Knowing How Carpets Are Made Can Be Very Beneficial for Your Flooring Plans
A variety of carpet options
Knowing the different raw materials that make up various carpets helps you understand and evaluate their performance aspects: why particular carpets are easier to install, why some wear better, longer, and why some carpets are easier to care for and clean.
Plus, perhaps most significantly, understanding carpet manufacturing and materials makes you an educated customer. This will help you better determine carpet value and the beauty of the long-term investment you are about to make.
Think of Fiber as the DNA of Carpeting
Fiber is the chief material that a carpet is made of. Typically, over ninety percent of the entire carpet is made up of synthetic fiber. The rest may be a natural fiber, most popularly wool. First, let’s look at the most common synthetic fibers.
Synthetic fibers are typically made up of one of three materials: polypropylene, nylon, or polyester. All three are created by similar chemical processes using oil and natural gas.
Nylon is the Sheer Leader
Almost 75% of today’s carpet is made of nylon, and, compared to the other fibers below, it performs the best overall. Nylon is the leader in appearance retention, soil and stain resistance, fade and heat resistance, and color and styling. The highest performing nylon is Type 6.6, which has a tighter molecular construction, making the carpet more resistant to stain penetration.
The next most commonly used material in carpet manufacturing is polypropylene. Introduced in the late 1950s in Italy, polypropylene BCF has witnessed fast growth over the last twenty years, and today represents more than thirty-five percent of the total fibers used in the carpet manufacturing industry.
Polypropylene fiber is predominantly found in loop pile carpets and is most popularly used in commercial installations.
While polypropylene is not as highly resilient or resistant to abrasion as nylon, it is naturally stain and fade resistant. Its natural resistance to moisture, meaning that it must be dyed before being extruded, results in a more limited range of color options.
Polyester: Old Reliable has New Applications
The third type of material commonly used in carpet manufacturing is polyester. Polyester was introduced to the carpet industry in the mid-1960s and has been well accepted for its good stain and fade resistance, color clarity, and bulkiness. While not as resilient as nylon, polyester fiber carpet constructed with today’s new technologies can be a great performer.
The Pride of Ownership of Wool
The above three materials make up the majority of synthetic fibers. The other type of fiber used in carpet manufacture is wool fiber. While synthetic fibers are used in the manufacturing of most carpets today, the original fiber used in the making of carpet was wool.
The wool used in today’s carpet comes mainly from New Zealand, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. Since wool is a natural fiber, it varies in color from off-white to black, with many earthen tones between.
Berber, now considered a style of carpet that is flecked and typically looped, actually comes from the name of a group of North African sheepherders called the Berbers. The Berbers were known to produce very coarse wool, with characteristic color flecks in their yarns.
Although wool doesn’t resist abrasion and moisture as well as synthetics, it cleans well and ages gracefully.
Also, as a natural fiber, wool is the most ecological fiber used today. The choice of floor covering of kings and queens for centuries, wool carpet is the investment of a lifetime.
Industrial with a Magical Result, Carpet Making is a 3-Step Process
Step One: Tufting
There are basically three steps to manufacturing carpets. The first step is tufting. Tufting starts with the process of weaving the fiber into a primary backing material.
The primary backing material is typically made of woven polypropylene, and its purpose is to provide a base cloth to hold the yarn in place while tufting takes place.
The tufting machine looks like a large-scale version of a sewing machine. It has anywhere from 800 to 2000 needles working in concert to push and pull the yarn through the primary backing material.
The tufting machine sits about 12 feet wide, and as its needles penetrate the backing, a tiny hook called a looper grabs the yarn and holds it in place. This process results in what is called loop pile construction.
An Alternative Step May Occur at This Point
In some carpet styles, the looper then rocks back against a knife, where the small loops of yarn are cut, creating what we call a cut pile carpet. The length of these cut pieces of yarn is referred to as the pile height and is basically the distance between the looper and the primary backing.
These precision cuts are controlled by a computer and are sometimes programmed to cut only some of the loops. This method of selectively cutting called cut and loop construction creates a recognizable pattern on the surface of the carpet.
Now let’s pause in our construction story to identify and explain some terms and construction variables that you may want to know about while making your carpet purchase decision.
The pile height, or nap, is the length of the tuft measured from the primary backing to the yarn tips. Shorter pile heights tend to show less matting and crushing than longer pile heights.
The stitch rate of a carpet is measured in penetrations, or tufts, in a given length of carpet, usually an inch. The stitch rate is controlled by how fast the carpet is moved through the tufting machine. The stitch rate is a partial indicator of the density of the finished product—the greater the stitch rate, the denser the carpet.
The gauge of the tufting machine is measured by the number of needles measured across a given length, also generally in inches. The smaller the gauge means more needles and, ultimately, a denser carpet construction.
The twist is equally, if not more important, than the other components. The number of times the yarn ends are twisted together generally represents the performance of the carpet. The more twists in the yarn end equal greater performance. It is ultimately the “untwisting” of the yarns that leads to poor performance. So when looking at the twist, more and tighter is better.
Face weight is determined by the actual amount of fiber per square yard and is measured in ounces. Face weight is only one of the many criteria that determine the lasting beauty of the carpet.
Step Two: Dye Application
The dying process gives carpets a particular color
Now the carpet is taken through one of two dyeing processes. The first method of dyeing is called yarn dyeing, or sometimes pre-dyeing, where the color is applied to the yarn prior to tufting.
The advantages of all yarn dyeing methods include good side-by-side color consistency, large lot sizes, and uniformity.
The second method involves applying color to the yarn after the carpet has been tufted. This is the method by which most residential carpeting is dyed. There are several carpet dyeing methods in use, each producing a unique end result.
The first technique, often referred to as Beck, or batch dyeing, involves stitching the ends of the carpet together and then running the tufted carpet loop through large vats of dye and water for several hours. The Beck process is ideal for smaller production runs and heavier face weight products.
Continuous dyeing involves running the carpet through and under several dye heads that apply color directly to the carpet face via continual spraying or printing. This process is also used to create multicolor or patterned effects on the carpet.
Screen printing is another common method of carpet coloring, where color is applied through anywhere from one to as many as eight silk-screens.
Step Three: The Finishing Process
This process is typically a single production line that completes the final stage of the carpet construction.
In the finishing process, a coating of latex is applied to both the tufted, dyed carpet’s primary backing, and also to secondary backing. Secondary backing is typically made of woven synthetic polypropylene material. The two parts are fused together in a large heated press, where they are held firmly to preserve the backing’s stability.
Shearing, one of the final stages in the manufacture of carpet, is the process of removing the little loose ends and projecting fibers that might have been created during the tufting process. It also helps achieve the yarn tip definition of the finished carpet.
Finally, each carpet is carefully inspected for color uniformity and other manufacturing defects before it is rolled, wrapped, and shipped.
That’s our brief explanation of how carpet is made.
We hope that the information here leads you to a better understanding of how this beautiful and versatile product is created and how a well-made, well-chosen carpet can help make your home.
- Carpet flooring adds warmth and is soft under feet and easier on children’s knees.
- Carpet is much quieter than hard surface floors.
- Carpet comes in a wide variety of colors, tones, and hues.
- Carpet is easy to decorate with and offers many patterns and textures, allowing it to be the focus of the room or the perfect foundation for your furniture and accessories.
- Carpet can be installed in any room in your home, and requires little or no subfloor prep, unlike many hard surface installations.
- Carpet is an excellent value.