How to Find the Right Carpet for Your Space
Last updated May 2019
The oldest known carpet fragment dates to around 400 B.C. in Persia. But humans have probably been covering their floors with stuff since cave-dwelling times—just think how cozy a woolly mammoth skin must’ve felt under the toes! But if you need to hunt for new shags or Berbers, you may find it’s as challenging as taking down a saber-toothed tiger.
Buying carpet is a major commitment. Because carpeting affects the look of a room, lasts a long time, and can cost thousands of dollars, take all the time you need to make good decisions about many issues, including: color, style, pattern, texture, padding, and price range.
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 (such as tweeds and irregular textures) that show dirt the least. Ask a good carpet cleaning service for advice, since it will have firsthand knowledge of which types and colors are easiest to care for.
Will the carpet be installed in areas that get a lot of foot traffic, such as the front hallway, stairs, or family room? Low-density piles generally wear better than deep plush.
Will you often sit on your floor or walk barefoot on the carpeting? Plush textures feel soft and project luxury and elegance.
How much are you willing to spend?
Carpet prices vary tremendously—from less than $2 to more than $12 per square foot depending on materials and other factors. Price differences that seem small per square foot become great by the room. For example, 500 square feet of wall-to-wall carpeting at $2 a square foot—a total of $1,000—seems modest, but at $6 or $8 per square foot—a total of $3,000 or $4,000—gets pretty intimidating. Charges for cushioning, installation, and other labor often pad the basic carpet price. To choose what lies beneath, you’ll have to make some choices, perhaps picking a cheaper carpet for less-trafficked rooms or living with less spendy area rugs.
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.
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.
Your measurements will help you guestimate 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 more carpeting than you need.
Room-size and area rugs are sold in standard sizes or 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 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 rather than carpeting because rugs are portable and wall-to-wall carpeting is not.
Carpets vary in fiber content, yarn formation, and construction.
- 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, and doesn’t get as dirty as synthetics.
But most wool carpets are expensive.
- Nylon—By far the most popular carpet fiber, nylon resists abrasion, crushing, and mold. Many types also have antistatic qualities and are treated with stain-resisting fluorochemicals. Depending on quality, prices range from 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. Prices are generally 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. Most polyester carpets are inexpensive to moderately priced.
- Triexta—Generic name for a fiber type developed by DuPont. (Manufacturer Mohawk Flooring brands it as SmartStrand.) 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 resists stains and flattening better than older polyesters. And its appearance is less shiny than most other polyesters. But triexta can be difficult to clean, and should be vacuumed more often than other carpet fibers. Triexta is inexpensive to moderately priced.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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A plush or Saxony usually holds up. An advanced-generation nylon or wool looks good—in any color that fits the rest of the decor. A good-quality, firm rebond pad feels comfortable and wears well.
Halls & Family Room
In these high-traffic areas, good choices are a low, densely packed cut pile or a level-loop carpet, such as a Berber.
Nylon and level-loop polypropylene wear well. A neutral or “tweedy” color minimizes the visibility of dirt; avoid lighter colors in the family room, where food might be spilled. A firm fiber or rebond pad is best.
Unless use is heavy, follow the same advice you would in making selections for a living room—but make sure carpet has stain protection, and buy medium or darker colors. If use is heavy, consider options similar to those for a family room.
Because use is generally light, a less expensive carpet will do. Deep pile, even if not especially dense, can be used with a relatively spongy pad that feels soft. Polyester, an advanced-generation nylon, wool, or wool mix feel good. Any color will do.
Cushioning Your Carpet
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 pad the better the performance. 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), and others.
Before choosing your pad, place samples on the floor and cover them with carpet samples; then walk on them to get an idea of the feel. Make sure the padding is the right weight and thickness for the area where it will be used. If you can get a thinner padding that will perform properly, avoid a thicker one with thickness that may raise the carpet too high for doors to swing open into the room; if so, you may need to cut off the bottoms of the doors.
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.