Buying wall-to-wall carpet is a major commitment. It can cost thousands. It’s the focal point of a room. It has to be able to take a beating. To get carpeting you can live with happily for a long time, take time to make good decisions about color, style, pattern, texture, padding, and price range.

Carpeting Q & A

Start by asking yourself:

Where will it go?

Will you be eating or entertaining much in carpeted rooms? Do you have pets and/or children? If so, get varieties with soil- and stain-resistant properties, and colors and textures (tweeds, irregular textures) that show dirt the least. Ask a good carpet cleaning service for advice, too.

Will the carpet be installed in heavily trafficked areas (hallways, stairs, or family room)? Try a tough-wearing, low-density pile.

If you want to sit on the floor or go barefoot, plush textures feel soft and project luxury.

How much are you willing to spend?

Carpet prices vary tremendously—from less than $2 to more than $15 per square foot. Price differences that seem small per square foot become huge by the room. For example, 500 square feet of wall-to-wall carpeting at $3 per square foot—a total of $1,500—seems modest, but at $10 or $12 per square foot—a total of $4,000 to $4,800—it becomes an expensive project. Charges for cushioning, installation, and other labor often pad the price.

Area rug prices also vary greatly, from a few hundred bucks for an inexpensive dhurrie (flat-woven Indian rug) to thousands for a handmade Moroccan rug. Click here for rug-buying tips.

How much to buy?

The amount of ground you need to cover will probably impact your budget. To get an idea, measure the length and width of the area, including protrusions like doors and closets. Measure into the deepest point, and count these protrusions into either the room’s total length or total width. For stairs, measure each step (from the back of one tread to the bottom of the riser below), and add one inch for padding.

This will all help you guesstimate costs as you shop, but the store will measure more precisely before it puts through your order. Since carpeting is manufactured in standard widths (typically 12 or 15 feet), you almost always have to buy extra.

Room-size and area rugs are sold in standard sizes or are cut to size from carpet rolls. Consider the placement of your furniture to determine what size you need. In general, you want a rug large enough that at least two legs of a sofa or table rest on it so it doesn’t look marooned, with hall or foyer runners obviously excepted.

What styles and colors do you like?

Wall-to-wall carpeting introduces a large area of unbroken color and expands a room’s appearance.

Shop with fabric or wallpaper samples, paint chips, and even couch cushions to help with your selection; and bring home carpet samples or rugs to see how they look with your furniture and lighting.

Since good-quality carpets and rugs last for years, choose designs, colors, and patterns you won’t tire of quickly.

Carpet colors should complement existing window treatments and furnishings, suit your lifestyle, and contribute to the space’s vibe. A bright yellow, orange, or red carpet can liven up a dark room; shades of blue and green can tone down an overly bright zone. And while lighter shades can make a room seem more spacious and formal, they show dirt quickly, so save them for relatively low-traffic areas. Darker colors like grays or browns make spaces look smaller and are best used as accents or in very large rooms. Plus, dark hues tend to show lint.

How long do you want it to last?

Well-constructed carpets last 10 years or more with normal use and care. If you plan to move soon or change the use or furnishings of a particular room, consider rugs because they’re portable.

Finding Your Type

Carpets vary in fiber content, yarn formation, and construction.

Fibers

Wool—Though it now accounts for just a small percentage of carpeting sold in the U.S., wool remains the standard against which other fibers are judged. It feels good to the touch, takes dye beautifully, lacks the shininess of some synthetic fibers, resists crushing or flattening even with extensive wear, doesn’t get as dirty as synthetics, and is easy to clean. Price: expensive.

Nylon—By far the most popular carpet fiber, nylon is soft and resists abrasion, crushing, and mold. Many types also have antistatic qualities and are treated with stain-resisting fluorochemicals. Price: inexpensive to as expensive as wool.

Olefin (polypropylene)—Popular for indoor-outdoor carpeting and in low-pile carpeting, this synthetic fiber resists static, soil, and stains. It also holds dye well, resists abrasion, and repels moisture. But because it crushes or flattens easily, its use is mostly restricted to low-pile carpets. Price: inexpensive to moderate.

Polyester—Often used in deep-pile carpets because of its soft, luxurious feel, polyester tends to be used for dense carpets in low-traffic areas, where the density supports the yarn. Some polyester carpeting is now made from recycled plastic bottles. Price: inexpensive to moderate.

Triexta—Generic name for a fiber type developed by DuPont. (Manufacturer Mohawk Flooring brands it as SmartStrand; others often refer to it as Sorona.) Although it’s a polyester, because it feels and wears so differently from other polyesters, and because it is partially made from recycled materials, it often gets its own designation. In addition to being very soft, Triexta is less shiny and resists stains and flattening better than most other polyesters. But Triexta can be difficult to clean and should be vacuumed more often than other carpet fibers. Price: inexpensive to moderate.

Yarn

Whatever fiber is used for carpet pile must be processed into strands; and the strands, in turn, must be twisted together into yarn.

In cut-pile carpet, the tighter a yarn’s twist, the crisper looking and longer wearing the carpet. “Heat-set” twists last longer.

In general, thin yarns give a smoother, more velvety look than coarse yarns.

Construction

The most common way to make carpets today is by tufting. To make a tufted carpet, a machine with hundreds of yarn-threaded needles pushes yarn through a backing fabric, forming loops as the needles push in and pull out. The loops are held in place with latex adhesive, and a secondary backing is glued to the primary backing to provide strength and stability. The specifics of construction vary in several ways.

Density

In some carpets, the tufts of yarn are spaced much more densely than in others. Density is determined by the number of tufts per unit of surface area and the thickness of individual tufts. All else being equal, the denser the pile the better the carpet. This is because the individual tufts in dense carpet support each other, so that the carpet is less likely to appear matted, and wear occurs only at the top of each tuft rather than along the tuft’s side.

Texture

Carpet surfaces come in many pile textures, including durable level loop (a uniform surface with a pebbly surface, like Berber styles), shag (cushy, longer loops), plush (soft and luxurious), and others.

Pad It Up

Good padding minimizes carpet flattening and wear by absorbing some of the impact of foot traffic. It also creates a softer walking surface, insulates cold floors, absorbs noise, prevents carpet from shifting, and makes irregular floors feel more even.

As a rule, the heavier the carpet pad the better it performs. High-traffic areas should have a heavy but relatively thin pad. For a bouncier, more luxurious feel, such as in a bedroom, use a thicker one. But don’t confuse thick, soft padding with good padding. Bouncy padding can make a thin carpet feel more luxurious but shorten its life by letting the backing flex too much.

Several types of padding are available, including rebond (a urethane foam suited to high-traffic areas), super-soft prime urethane foam (softer foam means it feels cushier underfoot and works well in lower-traffic zones), slab rubber (incredibly durable but expensive), memory foam (comfortable to walk on but “squishy”), fiber/jute/felt (required for some types of Berber carpeting), and others.

Area rugs also benefit from padding, which can keep them from slipping and tripping people up as well as preventing colors from rubbing off on your floor. Options range from inexpensive webbing material to thinly shaved wool backed with a grippy material. The latter won’t stain floors or damage expensive natural fiber rugs.

Many stores include padding in the price of the carpet. Be sure to check out the quality of what’s offered and, if necessary, find out if you can upgrade.