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Carpet Fiber Characteristics


Not every carpet is created equal. If they were, our cleaning protocols would be easier to predict. Various fibers and how they are used in carpet dictates how easy the carpet will be to clean, and how long it will last and retain its bulk, texture, and color.

Professional carpet cleaners must know the fiber content of the carpets they clean, however, fiber identification is a skill that you can easily develop at home.

Of equal importance is knowing each fiber's characteristics. Each fiber has it's "pros and cons." Your customers or clients often purchase carpets on impulse. Most choices in carpet are based on color, with texture and style following close behind.

There are four main fiber types in modern, broadloom carpet. They are:

  • Nylon (about 60% of market)
  • Polyester (about 30% of market)
  • Olefin (about 10% of market)
  • Wool (less than 1% of market)

This article will address characteristics of each of these fibers, which is useful in explaining the cleanability of specific carpet types, and also to help specify which type of carpet is best for each application.

Carpet Fiber Identification

The only proper method of carpet fiber identification is the tried and true approach, often overlooked, but never forgotten. The following chart will guide you through and help you sort out a few areas of confusion.

The Burn Chart

Fiber Action Color Special Note Odor
Wool Burns Orange Self extinguishes Hair
Silk Burns Orange Self extinguishes Feathers
Nylon Melts Blue/Orange   Celery
Olefin Melts Blue/Orange   Asphalt / Tar
Polyester Melts Orange Dense Black Smoke Sweet / Fruity
Acrylic Melts Orange   Harsh / Acrid



Carpet Fiber Statistics

Fiber Ease Of Removal % Of Today's Manufactured
Wool Good 1%
Nylon (Regular & Stain Resistant) Vey Good 60%
Olefin Excellent 10%
Polyester Very Good 30%



Fiber Characteristics Chart
Fiber Type Ad/Ab pH ** Dissolves in
Wool Natural Absorbent 5.0 - 5.8 Chlorine Bleach
Silk Natural Absorbent 5.0 - 5.8 Chlorine Bleach
Nylon Synthetic Absorbent 1.5 - 13 Hydrochloric Acid
Stain Resistant Nylon Synthetic Absorbent* Under 10 Hydrochloric Acid
Olefin Synthetic Adsorbent 1.5 - 13  
Polyester Synthetic Adsorbent Under 10  
Acrylic Synthetic Adsorbent Under 10  

* May act like an adsorbent fiber
** Always pre-test all products prior to using


Nylon is known as a durable fiber. It is a good choice for heavy traffic areas.

Nylon's favorable qualities include:

  • Great resiliency
  • Accepts wide range of colors
  • Relatively colorfast
  • Easy to clean (with excellent results)
  • Not attracted to oily soils 

Nylon's unfavorable qualities include:

  • >Easiest of synthetic fibers to stain with typical food and beverage spills (fabric protection helps fight this problem)
  • Will lose color in presence of bleach, especially chlorine

With this information, think about where nylon would be a good choice—in a home or business.

You might suggest to your customer to install nylon in a heavily-used living room, hallway, stairs, etc. But you might think twice about suggesting nylon for bathrooms or areas where moisture is a concern. Especially when chlorine bleach might be used, such as a room close to an outdoor swimming pool, as the chlorine can be tracked onto the carpet.


Olefin and stain resistency

Although olefin does not have the "strength" of nylon and tends to mat down and "ugly out" faster, it has some excellent qualities.

Olefin's favorable qualities include:

  • Water resistance (including water-based spills)
  • Colorfastness (will not lose color like nylon because the color in olefin is "locked in" due to solution dyeing
  • Chemical resistance (you can use very strong chemicals when cleaning olefin)
Olefin's unfavorable qualities include:
  • Poor resiliency, abrades and "uglies out" rapidly
  • After cleaning, tends to wick to the surface
  • Has low melting point
  • Attracted to oily soils
Olefin is a good choice in areas where moisture is prevalent, such as in a basement or around a swimming pool. It's naturally stain resistant, which means it's a good choice when kids and Kool Aid are in abundance. But, it's a bad choice for areas where oils and greases will be prominent, such as in a room close to a garage or right off a city street or paved parking area. If olefin carpet is installed in such an area, you need solid cleaning techniques.



Polyester holds a healthy second place of market share, mainly due to the new designation of triexta.

Polyester's favorable qualities include:

  • Carpet FiberGood hand (soft to touch)
  • Colorfast
  • Semi-resistant to bleaches and chemicals
  • Naturally stain resistant
  • Not attracted to acid dyes
Polyester's unfavorable qualities include:
  • Poor resiliency
  • Attracted to oily soils
  • After cleaning, tends to wick 
Polyester is a good choice for low-traffic areas, and areas that have spot and stain concerns. Because it has a soft hand, it's often chosen due to texture.



Wool—the natural fiber. Although wool holds such a small amount of market share (less than 1%), you have to remember that billions of yards of carpet are produced each year. That means that 1% is still a significant number.

Wool's favorable characteristics include:

  • Naturally resilient
  • Resists abrading
  • Accepts wide range of colors
  • "Warm" fiber
  • Fire resistant
  • Hides soils
  • Repels moisture
  • Easy to clean
Wool's unfavorable characteristics include:
  • Expensive fiber
  • Dissolves in chlorine bleach
  • Some cleaning and stain removal is difficult
  • Does not react well with strong chemicals, which can limit your cleaning procedure
  • Color loss (bleeding and crocking)

Wool is obviously a favorite fiber for many, and because of its natural resiliency will last many years in a home or business. But, because of it being a natural fiber, care has to be taken when choosing a cleaning system.


Remember: Each fiber type will display its own cleanability. If you know the "pros and cons" of each fiber you clean, you can easily handle any cleaning challenge.