Types of Carpet: Every Detail You Need to Know

Jenna Jonaitis
Written by Jenna Jonaitis
Updated April 13, 2023
A woman using her smartphone while lying down on the carpet
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Whether designing your dream home or giving new life to an existing space, the softness and warmth of wall-to-wall carpeting might be right for you. As you consider the different types of carpet, you’ll see certain fiber names again and again—polyester, nylon, wool, polypropylene, and Triexta among them. This guide breaks down these types as well as piles and pile heights. We go over the strengths and drawbacks of each so you can make the most informed decision for your space.

Fiber, Pile, and Density: What These Terms Mean

As you look for the perfect carpet for your space, understanding a few key terms can make the process easier.

Fiber: Carpet consists of fiber. It can be synthetic, such as polyester and nylon, or natural such as wool.

Pile type: Pile refers to the nature of the fibers, such as if they're cut at the ends or looped into the backing.

Pile height: Pile height refers to the length of the fibers and comes in low, medium, or high pile.

Density: Density describes the closeness of the yarn. Higher density usually means better quality.

The Differences Between Synthetic and Natural Carpet Fibers

A hand feeling some carpet samples
Photo: Verrone / Adobe Stock

All carpet fibers fall into two main categories. There are machine-made synthetic fibers and natural carpet fibers made from materials found in nature.

Synthetic fibers represent the vast majority of carpet fibers you’ll find on the market today. They’re generally more stain-resistant, and you can clean them using common household products and hot water extraction—also called steam cleaning a carpet. While they vary in durability, synthetics are typically less expensive and more practical than natural fibers.

Most natural fibers are not durable enough for broadloom (wall-to-wall) carpeting, but wool is a popular exception. While more expensive than synthetics, natural fibers are still worth considering. Not only are they more sustainably produced, but they’re better for your indoor air quality due to the fact that they release fewer VOC gasses (volatile organic compounds).

Note: Nylon and polyester are exceptions to the rule that natural fibers tend to be lower in VOCs. You’ll find popular low-VOC carpeting products made from both of these materials.

Next, we’ll break down the different types of carpet fibers and the key strengths that have made them so popular among homeowners.

Common Types of Carpet Fibers

Some fibers hold up better in high-traffic areas, while others offer a cozy touch to a bedroom or den. From nylon to polyester, here are the most common carpet fibers and their pros and cons.

5 carpet fiber types compared visually, including polyester, nylon, and polypropylene
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1. Polyester (P.E.T.) Carpet Fiber

A hand touching a fluffy polyester carpet
Photo: Ja'Crispy / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Polyethylene terephthalate (P.E.T.), better known as polyester, is a long-lasting, budget-friendly synthetic carpet fiber that costs less than comparable nylons or wools. Polyester readily retains bright dye colors, offering great color clarity that won’t easily fade. It’s fairly stain-resistant but requires frequent vacuuming to keep it from wearing too quickly.

Polyester is luxuriously soft and ideal for bedrooms. While durable enough to make this list, it’s less crush-resistant than other synthetics. It doesn’t hold its fiber height under foot traffic or weight, meaning it stays flattened under furniture. For this reason, it starts to show age relatively quickly. You may not want to install it in busy areas like hallways or living rooms.

Key benefits of polyester:

  • Very affordable

  • Luxuriously soft

  • Eco-friendly, often made from recycled materials

Drawbacks of polyester:

  • Poor crush-resistance

  • Not as durable as other fibers

2. Nylon Carpet Fiber

Close-up shot of a nylon fiber carpet
Photo: bradcalkins / Adobe Stock

The most popular and commonly-used synthetic carpet fiber for residential and commercial use, nylon is known for its resistance to liquid stains, insects, mold, mildew, abrasions, and allergens. It’s the most durable synthetic option that still feels very soft underfoot. A quality nylon carpet will lend you warmth and softness for a lifespan of 12 to 15 years on average.

While more expensive than polyester, nylon is resilient and maintains its fiber height under heavy weight, giving it the advantage of being well-suited to high-traffic areas in the home. It can be easy to clean this carpet with regular vacuuming and occasional spot cleaning, but you will need to steam clean it annually to maintain its resilience.

Key benefits of nylon:

  • Highly resistant to most stains and damage

  • Well-suited to high-traffic areas

  • Most durable synthetic option

Drawbacks of nylon:

  • Requires annual steam cleaning to maintain resilience

  • Not as eco-friendly as other options

  • Moderately high cost among synthetics

3. Natural Wool Carpet Fiber

An ornamental wool carpet on a gray floor
Photo: Iuliia / Adobe Stock

One of the only natural broadloom carpet fibers still in use, wool is the standard that most synthetic fibers emulate. Used in homes for centuries, wool carpeting consists of long, durable wool hair fibers from Britain or New Zealand. Naturally stain-resistant and durable, wool hides soil easily and maintains its fiber height well.

High-grade wool is a warm and luxurious fiber option that should be your top choice if you have the budget. It’s one of the most expensive fiber types, with certain intensive care requirements. For example, it holds more moisture than synthetics and can’t be steam cleaned. It can also trigger some allergies and is not resistant to insect damage like synthetic fibers.

Key benefits of wool:

  • Naturally stain-resistant

  • Warm and luxuriously soft

  • Highly durable

  • Eco-friendly natural material

Drawbacks of wool:

  • Among most expensive carpet fibers

  • Can’t be steam cleaned

  • Not hypo-allergenic

  • Susceptible to mold and mildew

4. Polypropylene (Olefin) Carpet Fiber

Detail of a polypropylene carpet
Photo: skulkov / Adobe Stock

Polypropylene (sometimes called by its generic name, olefin) is a popular wool substitute loved for its hydrophobic nature. It is solution-dyed during manufacturing, meaning color is added before the fiber is complete, thus leaving no open dye sites where stains can attach themselves. In fact, not even bleach can affect the colors of a polypropylene carpet.

Because of this process, polypropylene does not absorb liquid. It can also resist mildew, moisture, abrasion, static, and fading from sun exposure. It’s not as durable or crush-resistant as nylons, and heavy objects or foot traffic can leave oily marks. On the other hand, it’s one of the least expensive fiber options compared to wool and other synthetics.

Key benefits of polypropylene:

  • Hydrophobic

  • Resistant to stains, mold, and mildew

  • Very budget-friendly

Drawbacks of polypropylene:

5. Triexta, Sorona, and SmartStrand

Often seen under the brand names DuPont Sorona or Mohawk SmartStrand, Triexta is the newest carpet fiber on the market. You may have seen it in the clothing industry, where it is commonly called “dry fit” due to its hydrophobic properties. It’s known as a more durable, eco-friendly version of nylon.

Produced without petroleum, it releases fewer VOC gasses and has less environmental impact. Some claim it’s as durable as nylon with better softness and stain resistance, but its newness means that these claims are unproven so far. That hasn’t stopped it from becoming extremely popular very quickly.

Key benefits of Triexta:

  • Sustainably produced

  • Extremely soft and durable

  • Naturally resistant to stains and fading

Drawbacks of Triexta:

  • Too new to know if its benefits will last

  • High-end products tend to be expensive

Carpet Pile Types

Beyond the fiber of your carpet, consider the type of pile, which refers to the type of loops or cut fibers within a carpet. Here are the main types of carpet pile and their pros and cons. 

1. Cut Pile

Cut pile carpet has fibers cut at a specific height and exposed at the top in tufts. Different styles of cut pile are cut at different angles, and there are different methods for tufting them into the carpet backing. Cut pile can be upright (best for low traffic) or twisted (best for high traffic).

Key benefits of cut pile carpet:

  • Soft and inviting

  • Adds a luxurious look and feel to the space

Drawbacks of cut pile carpet:

  • Easier to see foot traffic and furniture imprints

  • Not as durable as loop pile carpets

Common types of cut pile carpets:

  • Plush carpet: Short, even cut fibers with a smooth, luxurious finish. More prone to wear and tear but great for low-traffic settings.

  • Saxony carpet: Longer fibers that are twisted, soft, and lush but easily crushed by foot traffic and furniture.

  • Frieze carpet: Long, twisted fibers that appear curled or kinked. Great for high-traffic areas but less luxurious than other cut pile types. Shag carpet is a style of frieze and is best for retro decor.

  • Textured cut: Uneven fiber lengths twisted into spiral strands. Well-suited for mid- to high-level traffic areas and not as lush as plush or Saxony.

  • Cable: A combination of thin and thick fibers offers a varied appearance. Good for high-traffic areas but more casual than other cut types.

2. Loop Pile

Loop pile carpets form complete loops with each fiber connecting to the backing. Loop piles come in various textures and heights and tend to have a more understated look.

Key benefits of loop pile carpet:

  • Durable and great for high-traffic areas

  • Easy to clean and maintain

  • Hides footprints, vacuum marks, and furniture imprints

Drawbacks of loop pile carpet:

  • Sharp objects or pet claws can snag it

  • Less lush than cut pile

Common types of loop pile carpets:

  • Sisal carpet: Loops arranged in rows for a textured design, sometimes with varying heights and colors.

  • Berber carpet: Dense type of loop pile carpet with tight loops. Great for high-traffic areas and resistant to damage and stains.

  • Level loop: All fiber loops are the same length, offering a uniform look.

  • Multi-level loop: Also called patterned loops, this carpet has loops with varying heights for dimension.

3. Cut-and-Loop Pile

A combination of cut and looped fibers, this pile type forms a textured design. Cut-and-loop carpets can even contain sculptured shapes such as swirls, squares, or chevrons.

Key benefits of cut-and-loop pile carpet:

  • Offers texture and visual interest

  • Provides a modern look

  • Conceals stains and dirt

Drawbacks of cut-and-loop pile carpet:

  • Can look worn

  • Can be more expensive than loop or cut piles

Common types of cut-and-loop pile carpets:

  • Patterned carpets: A mix of cut-and-loop fibers form a design such as rows, waves, or checkered boxes.

  • Sculptured carpets: Contain shapes such as swirls, circles, squares, and chevrons.

Carpet Pile Height

The height of the pile plays a crucial role in how the carpet feels, how easy it is to clean, and how durable it is. Carpets usually come in low, medium, or high piles. Pile height is distinct from pile type, such as cut or loop piles.

Here are the three main categories of pile height and their pros and cons.

1. Low Pile Carpet

Low pile carpet has a fiber length under ¼ of an inch. The fibers are short and often feel flat and dense. Low pile carpets are best for high-traffic areas or areas where children and pets spend lots of time.

Key benefits of low pile carpet:

  • Easy to clean as it doesn't catch much dirt, debris, and pet hair

  • Durable and holds up well in high-traffic areas

  • Less expensive per square foot than high pile carpets

Drawbacks of low pile carpet:

  • Less comfort and coziness

  • Often less luxurious, less likely to make a design statement

2. Medium Pile Carpet

Medium pile carpet has fibers that are ¼ to ½ inch long. Medium pile offers a balance of comfort and ease of cleaning. It holds up well to moderate foot traffic, making it a good carpet choice for living rooms and bedrooms.

Key benefits of medium pile carpet:

  • More comfortable and softer to the touch than low pile carpet

  • Easy to clean with a vacuum

Drawbacks of medium pile carpet:

  • Not as cozy as high pile carpet

  • Not as inexpensive as low pile carpet

3. High Pile Carpet

High pile carpet has a fiber length of ½ to ¾ inches. These carpets are plush and fluffy, offering the most coziness.

Key benefits of high pile carpet:

  • Adds a touch of comfort and luxury

  • Dampens noise and holds in heat

  • Great long-term performance if maintained

Drawbacks of high pile carpet:

  • Hard to clean as they collect dust and debris easily

  • Easily crushed by furniture and foot traffic

Face Weight

Face weight is the weight of the carpet pile in ounces per square yard and can fall between 20 and 100 ounces. For residential homes, carpet face weight is usually between 35 and 60 ounces. A high face weight means more yarn and a denser carpet.

Higher face weight tends to correlate with price and quality, but fiber, pile type, and height also play a role in the quality of a carpet. It's best to look at face weight only when all other aspects are identical. For example, compare face weights when looking at two low-pile olefin Berber carpets.

Which Carpet Fiber and Pile Should You Choose?

There are three main components to consider when choosing a carpet type: fiber type, pile type, and pile height. Each of these variables impact durability, lushness, and ease of cleaning. As with any aspect of your home design, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Your carpeting decision will ultimately come down to your budget, performance needs, and the styles you like best.

You might choose polyester for your office, nylon for your laundry room, a cut pile for your bedroom, and a loop pile for your living room. Consider a low pile for your entryway and a medium pile for your bedroom. You get the idea.

Whether you’re picking flooring for a living room or a bedroom, choose a carpet with the durability, stain resistance, and softness you need in a color and pattern you love.

If cost is a concern, try getting a quote from a local carpet provider to see which fibers and styles are within your budget. This will also give you a chance to see and feel samples and get to know each fiber and pile type better.

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