Let’s face it: walking into a carpet showroom is a daunting experience.
Whether you’re doing a full-scale remodel or swapping out carpet that’s seen better days, selecting carpet for your home is no small endeavor.
With seemingly endless options of colors, patterns, brands, it can be challenging to try to make the right decision, especially when you get conflicting information from each salesperson.
I’m here to help you make sense of the barrage of information out there, and give it to you straight.
Hi, I’m Amy Farnum, and I’ve been in the flooring industry for six years, with the last two years being under my own company, Inspired Design Inc, where I help homeowners just like you with big decisions just like this!
With this article, you’ll receive all the information you need to make an informed decision on your carpet project. You’ll learn about carpet’s basic components, which all directly relate to how a carpet is priced. You’ll learn many pros and cons of particular aspects of carpet, and sometimes we’ll even get a little scientific.
In this article, I’m going to cover a lot of information about carpet including:
The two main fiber types:
Faceweight - What is it and how it is useful?
Manufacturing details such as
Backing materials - What are they and why do they matter?
Stain-blocking coatings - What are they and why you should care?
Patterns - What to look for in a patterned carpet
Carpet Padding - Is the “best” pad always the right pad?
With this carpet buying guide, you’ll feel confident knowing your carpet purchase will be the right carpet for your home and lifestyle.
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Components of Carpet
What carpet is made of and all the details that go into it, influence everything from aesthetics, price and durability. But the three main factors that contribute to what makes one carpet different from an other are:
Because each of these is crucial to understanding how the carpet will perform, it's durability, and it's price point, let's go into detail on each one.
Types of Fiber in Carpet
Let’s first define what fiber and yarn means when it relates to carpet.
Much like yarn for knitting, carpet fibers are twisted together to make carpet yarn. What the yarn is made of, is the fiber. If we stick with the analogy of knitting, it’s like buying cotton yarn vs. alpaca yarn.
What type of fiber you select, has a vast impact on the use, durability, performance and price of the carpet.
There are basically two types of fibers for carpet that I’ll be going into detail here: nylon and polyester.
Let me note that there are other fiber types of carpet fiber such as wool, jute, etc. You will also find branded yarn fibers like Smartstrand Triexta or Stainmaster Nylon.
However, the most common carpet fibers that you will come across, however, are polyester and nylon. So for that reason, I’ll stick with those for this article.
Polyester is a very soft carpet fiber. This is especially the case if you have a higher-end polyester. I mean, it is luxuriously soft.
If you're specifically looking for something soft to wiggle your toes in, polyester carpet is absolutely a great choice.
It also resists staining well. Anything that is organic in matter that is spilled, tends to be released from polyester carpet very easily.
That means red wine spills, dirt, and even blood (hey, kids get nosebleeds, so it’s worth mentioning!) get released from polyester fairly easily.
However, there is one caveat to this: polyester doesn't release oils.
If you've ever had a polyester shirt (I wear them for working out or golfing, for example),and you accidentally have a tiny amount of grease drip from food onto your shirt, well, guess what? That grease (oil) stain is never coming out of that polyester shirt. This is a very similar situation to what happens with polyester carpet.
That being said, a lot of manufacturers have developed a coating they put on their carpet to help prevent this from happening.
With Shaw Flooring carpet, they have what is called R2X coating on all of their carpets, which creates a hydrostatic topcoat. Basically, it tends to make spills stay on top of the carpet, and it takes some time before gravity takes hold and the liquid seeps in. This is great because it allows you to have a minute to go get a towel and sop things up while the liquid rests on top of your carpet before sinking in.
Lastly, polyester carpet is not always going to be the most durable option. Think of it this way: soft does not mean durable. (If you do get a very dense polyester, that means it's going to not fold over, and, therefore, it actually will be a lot more durable. But more on that later.)
The reason that polyester carpet is so soft is because of its molecular structure. Yay science! 🤓
If you look at the structure of polyester underneath a microscope, all the molecules are stacked in a straight line. This creates a much smoother feel because at it’s elemental foundation, the material is all stacked straight.
It's that straight-stack molecular structure that is also making it not as durable and tend to fold over, though. If that structure gets bent, there will be a permanent kink in it. Because of this, polyester is more prone to crushing and matting down.
Nylon is the other main carpet fiber you’ll find out there. This is far more durable than polyester, however, it also tends to feel more rough. They've done a really good job at Shaw making nylon carpet that is softer (called Anso Nylon), but let me tell you a little bit why nylon in general tends to be more durable in the long run over a polyester.
I like science, so let’s go back to looking at our carpet samples underneath a microscope.
Nylon fiber is going to have a completely different shape. Its structure resembles more of a spiral or a spring shape. And just like a spring, when it something presses down on it, it wants to bounce back up. When it gets stepped on, it wants to bounce back. Nylon’s natural tendency is to want to push up, which is different than the polyester that once bent, it stays bent.
In your carpet shopping experience, you may hear someone speak of Smartstrand Triexta or Stainmaster Nylon. Basically, these are branded types of polyester and nylon, respectively.
The way that things are going with manufacturers’ difficulty to access to raw materials, we're seeing more and more manufacturers developing their own branded fibers. For the most part, you are really getting very similar qualities out of each of these branded carpets because elementally they are either a polyester or nylon.
For instance, Smartstrand Triexta is branded as a separate carpet fiber developed by Mohawk. And technically they can say it is a different fiber because molecularly is slightly different.
It looks very similar to a polyester fiber which is all in a straight line, however it zigzags back and forth. I’ve often heard that Smartstrand Triexta is a polyester with an extra kink in it. Still, not the full shape of a spring structure like nylon is, however it does have more bounce-back capability than a regular polyester.
Recently, the brand, Stainmaster, was bought by Lowes Home Improvement Stores. So the only time you'll see the Stainmaster brand going forward is by buying carpet at Lowe's.
Even so, it’s worth mentioning a little about it because it is a well-known brand. What Stainmaster did was add a couple more molecules to the structure of a nylon fiber which made it stronger than regular nylon. However, it is still the same spiral structure that you see in nylon. It also has the same capabilities as far as stain resistance as other nylons.
Because these brands are mostly just that–brands–I tend to talk about carpet fibers as they are elementally rather than the specific brand.
Every brand is going to slap on their own warranties, but fundamentally, if the carpet is made from polyester, it’s a polyester carpet. Same with nylon.
Manufacturers probably don’t want me saying that because they try to differentiate themselves from the competition, but that's genuinely the way I see it.
Now that we’ve covered fiber type, let’s delve into how much of that fiber material goes into each carpet. The amount of fiber (whichever fiber it is) that goes into a carpet is called faceweight.
Imagine sheering a carpet like you would sheer wool from a sheep. (Okay, probably most of us haven’t done this, but maybe you did your kid's hair during the pandemic! You get the idea!)
The amount of actual fiber that is contained within one square yard of carpet is the faceweight. Basically, everything other than the backing is what constitutes the faceweight of carpet. (Don’t worry–I’ll be diving into carpet backing further along in this article.)
If you've ever spoken to somebody in the carpet sales you might have come across somebody saying, “The higher the faceweight, the better the carpet.”
Now, this is partially true, but only to a point.
Lower faceweights are around 25 oz, and I've seen as high as 120 oz. (It was a super awesome, retro shag carpet if you’re curious!)
In order to get a FHA loan on your house, the minimum faceweight requirement for a carpet is 25 oz. This is by no means a good carpet.
25 oz. carpet will not last for any decent amount of time. Does it satisfy the necessary requirement needed for FHA for having your floor covered? Yes...just don’t expect it to hold up for very long.
For a family of four, I wouldn’t expect a minimal carpet to last longer than 3-5 years without major signs of wear and tear.
Typically, I recommend between a 40-60 oz faceweight for normal living conditions. This gives most homeowners the ability to not think of replacing their carpet any time soon.
The reason for this is because somewhere around the 50 oz mark, you can't push the carpet fibers to be more compact and have them still attached to the backing.
In order to get a higher faceweight then, you end up with a taller carpet. (Hello, shag!)
What happens when you have taller carpet?
You tend to have the carpet begin to layover when it is walked on. This means it's more prone to matting and crushing even with normal use.
So the faceweight doesn't always dictate a higher density, but being within that 40-60 oz range tends to have the best results.
Faceweight is not density, just to be clear. The higher the faceweight, the more in volume it has grown because the carpet is growing taller as well. There’s only so many strands of yarn you can pack into an area to be a dense carpet.
Beyond that point, a higher faceweight means that you just have taller carpet. But that doesn’t mean it’s any more dense.
Briefly going back to what we learned about polyester. To get more life out of your carpet, I typically recommend going 50+ oz in faceweight with a polyester because, like I mentioned, polyester does have a little bit more tendency to permanently crush versus a nylon has the ability to spring back up.
That being said, the overall feel of your carpet does change pretty dramatically within that 40-60 oz faceweight range. If you're wanting a very plush feel, that 60 oz is going to feel amazing.
Imagine the carpet strands are like trees in the forest. If the trees are farther apart, there’s more room for them to fall down and to start a domino effect. On the other hand, if the trees are tightly packed in, they bolster each other up, giving the trees more resistance to stay up as a whole. Same goes for carpet.
It’s been my experience that somewhere between the 40 - 60 oz. faceweight, whether it's polyester or nylon tends to have the best overall density and therefore hold up the best to traffic.
It also tends to have the best overall value for many people.
The more faceweight a carpet has (with all other factors being equal), the more the carpet is going to cost.
Manufacturing details, that is.
While fiber type and faceweight play the biggest role in the carpet’s overall price, it’s important to discuss a few manufacturing details that also have an influence:
...the good, the bad and the waterproof.
I briefly mentioned carpet backing in the last section. This is one facet of carpet where there are telltale signs of good (or poor) carpet manufacturing.
If you look at the underside of the carpet, you'll often see a web or a grid-like structure. This is the backing. This is what all of the yarn is attached to. Often, you'll notice on cheaper carpet that the backing is brown, and the mid-range ones are white.
The white on the backing is typically that color, because the white color you’re seeing is actually glue.
The more glue holding your carpet together, the better.
Backings that are brown in color, don't have a lot of glue holding it together, and it will start to pull apart more easily.
There are also other types of backing that are even better than the white glue kind. One of those is a soft back. Which,as the name suggests, it’s soft, typically made out of a felt-like material.
The backing (underside of the carpet) will look like a white mesh or fabric, where the yarn is interwoven into the fabric back itself.
The benefit of this over the standard backing is that when tugged upon (which basically happens every time you step on your carpet), it's not pulling at potential tearing points because it's all cohesively held together by one fibrous sheet.
Another benefit to the soft backing, especially with any type of new construction job or larger renovation, is that the soft back is less likely to scratch any newly painted walls or baseboards you may have in your house.
Carpet is often the last thing installed, and having a soft backing can be a good safeguard against scuffs during installation.
The other type of backing option, which is fairly new on the market, is a rubber backing.
This backing is a much denser backing that is 100% waterproof. The yarn is actually woven into the rubber backing and the rubber has solidified around it.
What a lot of people don't realize is that the stain tends to set into the backing more so than the carpet yarn itself.
Think about that for a moment.
This means you think you've cleaned a stain in your carpet because it looks fine, but then the next day the stain has a wicked up because it had soaked into the backing. Who hasn’t dealt with this never-ending battle?
A rubber coated backing prevents headache because no spill or stain can seep into rubber.
It makes it so that when you clean your carpet, you're actually cleaning your carpet! (What a concept!) And you’re not trying to also clean the backing, which is virtually impossible.
This is really beneficial for people who have young kids or pets because it makes any type of spill or accident very easily cleanable.
Stain-blocking Carpet Coatings
Stain-blocking coatings is a topic I briefly mentioned with R2X from Shaw being one of my favorites. The reason I like this one is because instead of it being a top coat that is sprayed on the surface, the entire carpet is covered in it.
Once a Shaw carpet is fully made, it is sent through huge containers of the R2X, which means that the entirety of the carpet yarn and even the backing get this stain-blocking coating.
This is in contrast to the well-known Scotch-Guard, which is a topical spray. Topical sprays mean that it is only is applied to the surface. This doesn’t penetrate to the backing.
Also, Scotch-Guard does wear off over time and does need to be reapplied, so there is additional cost for this future maintenance.
Because of this, if a stain-blocking coating is a feature you want, be sure to ask if the coating is topical and if it requires any additional upkeep.
Oh my, are there a lot of patterns out there!
If a carpet salesperson is talking to you about a berber, or a cut and loop carpet, they’re just using flooring terminology that describes a patterned carpet.
Berber carpet is one that is made of full loops (also simply referred to as loop carpet), meaning none of the yarn is cut at the top and has a knotted-like look to it.
A tightly constructed loop in a berber is one of the most durable carpets out there. This is often what you find in commercial carpet applications.
In a loop or berber carpet, the carpet yarn is woven through on a continuous run.
This is important if you are a pet owner.
If your cat makes a habit of pawing at the carpet like a scratching post, the yarn will pull out in long continuous strands.
If your dog’s nail snags on a loop, the loop will continue pulling out like the unraveling of a knit sweater.
If you catch the snag fast, you can always clip and tuck the ends. But if you don’t catch it before it pulls too much, you may have a section that is permanently destroyed. It’s something to keep in mind.
Cut and loop carpet is a combination of some looped strands, and some that are cut.
Depending on the construction of the carpet, this may mean that a snag from a dog’s nail wouldn't pull that long because there is already an end cut. This is a much better option in the pet nail scenario than a carpet that endlessly unravels.
Other patterned carpet can come from a regular cut-pile carpet, which is what most carpet is: uniformly cut height carpet. In this case, the height of the carpet is the same and without knots/loops and the colors itself create the pattern.
I could probably write a whole blog post on pattern carpet (and probably will in the future!), but for now those are the big terms you might come across with patterned carpet.
No ultimate carpet guide would be complete without talking about carpet padding.
I can't count the number of times that I’ve heard, “I want to make sure we get the best pad. It’s the pad that really matters, right?”
And I smile with, “Well...yes and no.”
This happens to be one of the biggest misconceptions in carpet, and I thoroughly love setting the record straight, so let’s dive into it.
Does carpet pad matter? Yes.
Is it the most important factor when deciding what carpet is right for you? No.
A terribly constructed carpet (ie: cheap polyester, minimal faceweight, brown backing) cannot be saved by a great pad. Period.
You would still be living on cheap carpet that doesn't hold up to stains, is going to crush and matt down, and it’s probably not super comfortable on bare feet.
Ultimately, junk carpet is still junk carpet no matter what type of pad you put underneath it.
It's also a great waste of money to spend a ton on pad when the the top piece that you'll be touching–the actual carpet–is not going to perform well for you.
Finding a balance between the carpet and pad is key.
If you're getting the best carpet out there, (meaning it's a great fiber with high density and better backing) you definitely could get “the best” pad.
Or, you could go with above average pad, and get a very similar feel and longevity out of your carpet.
Basic Pad vs. Better Pad
So what are the differences in basic pad versus the best pads out there?
First of all, carpet padding is going to be a maximum of ½ inch thick. Any thicker than that will void all your warranties on your carpet. So when we’re talking about what constitutes good pad, thicker does not mean better.
What we’re really talking about is what the pad is made of and how dense it is. (See any similarities here to carpet?)
Most carpet stores are going to start their base pricing with basic pad. This typically is padding that is around 7/16 of an inch made from rebond foam at a density of 6 lb.
Let’s break down that example into the three main factors of pad:
Thickness - 7/16 of an inch is almost to the maximum that's allowed
Material - Rebond foam is small foam pieces that have been glued together
Density - 6 lb. means that one square yard of this pad weighs 6 lb.
Typically for my clients I recommend going with at least an 8 lb pad. In fact, I don't even sell a 6 lb. pad because I know it's not going to hold up over the long term!
Also, there's barely any cost difference, so I automatically include 8 lb. pad in all my carpet pricing to provide better value.
If you feel a 6 lb pad next to an 8 lb you will feel a significant difference in the density. (I mean, it is 33% denser afterall.)
I recommend stepping on them to really test it out if possible. Having a denser padding under your carpet will ensure that the carpet doesn't get bottomed out.
Bottoming out happens when the pad has lost all its ability to bounce back up and provide any support for the carpet.
When that happens, it's your carpet that takes the brunt of all the weight put on it and wears more easily. An 8 lb. pad will hold up longer than a 6 lb. because it is structurally more dense and, therefore, stronger.
Beyond 8 lb. pad, typically the next step up in the carpet pad hierarchy is selecting one made from a different material.
The higher-end options for carpet pad typically include memory foam.
Similar to a memory foam mattress, it's going to have that lightness, that softer, sinking in feeling. If you want that walking on clouds feel, then memory foam is it.
Do keep in mind, though, as the name suggests, memory foam does have a memory. This means in high traffic areas, you may find that it shows wear more than a regular 8 lb rebond pad would.
If you’re following along the themes of material construction and density, you’re probably thinking some of the best pad out there is a high-density memory foam pad.
And you’re right!
You get the best of both worlds with high density memory foam carpet padding.
You get the cloud-like feeling under your feet, but you also get a more stable structure so it will hold up better over the long-term.
After reading this, you might be saying, “That sounds great! I definitely want the best pad available.” And trust me, you aren’t alone!
But most people don’t end up buying “the best” pad in the end, and here’s why:
Top-of-the-line carpet pad is expensive.
Expect the cost of the pad itself to double or triple. Easily. Luxuriously feeling carpet pad can withstand the test of time. Yes, it is amazing, but it will cost more.
If you're doing just a set of stairs, it probably won't amount to too much, but if you're doing your whole house, the cost for this upgrade does add up.
If cost isn't the biggest factor for you, then great! I highly recommend going with a dense memory foam. You're going to love it!
However, most people are looking to strike a balance between durability, aesthetics and cost. That's where I find most 8 lb. pads OR intro memory foam pads to be the perfect option.
Vapor Barriers on Pads
Should you get a vapor barrier on your carpet pad?
Let me explain what it is and see if it sounds like a good idea for you.
Vapor barriers are a thin, waterproof layer attached to the pad, and they are installed with the vapor barrier up so that any spills that may happen on your carpet don't seep down into your pad.
Again, a lot of stains can be difficult to get up when you can't fully access all of the spill. This means a pad that has a vapor barrier that stops spills from seeping into the pad can make cleanup a lot easier. It also means that the pad won’t be holding on to any of those spills or accidents, a.k.a. bacteria.
The only time that I don't recommend getting a vapor barrier on the pad is if you have a rubber backing on your carpet already.
It might be a bit overkill.
As far as spills go a rubber backing is the best route. But not all carpet is available with that backing so a vapor barrier on the pad is a fantastic option for spill protection.
Throughout this article, we discussed:
the two main fiber types: nylon and polyester and how they differ from each other
described what faceweight is and how that affects density and durability of a carpet
manufacturing details that play a role in determining a carpet’s performance and price
and went through what makes up good (and better) carpet padding.
By giving you this information, it allows you to make sense of all the features of carpet and the factors that play a role in how well a carpet will perform, as well as how carpet is priced.
Whether or not a carpet is “good” comes down to how well it suits you, your lifestyle, and your budget.
And remember, no salesperson can tell you what is right for you. By having this information, you have the knowledge to make an educated decision yourself.
Best wishes to you on your carpet journey! You've got this!
Stay well and be inspired,
Hi, I'm Amy!
I'm a knowledge seeker, dog parent, nature lover, and a big fan of bubbly water. I'm also the owner of Inspired Design Inc, an biophilic interior design and flooring company in Kansas City. I help homeowners wade through the many decisions needed while renovating their homes, including how to add more natural elements into the space. Let's find the perfect solutions so you can finally be living in the home you've been dreaming of.
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