When comparing consumer products today with what we had to choose from just 10 years ago, it is obvious that technology has influenced, enhanced, and in some cases, revolutionized just about everything we buy.
Well, home interior goods–carpeting in particular–is no exception to technology’s influence. Let’s take a look at the building blocks of carpeting–the fiber systems–to see how they’ve evolved.
Nylon – Nylon is the most popular fiber (about 85% of residential carpets and 65% of all carpets are constructed in nylon). It has a long history of being a high-performance fiber, handling high-traffic areas with ease and retaining its original appearance longer than other fiber types. It’s durable, static resistant, maintains fiber height well, and resists staining, soiling and mildew. Nylon can be solution dyed during fiber extrusion (so dyes are built-in to the fiber), or dyed after carpet construction. Either way, today’s color chemistries offer excellent resistance to fading and retain color over the lifespan of the carpet.
Manufacturers have developed stain-blocker technologies that make nylon carpets easier to maintain and spot clean. Depending on the type of nylon used, carpets can be partially or totally recycled, and that may be the single most important evolutionary facet of today’s nylon carpets.
Stainmaster, Anso, and Wear-Dated are all leaders in branded nylon fiber production. Each of them has engineered a soft-handed fiber that continues to be in high demand by consumers (Tactesse and EcoSoft, Caress, and DuraSoft, respectively). Antron from Invista, Aquafil USA’s Econyl and Universal Fibers are other branded nylon products. Most mills also offer carpets made with unbranded nylon yarn.
Acyrlic – I have heard acrylic fiber referred to as “art wool” or man-made wool because it is an artificial fiber. This fiber is engineered to provide the look and feel of wool at a fraction of the cost. It resists static electricity, moisture, mildew, fading, crushing, staining and sun damage. However, acrylic fiber is not durable enough for high-traffic areas (it ranks lower in abrasion testing than most other fiber types). Nonetheless, huge strides have been made in improving the durability of acrylic fiber carpets. This is a popular fiber choice for designer area rugs.
DuPont was a major manufacturer of acrylic carpet fiber, but with its decreasing popularity and advent of other more resilient man-made fiber types, they ceased production in 1991. Acrylic fiber is still being used by many overseas manufacturers.
Olefin (polypropylene) is the next-best seller after nylon (about 80% of commercial carpet). These fibers are colorfast and combine polypropylene with dyes at the time of extrusion. Olefins perform well in low-profile loop carpets such as Berber constructions. It is strong (resisting abrasion), mildew resistant, moisture resistant, and easy to clean (in some cases even spilled bleach will not harm the carpet face). However, olefin can be susceptible to crushing, depending on pile height, face weight and construction. For turn-key commercial installations, olefin is often the fiber of choice because it is priced below nylon.
There are many mills that produce olefin carpets. It is important to note that olefin is a fast-growing segment of the carpet market mainly because of attractive pricing, especially in these challenging economic times.
Blends – Carpet manufacturers have explored every opportunity to offer performance and value to end users. So naturally, they have experimented with nylon/olefin and nylon/acrylic blends to get the best characteristics of both fiber types into one carpet. The nylon increases performance and durability. The secondary fiber contributes color and styling flexibilities, and also keeps the cost down. Blends produce hybrid products that offer solutions for both retailers and end-users.
Polyester – Polyester is luxurious, durable against abrasion, easy to clean and resistant to water-soluble stains. Polyester carpets cost less than wool and nylon, and are a good choice for lower-traffic rooms, since they tend to have less resilience than other fiber types. There are many styles now on the market that have significantly improved resilience. Since many are engineered from recycled plastic water bottles, polyester products offer a great green story as well.
Wool – Wool is the oldest, most revered of all carpet fibers. It’s all natural, luxurious, strong and stain resistant. It can retain static and moisture, however, and may have a tendency to fray (loop constructions especially) in high-traffic areas. Color lines are not as extensive as man-made fibers, but amazing constructions and high-tech dyes have brought to market wool carpets that are works of art. Priced higher than other fiber types, wool carpets represent luxury and continue to carve out a consistent niche in the marketplace.
Masland Carpets, Unique Carpets, Hibernia, and Couristan are just a few of the leaders in wool carpet introductions using British Wool or Wools of New Zealand branded fiber.
Hybrid Fibers – Some of the newer fiber technologies combine characteristics of the previously mentioned fiber systems with product enhancements of recycled content. Manufacturers are continuing to experiment with difference raw materials to produce high-performing, environmentally friendly fibers.
Mohawk’s SmartStrand carpet with DuPont Sorona renewably sourced polymer offers fiber made with Bio-PDO (the key Sorona ingredient), which is produced from corn sugar. By utilizing this ingredient, 37 percent of Sorona is being made from renewable resources. The end result is a luxuriously soft carpet that offers durability and stain protection, while also making less of an environmental impact. The fiber has also earned a separate FTC fiber classification (Triexta) and is the key component in SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona carpets.
Of course, no carpet is bulletproof and should never be oversold on the retail floor. We sometimes forget that carpet is a textile that we walk on. When you think of the beating carpet is expected to take and still look good year after year, we present manufacturers with a tall order. But, given the exceptional lineup of fiber choices available, consumers can now have it all---superior color, styling, ease of maintenance, good appearance retention and luxury underfoot.
Manufacturers have employed the best of science and technology to bring high-performing products to the marketplace. Still, this is just the beginning. What might be considered science fiction in the realm of carpet today, may become the amazing reality of tomorrow.