About 97% of carpeting is made from synthetic fibers which are more resistant to stains and much less expensive than natural materials. The other 3% are natural fibers which tend to resist crushing from traffic. There are 6 primary types of fibers used in rugs: acrylic, nylon, olefin blends of nylon & olefin, polyesters (new & recycled), and wools.
Acrylic fiber is known as man-made wool because it is an artificial fiber that provides the look and feel of wool at a fraction of the cost. Advantages of acrylic are that it resists static electricity, moisture, mildew, fading, crushing, staining, and sun damage. It is not however durable enough for high traffic areas.
Blends are typically made from nylon and olefin. This blend is resilient but the different fiber types often resist stains unevenly. Stains will often stand out prominently with these blends.
Nylon is the strongest fiber of all the carpets, with excellent resistance to abrasion, insects, molding, mildew, rot, and many chemicals. It is easy to maintain and dye, while upholding its color admirably. Nylon is durable and static free, maintains fiber height, and resists soiling or staining. All of which makes it the most popular carpet fiber by far (90%) for homes and heavily favored (65%) for all uses – both residential and commercial.
Nylon carpet is usually moderately priced, not quite as expensive as wool, but more expensive than polypropylene, and polyester. Nylon carpet of midlevel and higher quality can last up to 12 to 15 years.
Olefin Or Polypropylene
Olefin (polypropylene) is the next-best seller after nylon, making up about 80% of commercial carpet installations. Olefin fibers are colorfast, strong (resisting abrasion), mildew & moisture resistant, and easy to clean (bleach can be used safely in some cases). It is suitable for high traffic areas – even actually used for artificial sports turf.
Less expensive than wool, nylon, and polyester, olefin/polypropylene continues to gain popularity. Polypropylene is not exactly ‘crush resistant’ and can be prone to matting, crushing, and general scuffs, depending on the pile cut.
Polyester does not hold its fiber height under traffic and shifting weight as well as other carpet fibers. Polyester has a luxurious feel, is durable against abrasions, resistant to water soluble stains and easy to clean. Polyester can fade with bright sunlight.
Polyester Recycled Carpet Fiber
Polyester/PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate carpet has bright colors and is available in many textures. It is more stain resistant than nylon carpet and at least as resistant to mold and mildew. It is also non-allergenic. Some of it (if not all) is made from recycled bottle caps…about 50 soda bottle caps go into a square yard of carpet. Polyester/PET is also quite inexepensive, less than wool, and nylon. Since it is actually made of plastic, it would be a good idea to first test this in a single room to see how you like it, before going all out with this environmentally friendly carpet.
Wool is a purely natural product -- luxurious, strong, and stain resistant. It maintains its fiber height very well. Soft to the touch and very dense, wool has a more comfortable feel than other carpet fibers; plus it will hide soil to a much greater effect than other synthetic fibers, mainly in part due to its opacity (other fibers are clear, and thus soil can be seen through it).
Wool is also quite durable, and easily dyed in many colors. It is an excellent choice for its rich appearance and luxury image; however, it must be maintained properly. It does tend to fade in sunlight, has low-resistance both to stains and to the chemicals used to remove stains. Unlike the synthetics, wool can attract and suffer damage from moths, beetles, and other types of insects.