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Fiber Choices for Carpet, Chapter Four: The Soft Nylons

jimagesIt’s not just choosing the right color, anymore.  There are now dozens of kinds of fibers in residential carpet.  How do you decide what’s best for you?

The previous chapter ended with NYLON is “the All-American carpet fiber, one that will take the spills, scrubbing and vacuuming of a busy home.”   Nylon fiber doesn’t just go into carpet.  We know it makes tough clothing, rain gear, ropes of all sizes and, of course, nylon hosiery.  If you can imagine the softness of hosiery vs. the coarseness of a ski rope, then know that the reason for the difference in feel is that the hosiery is woven from very thin fibers and the rope is made of thick fibers.

The nylon carpet that goes into schools and hospitals uses a fiber more like what’s used in the rope.  Carpet for homes uses fiber that is a bit thinner and softer. The new soft nylon carpets use fibers that are more like the hosiery nylon, very thin and much softer.  The measurement of fiber thickness is called “denier;” so the fiber that makes soft carpet – and hosiery – is called “fine-denier” nylon.

This is actually the second time around for fine-denier carpet.  The carpet industry tried it about 30 years ago.  The appeal of soft carpet is that it has a great “hand” to it.  Hand is how it feels when you run your hand over it or, for everyday use, your bare feet.  After that, though, there’s not much else to boast about.  In fact, soft nylon carpet has a few drawbacks vs. regular nylon carpet.

Because the fiber is so thin, it cannot hold up as well as a thicker fiber – it can crush much easier.  The individual fibers that make up a strand of yarn do not have the same resistance to breaking – not the same “tensile strength” – so they can break off when a tough vacuum is used.  Some carpet manufacturers declare than they have compensated for the thinner fiber by putting more strands of fiber in each twist of yarn.  That still does not make for a carpet that won’t crush – mat down under foot traffic – and lose fiber to the vacuum.  In fact, more fibers in each strand of yarn means that there is more surface area to hold onto soil.

indexSoft carpet is the latest rage – and manufacturers are competing to make it softer than the other guy’s carpet.  But when choosing soft carpet, there is a trade-off that has to be made.  It can be soft but it cannot also be durable.  Then what about all the fantastic warranties the mills are offering with their nylons and soft nylons?  You must understand the meaning of each warranty and view the fine print to understand what is going on.  The original wear warranty of nylon means that the nylon fiber will not break off and lose more than 10% of the original amount of fiber, over a certain number of years.  That pretty much never happens with nylon; so that warranty is unnecessary.

Then there are stain and soil warranties of all kinds, anti-static warranties and warranties against defects in making the carpet.  The one that comes closest to covering a soft yarn is called “texture retention.”  One version of this warranty says that the yarn will not show excessive pile crush or matting as a result of tufts losing their twist.  For soft yarns, it is not the loss of twist that is the main reason the pile crushes.  It is simply because the fine fibers cannot remain standing upright. Other carpet brands offer a warranty that promises texture retention without calling it loss of twist in the carpet tufts; but then they actually exclude matting and crushing from the warranty.  This all really means the same thing: there are no carpet warranties that promise your chosen carpet will not show footprints, vacuum tracks, traffic patterns and permanent crush marks.  So it comes back to what to expect from your decision to buy very soft carpet. You can expect a great, soft feel but don’t plan on the great look lasting for very long.

Next Chapter: The other synthetic fibers


Don PayneDon Payne has been a manufacturer’s rep since 1972.  He opened Pacific Crest Mills and Camelback Sales Agency, a rep agency for residential & commercial flooring, in 1978.  Don opened Floor Styles, a to-the-trade ONLY showroom, located in the Scottsdale Design District 1992.  Presenting high-end floor coverings to designers, architects & floor dealers, Floor Styles has more than 16,000 individual samples of carpet, rugs, cork, wood, vinyl, rubber and leather floor products.  You can reach Don at www.floorstyles.com

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