Carpet options buying guide

The basics of buying a wall-to-wall carpet.
 
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  • Updated:1 Jul 2008
 

01 .Introduction

Carpet

In brief

  • No one material or style is better than another overall
  • What's best for you depends on where the carpet will be, who will be using it, how much traffic it will get, and the size of your budget.
  • Good-quality nylon can now mimic the luxurious look of wool, with the addition of stain resistance.
  • Don't buy a new carpet without also buying new underlay.

Buying the wrong carpet can be a costly mistake if you don’t choose wisely. This guide will arm you with all the info you need before you take the plunge.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Why carpet?

Carpet is versatile, keeps your home cooler in summer and warmer and winter, is slip-free (particularly beneficial for the elderly), provides a quieter indoor environment and is relatively easy to maintain. The jury’s out, but there is also some evidence to suggest that it helps allergy sufferers by trapping dust mites (see allergies).

What’s the cost?

Carpet is usually priced by the broadloom metre, which is 1 m x 3.66 m. Remember to convert to square metres when comparing carpet prices to other floor coverings, such as tiles or timber.

One retailer we spoke to said that a nylon carpet can range from $125 up to $300 per broadloom metre, wool carpets can range from $140 to $500 and polypropylene carpets from $90 to $180.

No one carpet fibre is inherently ‘better’ than any other. Each fibre comes in a variety of qualities and price ranges. The most important point is to choose a fibre, style and construction to suit your lifestyle and budget, that’s suitable for the room in which it will be placed.

What about colour?

Carpet comes in every colour and pattern imaginable. When choosing a colour, ask yourself — do you want a natural colour that blends in, or do you want a vibrant colour that reflects your personal style?

  • Lighter colours are great for small rooms as they will make it seem larger, but they will show stains more readily than darker shades.
  • Dark colours are prone to show lint.
  • Cool greens and blues will provide a calming effect.
  • Reds yellows and browns will warm up a room.
 
 

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  • Density refers to the amount of pile yarn in the carpet and how close the tufts are to one another and generally, the denser, the better. Check the density by bending the carpet sample in a U shape with the tufts facing out. The less carpet backing you see, the more dense the carpet. Bedroom
  • To help you there are carpet classification scheme labels on the back of carpet samples, giving information on their durability and suitability to different locations (see Carpet classifications).
  • Be aware that cheap carpets that will look scruffy within a few years — it’s worth investing in a fibre that will last.
  • Match the wear rating — medium, heavy, or extra heavy — to the area that you will be carpeting. Stairs will need extra-heavy carpeting as they take more wear and tear.
  • Take samples home and check them in each room with different lighting. Be aware that carpet can show minor colour variations from the sample in the shop or minor variations between production runs, but these shouldn’t be too obvious.
  • Always make sure carpet installation is the last redecorating job you do after wallpapering, painting or construction.
  • Protect your carpet by placing furniture caps under the legs of heavy furniture.
  • Move furniture around from time to time (or even just move it a few centimetres) to prevent uneven wear.

Care and maintenance

It may not look overly dirty, but it’s important to vacuum your carpet at least once a week, as the removal of soil will reduce the abrasive forces on the pile fibre, increasing its life and making it more hygenic for your family.
Pillow and teddy
To prevent staining it’s necessary to spot clean immediately after a spillage, with the appropriate chemical for both the type of carpet you have and the type of stain - check with the manufacturer or a qualified carpet cleaner.

Carpets should be hot-water extracted (steam cleaned) every 1-2 years and can be maintenance cleaned (dry cleaned) in the interim. For more on carpet cleaning, see Carpet cleaning.

Carpet should last, on average, for more than ten years, but it can depend on many factors such as usage, the quality of the carpet and how it’s maintained. Some good-quality carpets that are well-cared for can last a lot longer.

Wool

Wool carpets remain a favourite for their warmth, luxurious feel and durability. Generally, wool is more expensive than other fibres, but price depends on the quality and construction of the carpet. Wool is often blended with other fibres, such as nylon (see Blends).

Good points

  • Wool has excellent resilience, so it recovers well from crushing and retains it appearance.
  • It resists liquid-based spillages and releases dirt easily due to the unique structure of wool fibre.
  • A good-quality wool carpet should outlast any other type.

Bad points

  • Unlike nylon, wool can’t be treated for stain resistance, therefore spillages need to be attended to immediately.
  • It’s generally worth spending a little more on wool — the experts we spoke to agreed that cheap wool carpets should be avoided as the poorer-quality wool yarns are likely to pill.

Where to use

  • Living areas where appearance is important.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene is a synthetic fibre, popular for its low price and durability.

Good points

  • It’s a lot less expensive than wool or nylon.
  • It’s colourfast and durable and resists water-based stains and mildew.

Bad points

  • It’s more likely to show up soil marks than some other fibres, especially grease.
  • It has a rougher feel and cheaper look than other fibres.
  • It will wear out a lot sooner than other fibres.
  • When choosing polypropylene, make sure you buy loop pile, as the pile flattens easily (see Cut or loop?).

Where to use

  • Rental properties, playrooms and garages — or for those who are on a budget.

Nylon

You might remember the cheap and shiny nylon carpets of old, but improvements over the past decade have made nylon the market dominator. The biggest advance in nylon in recent years is the expansion of solution-dyed nylon in the residential market. In solution-dyed carpets, colour is added to the fibre during production, rather than applied to the surface afterwards, meaning it’s more colourfast against cleaning and sunlight. It’s very stain-resistant and stubborn spots can be removed with bleach-based solutions without damaging the carpet’s colour.

Good points

  • Nylon is a tough and durable man-made fibre.
  • It resists mildew and insect damage.
  • Many of the better-quality nylons mimic the luxurious look of wool with added stain resistance.

Bad points

  • Make sure you avoid cheap brands of nylon, as they can flatten and matt rapidly and may also have problems with static electricity.
  • The range of solution-dyed nylon is still fairly limited but increasing all the time.

Where to use

  • High-traffic areas for families with children and/or pets as you can get stains out of it easily.

Blends

The luxurious Axminster and Wilton carpets use an 80/20 wool/nylon blend.

Good points

  • This blend has the same quality and durability as pure wool.
  • These carpets are known as woven because the individual threads are woven into the backing, rather than stitched as with the regular tufted carpets, which makes them extremely durable.

Bad points

  • 50/50 wool/nylon blends as they can be difficult to clean, as stain-resistance can’t be added to the nylon when it’s blended. These blends also tend to use poorer-quality wool yarn that will pill.

Loop pile

  • These carpets are made up of individual strands of yarn pulled through the carpet backing twice to create a small loop.
  • Loops can be all the same height (level loop pile) or two or three different heights (multi-level or modulated loop pile), to create a pattern.
  • Carpets with short level loop pile are suited to high-traffic areas and are comparatively easy to maintain.
  • Multi-level loop pile gives a more textured appearance and is becoming increasingly popular.
  • Loop pile tends to give a more casual look and is less susceptible to footprint marks and shading (the appearance of irregular light and dark areas) than cut-pile carpets. 
  • Popular loop styles include:
    • Berber carpets, which have thick yarns tufted into chunky loop tufts. They’re usually in earth tones with a ‘flecked’ appearance — excellent for hiding stains.
    • Sisal-style/cord carpets have tighter loops than berbers, creating a stiffer feel. The loop lines can be either all the same height or alternating heights. These carpets are good for high-traffic areas.

    Level loop pile Multi level loop pile

        

     

     

     

      Level loop pile               Multi level loop pile      

    Cut pile

    In cut pile carpets the loops are cut at the top, leaving tufts of yarn that stand straight up. Cut pile has a more luxurious, formal look than loop pile.

    Popular cut styles include:

    • Velvet/ plush carpets, which are smooth, soft and elegant. The carpet pile is cut several times to create a velvety sheen, but this also shows every footprint. It’s best used for formal areas. 
    • Saxony carpets are similar to velvet, but not quite as smooth.
    • Freize/twist carpets have tightly twisted fibres that curl slightly at the pilesurface. They hide footprints and vacuum marks, making them suitable for high-traffic areas.

    Plush pile Twist pile

     

     

     

     

     Plush pile                       Twist pile

    Combination cut and loop pile

    • These carpets have a combination of cut and looped yarns and can create sculptured effects such as squares, swirls and so on.
    • This effect is good for hiding dirt and footprints.

    Cut and loop pile

     

     

     

     

     Combination cut & loop pile

    Images: Courtesy of Feltex Carpets

    05.Underlay and classifications

     

    Underlay

    • Underlay can extend the life of your carpet as well as absorb sound, cover minor imperfections in the floor and provide insulation.
    • There are two main types of underlay — foam and rubber. Felt underlay is also still used for some woven carpets, but it’s becoming less common.
    • Like carpet, underlay comes in many different qualities and grades.
    • Underlay should be firm but comfortable. As a guide, if you stand on underlay you shouldn’t be able to feel the floor with the heel of your shoe.
    • Ask your retailer to put a sample of the carpet you want over different underlays and walk on it so you can feel the difference.
    • When you’re replacing your old carpet you should also replace your underlay. If the carpet is worn out, chances are the underlay is too.

    Carpet classifications

    • ACCS labelThe Carpet Institute of Australia has developed the Australian Carpet Classification Scheme (ACCS). It’s a voluntary industry labelling and grading system for carpets of all fibres and is used by all the major suppliers. 
    • An ACCS label gives the carpet a star-rating out of six for residential use and four for commercial or contract use, indicating how well it performed in a number of independently assessed wear and performance tests.
    • The label also says whether it should be used in areas of light, medium, heavy or extra-heavy traffic.
    • Check the label has a registration number to be sure it’s genuine.
    • For residential high-traffic areas, such as entrance-ways, stairs and halls, it’s advisable to go for a heavy-duty carpet rating. Children’s playrooms also usually take a lot of punishment, so a highly durable carpet is worth considering there too.
    • Carpets with an ACCS label carry a minimum statutory two-year warranty, though the manufacturer may also provide additional warranties.
    • Wool carpets may also have a Woolmark or Fernmark label. These grading schemes are run by the Woolmark Company and Wools of New Zealand respectively and show that the carpet has met certain quality and durability standards.

    ACCS label image: Courtsey Carpet Institute of Australia

    06.Installation tips

     
    • Feltex arcade carpetWhen arranging your carpet installation, it’s important to ask for a fully-itemised quote. Most quotes from retailers will include underlay and installation, but not all will include moving the furniture. 
    • Get your carpet laid by the company that you bought it from, as this will usually be cheaper and it keeps things simpler.
    • Ask your retailer for an installation plan and check for the placement of cross-joins and seams in the carpet. If possible they should be placed away from windows where falling light could show them up, and they also shouldn’t be in high-traffic walkways such as corridors and doors.
    • To prepare the room for a new carpet, vacuum the old one to minimise the spread of airborne dust particles when it’s taken up, and once the old carpet and underlay are removed, vacuum the floor.
    • Inspect the carpet as it’s unrolled and ensure the installers stretch it properly to minimise wrinkles and ripples. It’s normal for carpet to shed in the first few weeks or months of use and you may see small fibres collect on its surface. As the carpet beds down this should stop.
    • Vacuum the new carpet to get rid of any loose fibres.
    • It can be worth buying extra carpet and/or keeping offcuts in case you need to replace worn carpet in high-traffic areas, such as stairs, in the future.

    New carpets and air pollutants

    • CarpetFor the first few days after installation, all new carpets omit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are air pollutants associated with their manufacture.
    • These omissions are generally at a very low level and scientific evidence indicates they are probably not harmful to most.
    • After the installation open the windows and doors or use fans and air conditioners for several days. This will also get rid of the new-carpet smell.

    Images: Courtesy of Feltex Carpets

    07.Allergies and alternatives

     

    Allergies

    • There’s a lot of conflicting research about whether people with allergies should have wall-to-wall carpet.
    • Allergies are often caused by house dust mites, which thrive in warm, humid environments and are commonly found in carpet, bedding, soft furnishings and clothing.
    • However, there’s also a growing body of research that suggests carpet actually traps the dust mites rather than allowing them to become airborne and is therefore more beneficial to allergy sufferers.
    • While research continues, many experts are still advising those with allergies to install hard floor coverings that can be easily cleaned, and floor rugs that can be washed and exposed to sunlight.
    • House dust mite allergies have also been linked with an increase in the frequency and severity of asthma.
    • The Asthma Foundation of NSW recommends:
      • If you want carpet, low-pile varieties are better as there’s less area for dust mites to build up.
      • Vacuum at least once a week, using a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter, or install an externally ducted vacuum cleaning system. At the very least, use double-walled vacuum bags.
      • While vacuuming, people with allergies should wear a mask and keep doors and windows open.
      • People with allergic reactions should stay out of the room for 20 minutes after vacuuming to give the dust allergens time to dissipate.

      Alternatives

      • Floor coverings made from vegetable fibres, such as coir, sisal, seagrass and jute, are a popular alternative to regular carpets.
      • Sisal, which is made from the leaves of the agave plant, coir (made from coconut husks) and seagrass coverings are durable and very stain-resistant.
      • Colours and styles are limited and, on the whole, they feel rougher than regular carpet.
      • Jute, which is extracted from the inner bark of a plant grown in Asia, is a finer floor covering and generally not recommended for high-traffic areas, but is softer underfoot.