It pays to be smart about how carpet is created. Understanding how carpet is manufactured is very beneficial. First, because you’ll be more aware of the “ingredients” of the product you’re buying -- the product you and your family may be living with for a long time should you choose carpeting for your home.
Second, knowing carpet’s unique materials will let you weigh the performance of one product over another; understand why one carpet wears longer, why one is a breeze to install, and why another excels when it comes to upkeep. And perhaps best of all, knowing carpet manufacturing and materials will make you a more savvy shopper, help you better determine a carpet’s true value to you, and keep you “on budget.”
But before we get into carpet manufacturing, you should know that when choosing carpet, thicker may not necessarily be better. You need to consider carpet construction. The goal is carpeting with a tight twist in each yarn. You don’t want ends that are loose or frayed. The best quality carpeting has a firm, dense pile. To determine this, bend back a corner of the product and observe how much backing shows. The more backing, the less density and durability of the carpet.
If you’re thinking of carpet for a “high traffic zone” in your home, we recommend carpeting with a lower profile that resists matting and crushing. But, we’re getting ahead of the story. To understand how that carpet you’re thinking about came to be, read on!
Smart shoppers know the key to carpeting is the fibre
The fundamental material of carpet is fibre, and today the vast majority – over 90% -- is synthetic fibre. The remainder is natural fibre, usually wool.
Let’s examine the most common synthetic fibres first: nylon, polypropylene and polyester. They are manufactured by similar chemical processes utilizing oil and natural gas.
Nylon dominates the industry
75% of all carpet is made of nylon and compared to the fibres summarized here, nylon delivers the best performance in appearance retention, fade and heat resistance, soil and stain resistance and colour and styling.
Type 6.6 is the highest performing nylon fibre because it has a tighter molecular make-up, insuring resistance to stain penetration.
Polypropylene is widely sold and naturally resistant
After, nylon, polypropylene is the next most-used fibre in carpet construction. Pioneered in Italy in the late 50’s, polypropylene BCF has experienced rapid usage over the last 20 years and now accounts for 35% of total fibre manufacturing.
While not as resilient or resistant to abrasion as nylon, it’s naturally stain and fade resistant.
Polypropylene needs to be dyed before being extruded because it exhibits natural resistance to moisture. This limits its choice of colours. But when it comes to loop pile carpet manufacturing, polypropylene is the top choice.
Polyester also satisfies many smart shoppers
Introduced to the world in the mid 60’s, polyester, the third kind of material used in carper making, offers the distinct advantages of bulkiness, colour fidelity, and good stain and fade resistance. It doesn’t outshine nylon in the resistance category, but thanks to today’s technologies it continues to be a good performer.
Wool is natural but pricey
We’ve summarized the majority of synthetic fibres above. The other type of fibre used in carpet creation is stable fibre, and while some synthetics qualify as stable, wool is the original stable fibre.
New Zealand, Argentina and the United Kingdom are the key sources for today’s wool. Because it’s a natural fibre, wool offers a colour palette from off-white to black with numerous earthy hues between.
The term Berber, identified today as a type of carpet construction, is derived from the Berbers, North African sheepherders. These people produce extremely coarse wool with classic colour flecks in their yarns.
Wool is famous for cleaning up well and aging gracefully, although it doesn’t measure up to synthetics in the abrasion and moisture departments.
Making up less than 1 percent of the carpet market, wool is the most expensive carpet fibre.
The three steps to carpet manufacturing
Step one is called tufting. It starts by weaving the synthetic or stable fibre into a primary backing material, usually consisting of woven polypropylene that provides a base cloth to hold the yarn in place during the tufting process.
Picture a giant sewing machine – that’s the typical, 12-foot wide tufting machine.
Then picture 800 to 2,000 needles pulling the yarn through the primary backing material. As the needles pierce the backing a small hook called a looper captures the yarn and holds it in position. This procedure is called loop pile construction.
Loop pile carpeting keeps its looks extremely well and is the answer for high traffic areas in your home. That’s because, with no exposed yarn tips, just the sides of the yarn experience stress and wear.
Here, prior to step two, another action may occur
With some styles of carpeting, the looper then rocks back against a knife and the small loops of yarn are sliced off. The result is called CUT PILE carpet. How long these cut pieces are is called PILE HEIGHT and is essentially the distance between the looper and primary backing.
Today, computers control the cutting and they can be programmed to slice only some loops. This process of selectively cutting, called CUT AND LOOP CONSTRUCTION, leaves a distinct pattern on the carpet surface.
Before proceeding with our carpet-manufacturing story, here are some terms and variables a smart shopper should know about when buying carpet.
PILE HEIGHT, or NAP, is the length of the tuft measured from the primary backing to the yarn tips. It can be expressed as a fraction or decimal equivalent. Typically, durability is better with shorter pile heights versus longer.
STICH RATE measures how close together the yarns are. This rate is shown in penetrations, or tufts, typically in an inch. How quickly the carpet moves through the tufting machine determines stitch rate, 7 to 8 tufts per inch being good, 3 or 4 poor.
FACE WEIGHT is established by the amount of fibre per square yard, indicated in ounces. A 35 to 45 ounce face weight is standard for many carpets.
DENSITY shows how tightly the yarn is stitched into the primary backing. For better wearability, higher density carpets are superior to lower density.
Carpet creation step two: applying the dye
You should know there are two distinct dying methods.
Method one, called YARN DYEING or PRE DYEING, has the colour applied to the yarn before tufting.
The benefits of all yarn dyeing methods are good side-by-side colour consistency, the ability to do larger lot sizes and uniformity.
Method two applies colour to the yarn AFTER tufting of the carpet.
Known as CARPET DYEING, this process uses several different techniques, each creating a different outcome.
The first technique, termed BECK or BATCH DYEING, stitches the ends of the carpet together and then runs the tufted carpet loop through giant vats of dye and water for several hours. The Beck method is perfect for small production runs and heavier face weight carpets.
Similar to Beck, CONTINUOUS DYEING runs the carpet through several processes plus the dye application. This technique applies the colour directly to the carpet face through spraying or printing. Multicoloured or patterned effects are also the result of this process.
Another typical method of carpet colouring is SCREEN PRINTING. Here, the application of colour is done using one to as many as eight silk screens.
The key advantages of carpet dyeing – dyeing accomplished following the tufting process – are more colour flexibility and greater cost-effectiveness.
Carpet manufacturing step three: the finishing process
In the finishing process, usually performed on a single production line, a latex coating is applied to the tufted, dyed carpet’s primary backing and to the secondary backing.
Secondary backing usually consists of a woven synthetic polypropylene material.
A giant heated press squeezes the two backings together and secures them tightly to maintain their shape.
The carpet then undergoes SHEARING, the removal of all the tiny loose ends and projecting fibres that may have occurred during tufting. This also helps establish the yarn’s tip definition of the finished carpet.
Lastly, a thorough inspection of the carpet is performed checking for colour uniformity and any manufacturing defects prior to rolling the carpet, wrapping and shipping.
That completes our story on how carpet is made. We hope this information is as functional and practical for you as carpet can be for your home.
We also hope this section helps you make better, more informed, more cost-effective decisions. Smarter choices for smarter living in a more beautiful home.