Everything you need to know about the 5 main types of residential carpet fibres from an opinionated carpet cleaning specialist with decades of experience.
Most of the carpet produced in North America contains one of five primary pile fibres: nylon, polyester, polypropylene (olefin), triexta, and wool. Each fibre type offers somewhat different attributes in durability, abrasion resistance, texture retention, stain and soil resistance, colorfastness, and ease of cleaning. Here are our observations, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Nylon residential carpet fibres
Nylon is the most durable and resilient of all synthetic residential carpet fibres. It offers excellent abrasion resistance and colorfastness. Also, nylon responds beautifully to cleaning. We still come across third-generation nylon from the 1970s. It still looks great after cleaning!
Today, two types of nylon used in carpeting: type 6 and 6,6 (so named for the double strands of carbon atoms it contains). While both are nylon, their molecular structure is different from one another. However, from a cleaning point of view, they are the same.
Like wool, stain-resist nylon carpets need to be cleaned with care so as not to cause permanent damage to the factory protective stain-resist treatment. The damage will not be visible, but it will no longer have the intended stain resistance. The Achilles heel of nylon is synthetic dyes often found in energy drinks and kids’ drinks and snacks. These dyes are similar to carpet dyes and will enter the dye site of the nylon fibre.
Triexta residential carpet fibres
Triexta is the newest of all synthetic residential carpet fibres. In 2009, Dupont came out with triexta, made from PTT, a synthetic material. As the name suggests, it shares many characteristics with polyester (PET). However, triexta has several differences in its chemical makeup, so it is a new subclass of polyester.
It is also known as Sorona, partially made from renewable corn sugar (up to 37%) and SmartStrand. Mohawk SmartStrand carpet comes with excellent warranties similar to nylon.
Triexta has a very soft feel. Mohawk has also come out with SmartStrand Silk. It has thinner strands of SmartStrand to create a super soft and luxurious feel. However, it requires special care and consideration. Even a regular vacuum can cause damage to this carpet.
Triexta carpet’s stain resistance is within the fibre itself, not a coating. That is why it has better stain resistance than nylon. Unfortunately, Triexta shares some of the weaknesses of polyester. Triexta is oleophilic (oil-loving) like polyester carpets.
We clean triexta carpet the same as nylon. From a carpet cleaner’s perspective, it is more durable and resilient than polyester carpet but not nearly as good as nylon. For us, it’s still too early to tell if it lives up to its claims. Reports and user experience are pretty much all over the board. Just don’t believe the marketing that it is the best thing since nylon. It’s not.
Polyester residential carpet fibres
Polyester is the worst of all residential carpet fibres. It is a carpet cleaner’s nightmare! While it has excellent colourfastness and is resistant to water-soluble stains, it is much less resilient and has very poor abrasion-resistant. The fibres will lie flat, and traffic lanes will look worn. Cleaning will not help restore the pile.
They make polyester from PET, adopted from recycled plastic containers. PET is not abrasion-resistant. PET is the same type of plastic used to make water or drink bottles. When a water bottle is scuffed or scraped, you will notice that it loses its transparency. It becomes dull and looks more white or grey. That’s what happens to your polyester carpet. You will see grey or dark patterns in the carpet’s traffic lanes. Professional cleaning cannot reverse or repair this damage.
In addition, polyester is oleophilic like olefin, meaning it has an affinity for oils. So it will attract and soak up the oils and make those traffic lanes look even worse. But that is not all! Polyester has very poor resilience (the ability to bounce back after being crushed), so they crimp the fibres to help with this. This extreme crimping traps dust and fibres from socks and clothing. They get embedded into the polyester fibres. Cleaning has limited success with this problem.
When we clean polyester carpets, we use increased mechanical agitation and other tricks we have learned from experience to get the best results. The good news is that polyester’s inherent stain resistance is excellent, so it is easy to remove spots like coffee, tea, red wine and pet stains. While polyester carpet is a losing battle appearance-wise, deep cleaning is essential to keep your home healthy.
Olefin residential carpet fibres
Olefin is the workhorse of all residential carpet fibres. Olefin (polypropylene) carpet resists fading, generates low levels of static electricity and is chemical, moisture and stain resistant. It is also favourable priced. Many rentals apartments have olefin berber. It is a tough carpet.
Olefin is oleophilic, meaning it has an affinity for oils. That’s why you see those yellow traffic lanes develop. This yellowing is hard to remove and can even be permanent in extreme situations. Due to this oil-loving characteristic and the fact that olefin is water and chemical-resistant, it can be challenging to clean.
Residential olefin Berber presents some additional challenges when cleaning. Berber loop piles create an uneven surface. Traditional hot water extraction or steam cleaning wands will chatter (skip and jump) over the carpet resulting in insufficient extraction. As olefin resists water (it’s not absorbent), the cleaning solution follows the yarn shaft right down to the backing of the carpet, resulting in overwetting. As the carpet dries, the dirty water evaporates and wicks up to the surface turning the carpet ugly.
Over-wetting olefin berber will also cause musty, mildewy odours. Not a very pleasant experience and unsanitary to say the least!
Wool residential carpet fibres
Wool is the most expensive of all residential carpet fibres. Wool carpet is naturally beautiful, and ages gracefully. Wool broadloom (wall-to-wall) represents less than one percent of the fibre used to make carpets today. Yet, for many, it is viewed as the premier fibre. Wool carpet is durable and has inherent resilience. Wool carpet is the natural choice for those who value style, quality, indoor air quality (wool is naturally low-VOC carpet) and sustainability.
Wool carpets need to be cleaned with care so as not to cause permanent damage. Alway use a qualified WoolSafe® Approved Carpet Cleaning Company. Non-approved WoolSafe® carpet cleaning solutions can damage this protective membrane. The carpet damage may not be visible, but it will no longer have the natural ability to resist soil and water. This video shows the difference between using WoolSafe® Approved products and not.
While we love wool carpets and cleaning them, we do not recommend wool carpets if you have dogs. Dog accidents can permanently bleach or discolour wool carpets. Also, many enzymes and strong oxidizers like hydrogen peroxide will damage the wool, making pet stain removal difficult.
Spots, Stains and Residential Carpet Fibres
You will notice that each of the five residential carpet fibres we discussed offer varying degrees of stain and soil resistance. It is important to understand that there is no stain-proof carpet.
Synthetic carpet manufacturers use one of two types of protective treatments. The first is soil treatments that retard soiling by coating the carpet fibres with a low-surface energy polymer. This coating functions by not allowing soils to stick to the fibre surface.
The second type of protective treatment used by carpet manufacturers is stain-resist treatments. They act like colourless dyes that block or provide a barrier against many common food stains.
The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Carpet Primer states: “It should be noted, however, that these treatments are enhancements; they do not make the carpet stain-proof. For example, carpet treated with a stain-resistant finish is still subject to stains if the spot is not removed promptly and properly. Chemical treatments are not a substitute for the preventative measures of vacuuming and extraction cleaning.”
We hope you found everything you need to know about the 5 main types of residential carpet fibres.