iStock_000005577165XSmallIt’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?

Just like with cars and TVs, modern America grew up with nylon carpet.  In its earliest days, nylon was pretty much just like a “fishing line”; a smooth, clear, shiny thread.  Over the years, it has gone through dozens of chemical and physical changes: controlling static shock, changing the fiber shape so it is less transparent so it will hide soil, treatments of stain and soil repellents, blocking its ability to hold stains and increasing resilience.

Because nylon is so strong, carpet made with nylon is the most common choice for high traffic areas like schools, hospitals, airports and office buildings.  When fiber strength is very important, such as with ropes used in mountain climbing or water skiing, nylon is the chosen fiber.  A nylon carpet will virtually never wear out.  Nylon can be dyed to very rich and bright colors.  Nylon is very cleanable.  Nylon can be extruded into very long fibers, called “continuous filament”, again, much like a fishing line.  These long fibers greatly reduce the chance of carpet fuzzing and shedding.

Along with nylon carpet came the upright vacuum, with it’s twirling beater brush and high suction.  Since nylon is so tough and the fiber is generally long, is can take the abuse of the strong upright, much better than any other fiber.  In fact, most brushes in vacuums are made with nylon fiber so when vacuuming nylon to nylon the match is about even; when vacuuming with nylon brushes on wool or most other fibers, the poor carpet is outmatched.  Please know that a natural yarn such as wool or cotton is made with short fibers that are spun and held together by mere friction along the fibers’ scales.  The result is a yarn that is called “staple” and can never be continuous filament like nylon and many other synthetic yarns.  But not every nylon is continuous filament.  Some manufacturers still use chopped up staple nylon because it looks and feels more like wool – softer and less shiny.

stapleSo, it seems like nylon is pretty much the perfect fiber for carpet.  It’s tough, dyes to clear colors, resists spills, cleans up well and those ever-stronger vacuums won’t beat it up.  Nylon really doesn’t have many downsides to it; but here are a few.  The twist that’s put into nylon fiber to make yarn is set with heat – so heat can also take out the twist, like the heat made by the friction of a pivoting shoe, or by dragging something heavy across the carpet, or even by that beater brush on the vacuum.  When the twist in the yarn starts to go, the texture of the carpet changes – and, of course, it changes in just a few spots, like the traffic lanes, while staying the same in other areas, making the changed areas stand out.  Wool, on the other hand, has a permanent curl, a corkscrew-like twist in the raw fiber.

Another downside with nylon is that it will eventually crush, lay flat.  Only the very dense nylon loop pile (as in school and hospital carpet) can resist flattening out.  Also, since nylon fiber is so clear and shiny it can actually get scratched (imagine walking on a sheet of glass).  The areas that get scratched will become dull and the scratches can even hold small bits of color from soil or spills.  Thus, the areas of the most foot traffic can become dull or dark compared to the surrounding carpet.  This is when it is said that nylon carpet will eventually “ugly out”, even if it won’t wear out.

But nylon’s good points make it truly the All-American carpet fiber, one that will take the spills, scrubbing and vacuuming of a busy home.

Next Chapter: The soft nylons


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