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NUTS AND BOLTS

Shrinking Rug Stands Up to Abuse

May 04, 1991|PATRICK MOTT

If you don't believe man is a creature of habit, go to Europe and hang around in a few old stone buildings. Any one will do, as long as it's more than, say, 300 years old.

You'll notice, inevitably, that the carpets are mostly on the walls in these places and they tend not to be terribly cheery. They usually depict someone being burned at the stake or leading troops in some gory battle or getting crowned emperor and looking none too pleased about it all. It's a good thing these tapestries aren't on the floors, because walking on them could give one a severe case of the willies.

No, the floors for the most part are bare stone. And one of the first things you'll notice about them is that they're far from level. They have dips here and swoops there and smooth, shallow little troughs all over the place.

This indicates where people have walked. And walked. And walked. A veritable river of humanity, generation after generation, wearing little trenches in stone as hard as an auditor's heart.

Sure, the effect might have been less severe if a lot of those folks were padding around in Reeboks instead of wearing armor and tracking in all kinds of abrasive grit, but when you hear the guys from the carpet cleaner's talking about traffic patterns, this is what they mean.

Let's do a little mental extrapolation. Take a look at the stretch of carpet between, say, your bedroom and the nearest bathroom. If you'd known you could walk that straight, for that long, you would have been a whiz on the balance beam, right? Now imagine that little stretch of tamped-down fabric in 20 years.

That vision--the one in which the surrounding carpet still looks pretty good but the fabric in the traffic pattern has disappeared entirely and now you can see right through the floor and into the garage below--is one that people currently shopping for carpet see in their nightmares. And now that stain-resistant carpet has become widely available and familiar, the carpet that becomes trammeled into fuzzy clumps has replaced the great beet juice stain as the carpet owner's No. 1 horror. Durability is now the big selling point.

This has not been lost on the people at Monsanto, who have come up with something they call "Traffic Control Fiber System," a carpet that resists fraying and matting and which, apart from the last word in its name, sounds pretty good.

(Aren't you sick to death of every new gadget being called a "system," whether it's systematic or not? When books begin to be marketed as "sequential text compilation and viewing systems," I'm moving to Mars.)

The Monsanto carpet, which is being marketed by several manufacturers, resists matting because the individual shafts of nylon yarn resist fraying. Over time, conventional nylon carpet yarn begins to fray at the tip and the frayed fibers become entangled with one another. This forms a kind of homogenous clot and the carpet loses resiliency and flattens out.

The new carpet avoids this because of a property that would seem at first look to be a bad thing: shrinkage. The carpet is made up of 88% nylon and 12% high-shrink acrylic fibers. During the normal heat-setting process, the acrylic shrinks more than the nylon, pulls the fabric bundle together and reinforces the fiber. The result is that the yarn tip holds together longer and remains springy.

The carpet is available in several grades and styles, and each manufacturer is likely to have different price scales, said Monsanto spokesman Dallas Meneely. However, he said, it's generally considered to be a medium-priced item, somewhere in that amorphous gray area between that stuff on the floor of your first apartment and the kind of rugs that are supposed to fly.

Currently, said Meneely, the Monsanto carpet is being manufactured by Columbus, Lees, Galaxy, Cabin Crafts, Karastan-Bigelow, Queen, Royalty, Marglen, Patcraft and Mohawk.

Now, a payoff question: How do they know? Sure, they say the carpet will hold up, but is it all theory? After all, a carpet's not easy to try out, like a bullet-proof vest, say.

Wrong. In what must be a timely concession to the need for cardiovascular fitness and the now-confirmed recession, Monsanto employed a platoon of people to actually walk on the carpet. Up and down and up and down.

According to the product literature, the walkers pace like crazy, "reversing their direction on each pass until they reach pre-selected traffic levels."

Visualize the ad: "Wanted: Nervous types who tend to pace rather than fidget, for laterally mobile position with large chemical company. Must have comfortable and durable walking shoes, lots of time on their hands, great legs."

Which begs yet another question: How long do you have to walk on a carpet to get it to fray and mat? Consider your own home. If you've had your carpet for a while, and it has begun to mat in places (the path from the bedroom to the bathroom?), how many steps do you think you had to take over it to get it that way? What was your pre-selected traffic level?

On second thought, forget it. It can be dangerous to start examining your life that closely. Discovering that you've spent six months of your life in the last 10 years pacing up and down a short stretch of carpet can lead to regret and anguished re-examination of your life and its priorities.

Or it could lead to a job with Monsanto. And a great pair of legs.

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