Every carpet has unique characteristics that make up its distinct personality.
Texture is a decorative characteristic with many options. Looped pile (the pile is the surface of the carpet that is seen) may be level or multilevel (high and low loops). Level-looped carpet has become a popular contemporary choice, providing a durable, hard-wearing surface. Short loops, especially, keep soil and spills on the surface, according to Decorating magazine.
Plush is a cut pile which may be smooth or with a twist in the yarn.
Denier and ply are common terms to carpet shoppers. Denier refers to the fiber size and weight. Ply is the number of strands twisted together to form a single yarn. A good rule of thumb is that the higher the figures for denier and ply, the better the quality of carpet.
The fiber content also will determine how well the carpet will perform. Basically, four major man-made fibers are being used: nylon, acrylic, polyester and olefin. These synthetic fibers are practical, among other reasons, because they are naturally resistant to insects and mildew and are non-allergenic. They are also easy to clean and are soil resistant.
The choice of carpet fiber is best made based on intended use, cost and appearance. The following fiber property information comes from Jeraldine Howe, textiles specialist at Kansas State University.
Nylon is considered the strongest fiber.
Acrylic is the synthetic fiber that most resembles wool in texture and appearance.
Modacrylic has properties similar to those of acrylic but has the added bonus of being naturally flame retardant.
Olefin is naturally flame retardant but has poor resiliency. To avoid crushing, buy only closely tufted, low-level loop carpet if olefin is one of its primary fibers.
Polyester is soft and luxurious, making it as aesthetically pleasing as it is practical. Check the label to see that carpet made of polyester has been heat-set, a process that improves resiliency.
Wool, a natural fiber, is durable, resilient and has a warm, natural feel. However, this type of carpet is much more expensive than synthetic fibers and requires special care and cleaning.
Fibers referred to as "fourth generation" or "new generation" have been modified to provide extra soil resistance, anti-static properties or stain resistance. These new-generation fibers tend to shed soil easily, so vacuuming is more effective.
Fibers are often used in blends, which means a combination of two or more fibers was used to make the carpet. Usually, 20% of a fiber is needed for its advantages to be apparent.
Carpet is priced by the square yard, and pad and installation are generally extra. Ask who will install the carpet and if the work is guaranteed. The installation fee is the same regardless of the carpet's quality, so it pays to buy the best that can be afforded.