Explore the key strengths and weaknesses of the most popular carpet fibers on the market
Whether you’re designing your dream home or giving new life to an existing space with a much-needed remodel, the softness and warmth of wall-to-wall carpeting make it worth considering over its hard-surface counterparts. As you consider your options, you’ll see certain fiber names again and again—polyester, nylon, wool, polypropylene, and Triexta among them.
The key in any carpeting decision is the fiber from which its strands are made. The carpet fiber you choose directly impacts the lifespan and performance of your new carpet. In this guide, we break down those common fiber types and explain the strengths and drawbacks of each so you can make the most informed decision for your home.
The Differences Between Synthetic and Natural Carpet Fibers
All carpet fibers fall into one of two main categories. These are machine-made synthetic fibers and natural 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 can be cleaned easily using common household products and hot water extraction—also called steam cleaning. While they vary in durability, synthetics are typically less expensive and more practical than natural fibers.
Most natural fibers are not durable enough for use in 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 top types of carpet fibers and the key strengths that have made them so popular among homeowners.
1. Polyester (P.E.T.) Carpet Fiber
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 is 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 heavily trafficked areas like hallways or living rooms.
Key benefits of polyester:
Eco-friendly, often made from recycled materials
Drawbacks of polyester:
Not as durable as other fibers
2. Nylon Carpet Fiber
The most popular and commonly-used synthetic carpet fiber for both 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 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
One of the only natural broadloom carpet fibers still in use, wool is the standard that most synthetic fibers are made to emulate. Used in homes for centuries, wool carpeting is typically constructed using the long, durable wool hair fibers or sheep 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 for it. 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:
Warm and luxuriously soft
Eco-friendly natural material
Drawbacks of wool:
Among most expensive carpet fibers
Can’t be steam cleaned
Susceptible to mold and mildew
4. Polypropylene (Olefin) Carpet Fiber
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, however, and heavy objects or foot traffic can leave oily marks. On the other hand, it’s one of the least expensive fiber options when compared to both wool and other synthetics.
Key benefits of polypropylene:
Resistant to stains, mold, and mildew
Drawbacks of polypropylene:
Not as durable or crush-resistant as nylon
Mats down in high-traffic areas
Not as eco-friendly as other options
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 often touted as a more durable, eco-friendly version of nylon.
Produced without petroleum, it releases fewer VOC gasses and makes less of an environmental impact. Claimed by some to be as durable as nylon with better softness and stain resistance, its newness means that these claims are unproven as of yet. That hasn’t stopped it from becoming extremely popular very quickly.
Key benefits of Triexta:
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
Which Carpet Fiber Should You Choose?
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. 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 are within your budget. This will also give you a chance to see and feel samples and get to know each fiber better.