Many different carpet styles look the same, making it hard to determine which carpet outperforms others, especially when you have high-traffic areas you want to cover in your home. How well the carpet performs starts with the type of yarn used to make it; its manufacturing; and the tufting process -- the uncut or cut loop of yarn woven into the backing material -- and the pile density. Poorly manufactured carpets may cost less, but in the end, they'll cost more because they won't last as long as high-quality carpets. The World Flooring Covering Association says that more than 90 percent of the carpets on the market are made with man-made yarns.
Tufts and Twists
Similar to thread count per square inch in quality bedding fabrics, a similar measurement applies to carpets. When a carpet has more than five filaments twisted in a 1-inch length to make the yarn, the denser and stronger the yarns are, which results in more tufts per square inch. The higher the pile height, the more subject it is to wear, crushing and abuse. Well-tufted short-pile carpets offer better carpets for high-traffic use. Look to a density rating of 2,000 or more to determine how closely packed the yarns are tufted. Check carpet density by bending it in your hand: If it's spaced like the hair on a balding scalp and you can easily see the backing, it's a cheaply made carpet.
Cut Pile Carpets
The shape of the yarn on the surface of the carpet also affects how well it wears in high-traffic areas. Carpets are available in three basic types: loop piles, cut piles, or a combination of the two. When the pile is cut evenly, the carpet may have a smooth or slightly textured look, depending on the yarn filaments and how they were twisted during the manufacturing process. For example, a Saxony pile can look slightly coarse when yarns are twisted in multiple directions to create textured Saxony. The last of the cut pile carpets, frieze pile has carpet ends that curl. The more twisted and textured yarns are less likely to show vacuum prints or footprint marks on the surface. Of the three, Saxony shows more imprints, with textured Saxony in the middle and frieze cut pile carpets as the most durable of the three, while still not showing marking or imprints.
Loop Pile Carpets
Loop pile carpets present with a knobby appearance, often made up of tall and short loops. Of all the carpet types, on the surface of the carpet. The loops can be all the same height, or they can be of varying heights and colors, as in variegated Berber types of carpet. As a general rule, loop pile carpets are more durable than cut pile carpets.
The Best of Both Worlds
Cut-and-loop carpets combine the best features of both pile types that both hide traffic patterns and have a patterned design. These types of carpets can also give a room more visual appeal. A cut-and-loop carpet works well in a high-traffic family room; its appearance is not affected by traffic, footprints or vacuuming.
The method used to dye the yarns also determines how well a carpet holds up to wear. Solution-dyed carpets imbue the yarns with color all the way through them, making them less likely to fade or bleach in sun-filled rooms. Topically dyed carpets don't fare as well with sunlight and traffic, as the color sits on the surface of the fibers, making these fibers more likely to wear or fade.
Last, but Not Least -- Yarn Types
The . These carpets perform well overall, but, since nylon stains easily, nylon carpets require a stain-resistant coating, which you must replace every time you clean them. Corn sugar is used to make a proprietary fiber that rates second to nylon and is good in homes with kids and pets. However, at the time of publication, the vote's not in on this product in respect to its durability in high-traffic areas.
Advances in carpet technology have led to the production of carpet fibers from recycled plastic containers. You can also purchase carpets manufactured with polyethylene terephthalate polyester fibers that are woven into yarns, which results in better stain resistance and performance than traditional polyester carpets. Since they're soft underfoot, this kind of carpet is ideal for low-traffic bedrooms. At the bottom of the scale, polypropylene carpets, while solution-dyed and naturally fade- and stain-resistant, don't offer much in the way of resiliency.