With all the talk about new carpet fibers, improvements to existing fibers, recyclability and sustainability what are you to believe? How much of this is marketing hype, how much is truth and most importantly what exactly is the difference?
There are four primary fibers used to make carpet they are Nylon, Polypropylene, Polyester and Wool. Let’s look at each one briefly.
Nylon is first since it is the most widely used fiber by about 65%. There are two types of nylon; nylon 6 and nylon 6,6. Most of the nylon used to manufacture carpet, especially if it is the mills brand, is type 6 nylon. Invista (bought DuPont fiber) and Ascend (bought Solutia) make nylon 6,6. Nylon 6,6 has a denser molecular structure. Nylon 6 dyes easily and will release color more easily. Topical treatments of different types of dye stuffs or solution dyeing will strengthen the colorfastness of type 6 nylon. More and more of the nylon used is BCF – Bulked Continuous Filament – think fishing line. Less and less is being spun – think wool.
Olefin or polypropylene has been the second most widely used fiber. It is less expensive, inherently stain resistant and less affected by moisture, in fact it is hydrophobic – it pushes water away. It is the least resilient fiber and it is oleophilic, which means it has an affinity for oil. This stuff is used to absorb oil when there’s a spill. All polypropylene is continuous filament and solution dyed. Most of it is used in loop pile construction such as Berber and lower grade commercial carpet and as outdoor carpet.
Polyester is being used more and more in two forms. PET most of which comes from recycled beverage bottles and PTT which is a new product. Triexta is PTT. Polyester is also inherently stain resistant. Any fiber that challenges dye systems will also challenge staining agents. Polyester back in the late 70’s and early 80’s and even more recently, had a bad reputation for “uglying out” quickly. The new polyesters which are processed better, more twist and heat set, perform extremely well. In fact PTT will actually outperform nylon as it has all of the characteristics of nylon and polyester rolled into one. The largest producer of polyester carpet is Mohawk both of recycled PET and Triexta PTT.
Wool is the oldest fiber used to make textile floor coverings. There’s a saying about wool that, “it’s like a beautiful woman, it grows old gracefully.” All the other fibers used for carpet are synthetic which means they are basically plastic. They can dull, scratch, abrade, melt, mat, crush and lose their crisp appearance. This doesn’t happen to wool. In fact much of the carpet in all the largest casinos in Las Vegas and high end hotels all over the world use wool for this reason. Actually the carpets for these locations are an 80% wool 20% nylon blend. The nylon bolsters the performance of the wool. Wool will also not melt when burned. It chars and the char can be scraped off simply by using your finger nail. Another reason it is the standard for casinos in Las Vegas as cigarette and cigar burns have no effect on it.
I’ve included a Quick Chart of fiber information which you can use as a simple reference for all the fibers used in carpet and rugs.