From Axminster carpet in the 1800s through to the shag pile of the 60s and the beach house feel of today's sisal-style floor coverings, carpet has long been a popular flooring choice for Australian homes. It's stylish, durable, soft, quiet underfoot and good for insulation.

Whether you're carpeting a new room or replacing some worn or daggy carpet you've had way too long, it's probably time to get an update on what's out there. Buying the wrong carpet can be an expensive mistake, so roll up and read on as we lay on piles of useful information.

Material matters

No one fibre is best for everyone – the best carpet choice for you depends on where it will be, who'll be using it, how much traffic it will get, and the size of your budget.

Wool carpet

Just like your favourite jumper, wool carpet is warm, luxurious and durable. It's also generally more expensive than other fibres. Wool is good for living areas where appearance is important. It's naturally stain resistant in that it resists liquid-based spills and releases dirt easily, but you'll want to clean up spills quickly. Cheaper wool carpets are likely to pill.

Nylon carpet

Nylon is a tough and durable man-made fibre. It's very popular for carpets – it's cheaper than wool and some even look as good but with added stain resistance. Nylon carpet will hold its colour against cleaning and sunlight, and it's ideal for use in high-traffic areas for families with children or pets.

Polypropylene carpet

Polypropylene is a synthetic fibre, popular because it's inexpensive, water resistant and durable. It's often used for rental properties, garages or playrooms. However it looks and feels cheap – because it is.

Blends

Wool and nylon blend carpet can give you the benefits of both, at a lower cost than pure wool carpet.

The luxurious Axminster and Wilton carpets use an 80/20 wool/nylon blend, and offer the same quality and durability as pure wool.  50/50 wool/nylon 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.

What else do you need to know about buying carpet?

Before you hit the shops

Have an idea of the colour and the type of pile you want, but remember, it's not just about aesthetics. It's recommended you get professional carpet cleaning once a year – the right colour and pile can help hide dirt and stains in between cleaning.

The lowdown on carpet colour

  • Lighter colours are great for small rooms as they'll make it seem larger, but they will show stains more readily than darker shades.
  • Dark colours hide stains but show lint.
  • Speckled carpets with lighter and darker fibres will disguise stains and lint – WIN! But then some people think they always look dirty, even when clean. Sigh.

If you're looking at colours online, remember they may look quite different in real life.

Pile:  cut or loop?

  • Loop pile carpet has individual strands of yarn pulled twice through the carpet backing to create a small loop. It has a more casual look, hides footprints better and is well suited to high traffic areas, especially shorter loops.
  • In cut pile carpets the loops are cut at the top, leaving tufts of yarn that stand straight up. It has a more luxurious, formal look than loop pile, but tends to show light and dark areas including footprints and vacuum cleaner tracks – something you don't see in the catalogues!

Some carpets have a combination of cut and looped yarns and can create sculptured effects such as squares and swirls, which is good for hiding dirt and footprints.

In the shop

When it comes time to hit the carpet store, there are some things to check to make sure your carpet of choice is up to the job.

Density

Density refers to the amount of pile yarn in the carpet and how close the tufts are to one another. Check the density by bending the carpet sample in a U shape with the tufts facing out. The less carpet backing you see, the denser the carpet. As a rule, the denser, the better.

Durability: look for the label

Density is part of the durability story – the quality of the fibre and construction also contribute, and that can be hard for the average punter to gauge.

The 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.

Carpets carry a star-rating out of six for residential use (four for commercial or contract use) which shows how well it performed in independent wear and performance tests. The label also says whether it should be used in areas of light, medium, heavy or extra-heavy traffic. Get a heavy-duty rating for high traffic areas such as stairs, halls, entranceways, the kids' playroom, the path between the sofa and the fridge...

Try before you buy

Lighting and surrounding colours and materials will influence how your carpet looks in your home. Take samples home and check them in each room under different lighting conditions – natural daylight, artificial lighting, candle light, disco lights...or whatever other lighting you use.

Underlay

Underlay can help your carpet last longer, absorb sound, cover minor bumps and holes in the floor and provide insulation. Choose it when you buy your carpet.

You'll probably choose between foam underlay and rubber underlay. Underlay varies in quality, so stand on it to test that it feels firm but comfortable – you shouldn't be able to feel the floor with the heel of your shoe.

Installation

It will probably be cheaper to get the carpet installed by the company you buy it from. Make sure you get a fully itemised quote – most quotes from retailers will include underlay and installation, but they won't always include moving the furniture.

What's the cost?

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

Nylon carpet can range from $125 up to $300 per broadloom metre, wool carpets can range from $140 to $500 and polypropylene carpets from $65 to $180.

It can be worth buying extra carpet or keeping offcuts in case you need to replace worn carpet in high traffic areas, such as stairs.

Glossary

Broadloom metre: 1m x 3.66m

Solution-dying is where colour is added to the nylon carpet fibre during production, rather than applied to the surface afterwards, making it colourfast against cleaning and sunlight.

Berber carpets 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 and are good for high-traffic areas.

Velvet/plush carpets have the pile cut several times to create a velvety sheen, but this also shows every footprint. 

Saxony carpets are similar to velvet, but not quite as smooth.

Freize/twist carpets have tightly twisted fibres that curl slightly at the pile surface. They hide footprints and vacuum marks, making them suitable for high-traffic areas.

 

Not sure whether to go carpet, hard floors or something in between? Let our flooring overview help you.