Having made the decision to get carpet flooring, you’ve finally found a clear weekend to explore the carpet retail stores, full of enthusiasm for the plush comfort that is soon to cocoon your home, but within about 10 minutes this enthusiasm wanes as you quickly realize how tricky it is to find out exactly how good a carpet actually is: there’s often too much descriptive detail and too few facts about the carpet sample you’ve been looking at to make an informed decision. All this before you’ve even started looking at carpet prices and installation costs.
So it’s a huge relief when you see that the carpet has a performance rating tag attached to it! But, as you weigh up the huge investment that this carpet represents, you may start to question exactly what this rating is based on – and maybe even ask if it’s based on anything tangible at all… So read this carpet buying guide to find out everything you need to know about carpet ratings and other carpet buying tips to consider when purchasing carpet.
Do Carpet Ratings Even Matter?
Well, yes and no! The thing is that the rating systems that you’ll find on most carpets, that gauge their durability and appearance, have been designed by the manufacturers themselves based on in-house factory testing. So the grade indicating how well a carpet performs is only relevant to the test conditions, which don’t necessarily bear any relation to the real-life traffic conditions that will exist in your home. Click here for a useful and kind of fun Carpet Foot Traffic Test designed by the Home Carpet Shopping website to determine what kind of foot traffic your household creates.
The most well known and widely copied carpet rating systems is the one designed by Shaw Floors, which rates carpet performance from 1 to 5, with a 5 being the best rated carpet for performance under heavy-duty testing. This theoretically means that Shaw carpets in the 4-5 rating would be ideal for areas where there is going to be a lot of traffic, like hallways and stairs, whilst a rating of less than 2.5 is going to be better in an area that isn’t used so much, like a bedroom.
But what if the bedroom you’re carpeting belongs to your triplet toddlers who also use the room as a playroom and who just love rough and tumble play with the family pet poodle? In this instance a carpet rated 2 isn’t going to last very long!
To be fair the Shaw’s website does point this out and also makes it clear that
“it’s not practical to associate years with the carpeting durability rating. There are so many variable factors… that what might be only 3 years of acceptable carpeting performance to one could be a lifetime to another.”
So even Shaw Floors admit that rating or grading a carpet is pretty subjective and open to much interpretation. In fact, a further problem with rating systems is that each manufacturer has their own system – there isn’t one industry-wide standard – so it’s impossible to compare like for like: what one manufacturer rates as 5, might be rated 3.8 by another.
This is why the best manufacturers will also give you a lot of other information about their carpets to help you decide what is going to work for you. So here is a list of the other quality control factors that you need to consider in your search for a top rated carpet, and which the less scrupulous carpet dealers don’t or won’t tell you! Gather together as much of this information as you can about each carpet sample you like in order to truly compare them.
So How Do You Rate Carpet Quality?
There are several elements to consider when comparing carpets – and these relate to what the carpet is made of, how it is made and what style of carpet it is. Let’s go through all these different elements – there’s a lot to take in, so we’ll try and be as concise as possible.
Types of Carpet
First to consider is the actual style of the carpet – clearly it is always going to be easier to compare carpets of the same style. But it also helps to know a little bit about the differences in the styles in the first place to know which style is best suited to your home. The six most common carpet styles are: Plush, Saxony, Textured, Friezé, Looped (also known as Berber) and Sculptured (also known as Cut & Loop). Click here to learn more on carpet and rug trends for 2014.
There’s plenty of places where you can find out more details of each of these styles, but the most useful thing to know for carpet performance purposes is that Textured, Looped and Sculptured are best for high traffic areas as they hide dirt better and are somewhat more durable, although Looped is not ideal for pets or kids as the carpet can get more easily damaged by claws and toys; Friezé and longer shag pile carpets, which are more informal, are better at hiding footprints and vacuum tracks than Saxony and Plush; Saxony and Plush are not the best choices for households with families and pets.
Types of Carpet Fibers
Next you need to consider the pros and cons of different carpet fibers. There are five main materials that are most commonly used to make carpets and each of them have different characteristics that will determine how suitable they are for your home environment.
Wool is the premium carpet fiber: as such it comes at a much higher cost than other fibers, but it is good at resisting dirt and is relatively easy to clean stains. If you can afford it, 100% wool is definitely the luxury option – if not then look for wool/nylon blends which tend to be cheaper.
Nylon is the most commonly available fiber, and is one of the most durable and resilient carpet making fibers. It is also very easy to maintain and is the ideal option for households with kids, pets and for high traffic rooms like hallways. There are, however, different grades of nylon fiber – look for 6.6 nylon which is the best quality, though obviously not the cheapest. And be sure to check that the nylon is regularly treated with stain protectors, as it is not inherently stain resistant. Another downside of nylon to be aware of is that it will fade in direct sunlight and can create a lot of static.
Olefin, which is also known as polypropylene, is not as expensive or as resilient as nylon, but it is better at resisting stains, moisture and mildew, and is cheaper than nylon. This makes it practical for high traffic areas like playrooms, great for people who have allergies and an ideal choice for an indoor-outdoor carpet. The downside is that it is not as comfortable underfoot as nylon.
Polyester sounds on the face of things a great choice for families because it is often cheaper, is naturally stain resistant and has a softer feel than other fibers; but it isn’t very durable, is much harder to keep clean and is prone to shedding – so totally out of the question if you have kids or pets – but perfect for grown-up low traffic areas like adults’ bedrooms and personal gyms.
Triexta is a relatively new man-made fiber that is being promoted as superior to nylon, mainly because it is naturally stain resistant. However it hasn’t been on the market long enough to know whether it is as durable as nylon – so possibly a good option for families, but it’s a bit of a gamble at the moment.
Once you’ve decided on the style and type of carpet fiber, you can then check the fiber density of your carpet to gauge its quality – basically a low-density carpet is of lower quality than a high-density one and will crush easily. Density refers to how thick the fibers are and how closely packed they are onto the carpet backing. To check the density simply bend the carpet sample – the less backing material that is visible the better the quality of the carpet. Be aware that you won’t be able to gauge density from the surface feel or look of the carpet – the only way to check is by bending it back to see how much of the backing is visible and comparing it to other samples. However, some manufacturers are now offering a carpet density rating: go for ones that are rated 2000 or more for the best quality.
Bulked Continuous Filament or Staple Strands?
Now the next question to ask is whether the carpet fiber strands are Bulked Continuous Filament (sometimes known as simply Continuous Filament) or Staple. These terms refer to the structure of the fiber strands used: continuous filament carpets use long strands of fiber to make sections of the carpet, whilst staple fibers are actually made of lots of shorter bits of fiber twisted together to make longer strands.
The difference here is not really going to affect the durability of the carpet, but staple fibers do tend to shed more than continuous filaments which might be important to your lifestyle (especially if you have allergies or if you’re not a huge fan of vacuuming!).
Carpet Face Weight
The face weight refers to the amount of ounces of fiber per square yard, and the more the better! Carpets with higher face weights of over 40-oz are going to be more resilient and longer lasting than those on the lower end of the scale. Never choose a carpet that has less than 20-oz face weight!
Another useful piece of information is the tuft twist number, which is to do with the number of times a 1-inch section of fiber has been twisted. You want to go for a minimum of 5 twists: more twists equals better durability.
Under Carpet Padding
The job of the pad that you lay under the carpet can be greatly undervalued – especially by unscrupulous salesmen trying to get rid of old stock. The carpet pad is what helps stabilize the carpet onto the subfloor and getting the wrong kind of pad can adversely affect the longevity of your carpet. For most areas of the home carpet pads should have a minimum density rating of 6 and be around 3/8 to 1/2inch thick – but opt for a slightly thinner and more dense pad (around 8) for high traffic areas like stairs, and be sure to choose a purpose-specific pad if you are carpeting over heated flooring.
The tog rating system is yet another way to judge carpet and underlay, this time focusing on it’s insulation qualities and suitability for under floor heating (although parents will more typically recognize the name in relation to duvets and baby sleeping bags). It takes into account some of the elements that we’ve already looked at, namely a carpets density rating, thickness and carpet fiber type and calculates a rating. A low rating is perfect for use with under floor heating while a high rating means the carpet and underlay already offer good insulation (and therefore isn’t suitable for under floor heating). Both the carpet and the underlay will have a separate tog rating and a combined rating over 2.0 isn’t really suitable for underfloor heating.
So you’ve done all the homework and chosen a carpet with exactly the right style, fiber, density, strand type, face weight and tuft twist for your home; you’ve considered all the traffic implications, got the right type of under carpet pad, looked at consumer carpet ratings and even gone for a slightly darker toned carpet knowing that that will also help make it look better for longer….phew!
Now to cover all your bases and ensure that you get the very best and longest performance from your carpet, we highly recommend choosing a reputable, experienced carpet installation team – shoddy workmanship is the number one reason that carpets get needlessly wrecked before their time!