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Carpet and Rugs: Understanding Quality and Grades

When selecting carpet you are faced with many choices and the differences may not always be obvious. While you can see the difference in some carpeting, in other cases you may find examples that look the same but differ substantially in price. Often, the reason for the price difference is the quality, grade or durability of the carpet. Before simply choosing the cheaper carpet, you should learn about the quality differences and make an informed choice.

The cost of carpet is influenced by several factors, including the fiber used, the quality, the construction and the design. The price quoted may or may not include the cost of the pad and installation, so make sure you know what is included so that you can compare apples to apples. Furthermore, find out whether installation includes the moving of any furniture and the haul away of old carpet.

Carpet Quality Factors

Carpet quality is a factor of the fiber used, and the twist, finish and density of the fiber. Thickness is not a factor of quality; a common misconception. Thickness may make a carpet more luxurious, but it does not affect its quality or performance. Thickness is a matter of preference, like color or pattern, not a sign of quality.

Fiber Density

Fiber density refers to the amount of yarn used in a carpet and the closeness of the tufts. The measure of density is at the backing, not the surface. At the surface the density may appear good, but when you spread the tufts and look underneath, the base of each tuft may be far apart. Over time, low density carpet will show more matting, what most of us think of as wear. Density is probably the most important factor in the longevity of carpet, followed closely by soil and stain resistance. Bend a sample of the carpet so that the tufts spread apart. The less backing material you can see, the better.

Plush Density Carpet Pile
Poor Density Carpet Pile
Good Density
Poor Density

Continuous Filament vs: Staple

Carpet fibers can be either "continuous filament" (aka BCF - Bulked Continuous Filament) or "staple". Staple fibers, aka spun fibers, have short fibers that are spun together to create yarn. All natural fibers and some synthetic fibers are spun into yarn. Wool is an example of a staple fiber. Because of the many, short fibers, staple fibers have more initial shedding than filament fibers. However, after the early shedding, both fibers perform about equally, with no clear advantage to either. Continuous fibers are also woven into yarn, but they are made up of long fibers and so do not tend to shed.

Carpet Fibers

Carpet fibers are usually one of five materials: Nylon, Olefin, Polyester, Acrylic or Wool. An overwhelming majority of carpet today is made from synthetic fibers, with nylon leading the way.

Nylon Accounts for roughly 60% all carpet sold in the U.S. Dye is added to nylon fibers as they are manufactured and so are colorfast. Nylon is wear-resistant, tolerates heavy furniture and is resilient. Available in many colors and styles. Only with the addition of stain-repelling technology, now standard for most nylon carpets, does nylon manage to be stain-resistant.Untreated nylon is susceptible to stains. Nylon is prone to static charge and to fading in direct sunlight.
Olefin Commonly called polypropylene, this thread is strong, wear-resistant, stain-resistant and is easy to clean. This material can be use outdoors because it is moisture and mildew resistant. While not as resilient as nylon, it is more resistant to fading. Not as comfortable on bare feet. Does not have the luxurious feel of some other carpet and seams may be more apparent.
Polyester Becoming more popular is polyester, in part, because of its lower cost. It is not as resilient as nylon and is more prone to fading, staining and pilling than nylon. Not well suited for high traffic areas. Noted for its soft, luxurious feel when used in thick cut-pile textures, polyester is a good value.
Acrylic Has the look and feel of wool but without the cost. Acrylic is not as widely used as other fibers. Acrylic resists static build-up, is moisture and mildew resistant.
Wool The only natural fabric commonly in use for carpet. Wool has a luxurious feel and is very durable. It is naturally soil resistant and stains clean up well. Wool will fade in direct sunlight and is the most expensive fiber.
Blends Various combinations of fibers can improve the overall look, feel and performance of a carpet. Wool/nylon and olefin/nylon are two common blends in use today.

Carpet Grades

Some manufacturers identify their products by "grade". In reality, no universal standard exists and the grade is more of a marketing tool. You cannot compare two different manufacturers who each offer a grade "5" or similar rating; they have no comparable relationship. One company's grade 5 may be significantly better than another manufacturer's. The only relevant rating is the wear rating, "high traffic", "medium traffic" and "low traffic". However, there is no universal standard here either, so one company's "high traffic" may last much longer than another company's.

When people think of a carpet appearing "worn", they typically are referring to matting. High traffic areas cause matting through compression of the carpet fibers. Carpet rated for "high traffic" resists matting so the use of the proper grade of carpet will keep the carpet looking good longer. Choose "high traffic" carpet for stairways, hallways, entryways and any room that will see a lot of foot traffic.

Carpet Texture

Plush Carpet Fibers Plush - A cut pile with a smooth, even finish. Straight fibers, cut shorter than Saxony. Has a velvety look. Tends to be formal in appearance. Often used in formal living areas.
Saxony Carpet Fibers Saxony - A cut pile with a smooth, even finish. Fibers are taller than plush and have a twist. This is the most popular style of carpet. Saxony tends to show footprints and vacuum tracks more than other textures
Frieze Carpet Fibers Friezé - Pronounced "free-zay", this cut pile has extra twists applied to the fibers resulting in a rough, curly, informal texture. This texture hides footprints and tracks very well. Longer piles are called shag and are suitable for lower traffic areas.
  Textured - Lower density fibers with an uneven cut give this carpet a more casual feel. Often uses two toned fibers to help hide dirt. Not as well suited for high traffic areas as some other choices.
Berber Carpet FibersBerber - Tightly packed short looped fibers, also called level-loop, provide a very durable surface suitable for a high traffic area. Informal appearance and durablity make this a popular choice for family rooms. Flecked yarn helps to hide dirt, but the short pile makes seams more visible.
  Cut & Loop - This combines cut pile with uncut loops to create interesting textures and patterns. Sometimes referred to as a sculptured texture. This texture hides dirt well and is well suited for high traffic areas.
Multi-level loop Carpet Fibers Multi-level Loop - Two or three loop heights are used to give this style of carpet more texture or even pattern effects.

Choosing Your Carpet

Don't skimp on carpet for high traffic areas like hallways, stairs and family rooms. Choose carpet recommended for heavy traffic. Lesser carpet will show matting and wear much more quickly and you won't be happy with the appearance. Don't be afraid to select lesser grades of carpet for other areas in your home but choose the best your budget allows for where foot traffic will be high. Medium and dark colors, dense fibers and textured carpet will maximize dirt hiding in high traffic areas.

When pricing carpet, be sure to get a quote that includes all costs, including the carpet, pad, installation, labor for stairs, furniture moving and haul away of old carpet. Remember that different manufacturer's grades can't be compared. Warranties usually cover wear but not matting. Most carpets will never come under warranty coverage because of this exclusion as well as the exclusion of carpet installed in hallways and stairs, where wear is the greatest. Warranties are more of a marketing tool than a consumer protection and should only affect your decision accordingly.

The quality of the installation is important. A poorly installed carpet will never look as good nor will it last as long as a properly installed one. Unfortunately, many retailers contract out the installation and have little control over quality of installation. Retailers want you to be satisfied and so try to use only reliable installers. Ask your salesperson if they have more than one installation team and if they recommend one of them over the others. Even if the best team is booked up, you may be better off waiting for a spot on their calendar than taking an earlier date with another installer. Check with your local Better Business Bureau for complaints about your retailer. Often, complaints are a reflection of the installation quality than anything relating to the retailer themselves.

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