams as best as possible while properly fitting carpet to padding as well. When working with professionals, you'll notice that carpet is often sold by the square yard, not the square foot-you'll have to divide the price by nine for a per-square-foot quote. If you'd like to see what the carpet looks in your home, try asking for a "roll-cut" sample, which is a piece of carpet cut from the lot you would actually purchase, as the coloring on the sample may be different from the final product. You'll also have to clean the carpet properly to keep the original coloring intact-check the manufacturer's instructions, and start with a weekly once-over using a vacuum with a rotating head. For delicate carpets, such as hand-woven or hand-tufted, use a vacuum without a rotating head. A professional can steam-clean synthetic and wool carpet if needed.

10 Common Cuts of Pile to Know

The carpet's pile can determine how it looks in your home, and more importantly, how it feels underfoot. Pile can be short and sturdy, or it can be shaggy and soft-the following pile varieties are the most commonly used by carpet manufacturers. We're sharing details about how each variety feels, plus how well the product holds up under normal wear and tear over the years.

Sisal-like carpets are meant to imitate the look of sisal or other plant fibers and are made from wool or a synthetic. These carpets are mimics of sisal varieties but are softer than the real thing, and they release stains better. Wilton is considered a premier woven carpet. It is made on a jacquard loom and can have cut, loop, or a mixture of cut-and-loop pile. These carpets are tightly constructed, making them dense and durable for many years to come. Frieze is a cut-pile carpet with twisted yarns and a crimped, textured appearance. The twisted strands of a frieze carpet obscure footprints and allows marks to be lifted by vacuums, and the tousled look complements an informal room. Saxony carpet yarns feature a soft twist or curl; the pile is often cut at an angle. Saxony is not quite as textured as frieze, but it still effectively conceals spills and scuffs, making the carpet a popular choice for children's rooms and family rooms.

Velvet carpet is soft, like the fabric for which it's named. The pile is short, uniform, and dense. Velvet pile generally holds up well but, like plush, its uniform surface can reveal indentations and tracks over time. Shag carpets feature pile so long, it doesn't stand upright, which is why these products have a "shaggy" look. Shags come in contemporary colors and have an inviting feel. But those long yarns can still get caught in the rotating head of a vacuum, which makes upkeep challenging. Axminster features cut pile in a woven style. It is often called "pub carpet," a reference to the carpet's frequent appearance in restaurants and hotels. Axminster tends to be the most affordable of the woven carpets and is available in a wide range of colors. It's one of the most durable options you can buy, but it is not as refined as other varieties on this list and may appear industrial. Berber once referred to an undyed Moroccan rug. Today, the term is used broadly to describe most loop-pile carpets, which are especially durable because loop pile has no exposed tips. This makes Berber a good choice for high-traffic areas, such as family rooms, hallways, and staircases.

Ribbed cut can be a cut-and-loop pile or a cut-pile carpet that is trimmed in areas to create carved designs; it may also have color variations throughout. Because its textured surface can camouflage marks and stains, a ribbed cut is another good choice for children's rooms or other high-traffic spaces. Plush pile is cut to a smooth, level height. It is higher and less dense than velvet, but just as comfortable, making it a cozy covering for a bedroom floor. Beware: Its pile is easily crushed, revealing indentations over time.

What Is Your Carpet Made From?

  • A carpet's appearance, texture, and longevity are also determined by the fibers used to create it in the first place. Pile can be madewith natural fibers, like wool, or it can be made with synthetic fibers to mimic natural options, like polyester. Most carpets contain a blend of several fibers, which is why it's important to note which kind you're buying in the first place-it could also determinehow you'll need to clean your carpeting, too.

Wool is strong, static-resistant, and pleasing to the touch. It is the fiber that most synthetic fibers are meant to imitate since it is more costly than those materials. Wool is resilient and also naturally stain-resistant and flame-retardant. Silk carpets are soft and luxurious, and silk dyes better and is more durable than any other fiber used to make carpets today. Because of silk's high cost, however, the fiber is often blended with wool. Cotton carpeting was popular in the United States before World War II. Cotton carpet, like cotton clothing, wears well and has a natural feel. It shouldn't be used in large amounts or in high-traffic areas, as its a magnet for dust and dirt and needs to be cleaned routinely. Nylon is the most popular carpet fiber in the United States. Nylon is durable, resilient, and stain-resistant. It is one of the more expensive synthetic fibers. The fiber comes in many hues; look for solution-dyed nylon, which is colorfast Linen yarn is made from flax. Linen carpet is lustrous and can help absorb humidity in any room. However, it can be quite costly, and with age, linen carpet will reveal traffic patterns.

Sisal comes from the agave plant, and you'll find the highest-quality fibers often come from East Africa. Sisal is extremely strong-second only to wool-but it's particularly prone to fading in direct sunlight and can be stained even by water. Jute flooring is made from the jute plant, which also is used to make burlap and twine. Jute is softer than sisal but also less durable. Like sisal, it can be damaged easily by sunlight and liquids. Coir is the fiber taken from the hairy husk of coconuts. Coir is durable, wiry, and mildew-resistant, making for the perfect doormat. Seagrass carpet is made from a variety of reedy plants and has a greenish tint. Although durable, seagrass carpets are not very absorbent; they should not be used in moist or humid rooms. Seagrass costs less than sisal and jute, however.

Paper carpet is made from paper cords coated in a protective wax. Paper carpet is, in fact, quite strong. It is more water-resistant than carpets made from other plant fibers, but liquid spills should still be blotted immediately. Polyester has a wool-like appearance and is often used for cut-pile carpets. It dyes well, so it's often available in a range of vibrant colors. Polyester carpet is soft, stain-resistant, and affordable. It's not as resilient as other carpet fibers and may mat down in a short period. Olefin is a glossy synthetic fiber usually sold in muted colors, and its one of the less expensive synthetics. Water-and stain-resistant, it's often used outdoors.

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