Nylon has been the dominant fiber used in carpet, both residential and commercial, for several decades. There have been fluctuations over the years where nylon, polyester and polypropylene have gained and lost share. Wool, which only occupies 2% or less of the market, is a factor in high end goods within the luxury market and in rugs. Wool is also used extensively in the hospitality market in four and five star rated hotels. The use of wool in carpet has actually increased worldwide due to the rapid development of the world’s economies. In the commercial market nylon is still king with a proven track record. The dominance of nylon in the commercial market is not going to change any time soon. The major changes in fiber share, configuration, coloration and sustainability are occurring in the residential market.
Fiber Market Share:
The demand for nylon chemistry worldwide has strained the supply. (All synthetic fiber is a thermoplastic with oil in some form as the primary source). Nylon today is a difficult commodity to source and receive in a timely manner. This has extended production times and backlogs, on commercial carpet especially, to as long as 10 weeks. As demand for commercial carpet increases and that is definitely happening today, the problem now becomes getting the carpet to the end user in a timely manner. This is causing fits of frustration in the industry. Supply and demand is also driving up the cost of nylon for residential carpet. In the residential market this bodes well for polyester. It is more readily available and has inherent attributes which make it more resistant to staining and color loss both important factors in carpet performance and marketing. When twisted adequately it will also perform extremely well. The extrusion and processing capacity for polyester has increased exponentially. There are those in the industry who’ve had the foresight to see the value of polyester versus nylon and are capitalizing on it. For a period of time polyester’s share was at the expense of polypropylene. However, it is now eating into the market share of nylon. The supply and demand factor for polyester is less skewed. Lessons learned in the past relative to poor performance of polyester, particularly matting and crushing, have been greatly overcome by properly twisting and heat setting the yarn. This lesson was learned and perfected decades ago by JPS or J. P. Stevens Carpet Company when they had the highest performing polyester on the market simply because of the way they twisted and heat set the yarn. Polyester is the most widely used synthetic fiber in the world mostly because of its use in clothing and other textile products.
More carpet fiber is being used or produced in continuous filament yarn as opposed to staple yarn. The primary reason for this is because continuous filament fiber is easier and less costly to produce. The key word is “continuous”. Any continuous process in manufacturing carpet is less expensive than a batch or step by step process. Staple yarn production – a step by step process – requires extrusion of the fiber, cutting, blending, drawing, spinning and heat setting. Continuous filament or BCF (bulked continuous filament) is extruded, crimped, wound and packaged at the extrusion machine. If heat set, this occurs on a continuous range. So, off the extruder any fiber can be made into a loop pile carpet. For various styles, primarily cut pile, it could require twisting and heat setting or possibly another process such as dyeing if not solution dyed.
Most polyester used in carpet today is solution dyed. Solution dyeing puts the color in when the fiber is being extruded so it is an integral part of the fiber. We’ll comment more on this when we get to sustainability.
Much of the commercial carpet used is solution dyed nylon which means the color is added with a pigment during the extrusion process. Polyester carpet is also being solution dyed for the residential market. Polyester is inherently a more colorfast fiber; it requires more chemistry to dye to color it with wet processes. Solution dyeing polyester is also done with pigments, much the same as solution dyeing nylon or polypropylene. The significance of solution dyeing is that it makes the fiber more colorfast and resistant to atmospheric color compromise such as UV light, Ozone and Oxides of Nitrogen. Solution dyeing also makes fiber more inherently stain resistant. Polyester is also less susceptible to stain than nylon head to head. This is another advantage of polyester over nylon.
Much of the polyester used in carpet (PET) is sourced from recycled beverage containers so the carpet industry uses the majority of this cast off product. Almost all of this polyester is solution dyed. Triexta (PET) is a newer form of polyester which actually possesses attributes of polyester and nylon, is made from bio based materials and is mostly dyed with aqueous (water) based dye systems.
With all the attributes of polyester, sourcing, increased performance and additions of bio based resources coupled with the carpet industries ability to continually enhance the performance of the fiber, polyester will continue to increase share in the residential market. It has also begun making inroads in the commercial carpet market as well with the triexta program.