Carpet Fiber Charisma
By Annette Callari, ASID; CMG
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about the nuts and bolts of carpeting—the fiber carpets are made from. Fiber technologies continue to evolve and amaze us as to performance. So I thought I’d put together a little refresher course on the different types of fibers available for you.
Although wool carpets have the longest history of use in carpets, nylon fiber carpets have been around for decades. They came into high fashion during the 1950’s when it was a luxury to have wall-to-wall carpeting. You have no idea how many hardwood floors went undercover for years with the advent of that trend. Manufacturers tried round fibers, triangular fibers, and then finally found that a rounded trilobal fiber was the best configuration for performance and soil-hiding.
Two types, Nylon 6.6 and Nylon 6, are typically used in carpet. Nylon can claim the ability to produce a stunning array of color harmonies; a luxurious soft “hand”, excellent resiliency, durability, abrasion resistance and texture retention. Just as importantly, consumers benefit from nylon’s significant resistance to stains and soils. As a matter of fact, it has become an expected feature for carpet to have superior stain resistant properties–and mills continue to deliver on those expectations. Solution-dyed nylon, in particular, has proven to offer excellent color fastness and increased stain ‘clean-ability’.
More recently, nylon fiber developments have focused on soft-handed luxury. Stainmaster Tactesse and Shaw/Anso Nylon’s Caress are leaders in soft-engineered carpets. At the same time, manufacturers have been attentive to sustainability and recyclable polymers–a significant direction that continues to gain momentum. In this instance, consumer consciousness is driving this direction of R & D, demanding responsible manufacturing and post-use accountability. Sustainability is a multi-faceted frontier and it will be extremely interesting to see where R & D takes fiber technologies over the next decade. Overall, when you weigh the advantages of nylon’s durability and resilience against other fiber types, it’s not surprising that nylon still claims the largest percentage of carpet sold in the United States.
It’s a fact that forward-thinking R & D is a necessity for mills to bring something unique to the marketplace. As a result, we have seen some creative fiber types emerge. Mohawk Carpet Mills introduced SmartStrand® carpet with DuPont™ Sorona® renewably sourced polymer about eight years ago. In a partnership with DuPont, this carpet offers fiber made with Bio-PDO™ (the key Sorona® ingredient, also known as TriextaÒ). SoronaÒ is produced from corn sugar. By utilizing this new ingredient, 37 percent of Sorona® is being made from renewable resources. The end result? A luxuriously soft carpet that offers durability and stain protection, while making less of an environmental impact. The Carpet and Rug Institute had this to say about TriextaÒ: “…Features include a luxurious soft “hand”, excellent colorfastness, bright colors, inherent and permanent stain resistance… durability, resistance to fading, clean-ability, texture retention and resiliency.”
Mohawk’s Karastan division features SmartStrandÒ products in their Color Choicesdisplay unit. Color is the key magnet attracting consumers to this display, but the “hand” of the carpet and the warranties that back SmartStrandÒ are the features that close the sale. Even though SmartStrandÒ is still in its infancy compared to nylon, it has made a strong impact in the marketplace.
It would be impossible to write about fiber types and not dedicate a paragraph toOlefin (polypropylene) carpets. Olefin has especially found its niche in the realm of commercial carpeting. Its versatility in styling and amazing colorations accounts for a big part of its popularity. Just as attractive is the competitive pricing olefin carpets offer. Turn key installations benefit from both the aesthetics and affordability. Olefin features include permanent resistance to water-based stains, colorfastness, and resistance to static electricity. It’s inherently resistant to moisture, making it the primary fiber used in indoor/outdoor carpets. We are seeing these well-styled carpets transitioning from the commercial world to residential, as consumers are embracing more tailored, well constructed styles.
Polyester carpets have always garnered mixed reviews. The luxurious hand and incredible face weights make this fiber type a strong draw. 70 oz., 80oz. and even 90 oz. face weights are not uncommon, and compared to their nylon counterparts, these hefty polyester carpets are very reasonably priced. Other attractive characteristics include inherent and permanent stain resistance, the ability to produce colors with superior clarity, good abrasion resistance, fade resistance, and clean-ability. Polyester does not have as good a reputation for abrasion resistance as nylon, but evolving technologies continue to deliver an ever-improving fiber.
Let’s turn the focus to wool. Wool carpets seem to have a unique status quotient all their own. This natural fiber brings luxury and performance to the floor in equal parts. Its features include a naturally soft hand, high bulk, good color options and inherent flame-retardant characteristics. That’s a credible menu of features for a fiber with the longest history of use in carpeting. The naturally low luster level of wool is a strong draw, and other fiber types do their best to emulate it.
Without a doubt, fiber selection ultimately affects carpet aesthetics and end-use performance. We, as consumers are the benefactors and owe manufacturers a vote of thanks. It’s their call as to which fiber types will perform best in certain constructions. So far, I’d say they are making very wise calls. We continue to see striking, well made carpets spicing up the floor covering market, pairing exactly the right fiber with the right construction!