The word "fiber" refers to any material that can be made into filaments and yarn. A filament is a single strand of any fiber. Yarn refers to a bundle of twisted filaments. When we think of types of carpet fibers, we often make the mistake of forgetting the backing, which is also made of fibers.
All fibers can be divided into two categories: natural and synthetic.
During our discussion of each fiber, we will divide it into positive aspects (pros) and negative aspects (cons) to simplify and make it easier to remember.
Natural Fibers: All natural fibers have a few things in common. They are absorbent, which results in both advantages and disadvantages, and can be further divided into two categories.
Protein fibers - Those coming from animals (wool and silk).
Cellulosic fibers - Those coming from plants (cotton).
Wool - Comes from the fleece of sheep and lambs or occasionally goats and some other animals. This is one of the oldest fibers used by man, dating back over four thousand years. It is also still one of the finest face yarns available for carpet.
Wool fiber is composed of three distinct sections:
1) Epidermis, or cuticle, which is the tough outer skin of serrated scales which overlap each other.
2) Cortex, or the spindle-shaped fibrous bulk of the fiber
3) Medulla, or core of the fiber through which the fiber once received nourishment.
- Hides Soil (Wool has excellent soil hiding capabilities. Wool will not exhibit or show soil as much as other fibers. In addition, wool does not refract and reflect light like synthetics.)
- Resilient (Wool is very strong, elastic, and resilient. Wool face yarn in a well-constructed carpet will stand up to the heaviest traffic and still look beautiful. Example - Notice the carpet in most casinos and finer hotel lobbies and hallways.)
- Soil Release (This means that wool responds very well to cleaning as moisture makes the fibers swell and release particle soil.)
- Flame Retardant (Wool is naturally flame retardant. In many areas, fire codes require the use of wool carpet in the entry and exit areas of certain public buildings.)
- Expensive (This arises mainly from the processing cost, the cleaning, and the preparation, etc., rather than the actual cost of the raw material.)
- Fiber Distortion (Wool is very prone to distortion by excess agitations such as jet streaks and wand marks.)
- Stains Easily (Due to its absorbency and ease of dyeing, wool is easily stained by wine, Kool-Aid, and other acid dyestuffs.)
- Chemical Sensitivity (Wool is sensitive to excessive alkaline chemicals with prolonged exposure. This will tend to make wool brittle and somewhat discolored.)
- Wool is also very sensitive to chlorine bleach, such as Clorox. It will completely dissolve wool within a matter of minutes.
Silk - A very expensive fiber yet rarely used in carpet. It is usually seen in very high priced oriental type rugs coming from China, and it would not be unusual to encounter silk rugs costing in excess of $20,000 in the larger sizes.
It is obtained from the cocoons of silk worms. A very long filament of silk is obtained by unwinding, or "reeling", the cocoon of silk worms.
- Strength: Silk has a higher tensile (pulling) strength than a similar filament of steel.
- Lightweight and Stretchable: It can stretch up to twenty percent of its length.
- Flame Resistant: Silk is naturally flame resistant, and will resist temperatures up to 330 degrees.
- Chemically Sensitive: Silk being a protein fiber is also sensitive to alkalinity and chlorine bleach much the same as wool.
Cotton - It comes from the seed pod of the cotton plant. It is a staple fiber and requires processing into yarn.
- Strong: In tightly spun yarn, cotton is very strong, and its strength increases when wet.
- Absorbent: This means good dye acceptance.
- Static Resistant
- Heat Resistant
- Absorbent: This can also be a disadvantage because of slow drying time.
- Stains Easily: Also due to high absorbency.
- Browning: True cellulosic browning occurs in cotton, as it is 99% cellulose. Degradation of the cells release lignin, which wicks to the surface as brown or yellow stains.
Nylon - By far, the most popular of the man made fibers.
- Excellent Strength
- Good Elasticity (Nylon will stretch up to 33% of its length and still regain its original shape. This is very important in heavy traffic areas where furniture may be dragged across the carpet.)
- Abrasion Resistant
- Static Resistant
- Good Resiliency
- Non Absorbent
- Responds well to cleaning
- Inexpensive to manufacture
Polyester - Its popularity has gone up and down like a roller coaster. Because it is relatively inexpensive to produce, manufacturers are regularly reintroducing this fiber to the carpet industry. Although it has some excellent qualities, and is a great fiber for clothing, it does have some limiting factors when used in carpet.
With the advent of microfibers, polyester has become increasingly popular as an upholstery fabric.
- Resists bleaching/fading
- Heat Resistant
- Stain Resistant
- Environmental Friendly
- Low Absorbency
- Dye Resistant
- Does not resist oil stains
- Crimp Loss (This occurs gradually from continuous stretching of the fiber due to foot traffic, furniture moving and agitation of some degree. Some fiber simply don’t spring back as well as others. This is most common with polyester fiber, no manufacturer has been able to totally resolve the problem.)
Olefin - A very versatile carpet fiber. It is also the generic name for polypropylene, a synthetic fiber used to make many different products, including carpet. In our carpet industry, the terms olefin and polypropylene are typically used interchangeably, as they both mean the same thing. You may hear the fiber referred to by either name.
- Moisture Resistant
- Chemical Resistant
- Fade Resistant
- Not Resilent
- Heat Sensitive
- Affinity for Oil
- Wicking (the upward motion of water and cleaning solution during drying from the base of a tuft to its tip carrying with it any remaining soil and contamination, which is then deposited on the tips of the tuft.)
Acrylic - This is not widely used in carpet today. It can be found blended with wool and in some products that imitate the look and feel of wool. It is also found in some inexpensive area rugs. It has many of the properties of wool and is often seen blended to reduce the price of a carpet while maintaining its appearance.
- Wool Like Properties (Soft, lightweight, dull appearance that helps hide soil.)
- Strong, Light weight
- Cleans good and Stain Release
- Poor Resiliency (This leads to nap reversal, pooling, and to permanent furniture marks. Nap reversal or pooling is the tendency of the nap to lie in opposite directions along an irregular line
- Browning (Sensitive to alkaline chemicals, which can lead to a form of browning.)
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