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How to buy the best carpet

From picking out carpet samples to choosing the best underlay,  we guide you through the steps of buying and fitting a carpet.
Paula Flores
Velvet touch roomshot 484234

We explain how to choose the right carpet, the pros and cons of carpet vs other flooring types, how to find a carpet fitter, why you really do need underlay, and much more. 

Before buying a carpet, there are a few things to consider:

  • How much you want to spend Costs can vary from less than £5 per square metre for a simple synthetic to more than £100 per square metre for a premium, hand-woven design.
  • Who (and what) will be walking on the carpet High-traffic areas, such as hallways, need more durable materials. If you've got children you'll need something that's easy to clean, while pets with claws will rule out looped carpets that snag easily.
  • Look and feel The way your carpet is made will affect how it looks – from glossy and plush, to tight and dense – and how it feels underfoot. Think about whether you want a soft pile you can sink your toes into or something flatter and more stable. 
Living room with beige carpet and patterned rug

If you already know the type of carpet you're looking for, use our reviews of the best and worst carpet retailers to choose a shop that offers a good range of carpets and top-notch customer service. 

Which type of carpet should you choose?

From hand-woven wool to plush synthetics to hard-wearing sisal, there are plenty of materials available. Which you choose will depend on where you'll use the carpet, as well as your budget.

Carpet vs laminate or wood

The choice between carpet and other flooring types such as laminate or wood depends on your how you plan to use a room, as well as your style preferences. 

Laminate or wood flooring is brilliant for high-traffic areas that will need frequent cleaning, such as living rooms, studies and playrooms. Meanwhile, carpet makes a room warmer and helps to insulate and soundproof your floors. It's can be a great choice in rooms where you tend to walk around barefoot, such as bedrooms. 

In November 2021, we surveyed 6,381 people who had bought a carpet in the past five years. Most respondents told us they chose their carpet for comfort, warmth and the way it feels. Here's the full rundown of people's main reasons for choosing carpet: 

  • 68% - comfort underfoot
  • 67% - warmth underfoot 
  • 61% - prefer the feel 
  • 51% - prefer the look
  • 30% - soundproofing
  • 26% - for insulation
  • 12% - easier to buy and/or install
  •  6% - it was cheaper

The carpet owners we spoke to also pointed out a number of practical reasons to choose carpet over other flooring types, including: 

  • the floor being unsuitable for other options, such as laminate
  • to provide a non-slip surface on stairs
  • pet dogs finding laminate too slippery to walk on
  • carpet being easy to lift to do work on floorboards or plumbing below
  • being easier to lay over uneven surfaces, and doing a better job of disguising flaws.

Choosing a carpet pile

The pile of a carpet describes its individual fibres. These can be looped (where the fibres loop back into the backing material) or cut (cut off at the top). A carpet's pile can have a big impact on how durable it is. 

The key measurements you'll need to know to assess a carpet's durability are its density (how closely knitted together its fibres are) and its pile height. In general, short, dense, heavy carpets are more durable and hard-wearing than those with loose, shaggy fibres.

Press your thumb into the carpet pile. The more quickly it springs back and recovers, the more dense and resilient it should be.

Look at the back of the carpet to see how closely packed the tufts are. Carpets with long, loose strands are lighter and less durable than short, dense ones.

Also check its weight. This should be printed on the back of your sample swatch. 

Woven vs tufted carpets: what's the difference?

There are two main types of carpet in the UK: woven and tufted. Woven carpets are labour-intensive to make, and therefore more expensive, while tufted carpets are easier to produce. Most carpet sold in the UK is tufted.

Woven carpets

Expect to pay from around £60 per square metre for an authentic woven carpet. They're made using traditional methods that date back to the 16th century.

They have a reputation for high quality and rich colours, and also tend to be durable. This makes woven carpets a popular choice for well-trodden areas that are regularly on show, such as hallways and living rooms.

There are two main types of woven carpet:

  • Axminster carpets are made by weaving fibres in and out through the backing material. They're known for their intricate patterns
  • Wilton carpets are made on a loom of the same name, which weaves the yarn in a continuous strand.

Tufted carpets

Tufted carpets are by far the most popular in the UK. They're made by a machine that punches pile yarn into the base material, and come in a variety of styles and materials. 

Prices vary, starting from a couple of pounds per square metre for the cheapest synthetic carpets, and from around £12 per square metre for very basic wool carpets.

Tufted carpets can have either looped or cut pile, which mean they can look very different.

Flick through the gallery below to see the different types of tufted carpet, and use the dropdowns to find out more about each type.

Types of carpet

A large collection of images displayed on this page are available at https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/carpets/article/how-to-choose-a-carpet/how-to-buy-a-carpet-acfeQ4k9B6bJ

Choosing the best carpet material

Synthetic materials such as polypropylene and nylon are cheaper, more stain resistant and less prone to mould and mildew. But they’ll also wear out more quickly.  

Natural fibres such as wool and sisal can be pricey, are more prone to staining and can attract insects, but the fibres are resilient so they’ll last longer.  

When we surveyed carpet owners about which material they chose, there was an even split between people who favoured synthetics and those who preferred natural materials. Some chose a wool and synthetic mix, which can combine the benefits of a natural carpet with some of the useful qualities of synthetics, such as increased stain resistance. 

Some retailers, such as Carpetright, have developed carpet ranges designed to be more eco-friendly, using materials such as recycled plastic bottles or fish nets.  

Use the dropdowns below to view examples of popular carpet materials.  

Pros and cons of different carpet materials

Here's a quick summary of the main carpet types. 

PolypropyleneStain resistant
Easy to clean
Prone to flattening
Stain resistant
Prone to flattening
Not suitable for high-traffic areas
NylonStain resistant
Holds colour well
Good choice if you have a pet
Can be prone to soiling and holding on to oils
WoolNatural fibre
Not as stain- esistant as other choices
SisalNatural fibre
Strong and hard-wearing
Stains easily
Hard to clean

If you're not yet convinced about carpet and are keen consider alternatives, explore the different types of wood flooring and get expert tips on how to buy and install it.

Steps to take when choosing a carpet

1. Visit a carpet retailer – and get samples

It's important to see the carpet with your own eyes before buying it. Most our survey respondents (69%) told us they visited a carpet retailer's shop before buying.

One  respondent's advice was: 'You need to be able to see a reasonable amount of the carpet on a roll to get an idea of what it would look like in a large area.'

Whether or not you're able to get to a store, it's a good idea to get carpet samples, as 27% of our survey respondents did. You can ask for samples when visiting your carpet retailer, or order them online to be sent to you. 

What seems like the perfect shade underneath bright overhead strip lights in a shop can become an entirely different colour in your bedroom where you only use muted lamp light, for example. Check it at different times of day, too. 

Some carpet owners told us that borrowing samples was also helpful because it gave them a chance to walk on them to see how they'd feel underfoot.

2. Get underlay

Underlay fitted onto a landing and staircase

Underlay helps carpet to sit properly and wear evenly, and makes sure that it lasts as long as it can. It can also improve the way the carpet feels when you walk on it, and increase heat and sound insulation.

Underlay wears out over time, so you should replace it every time you buy a new carpet. Remember to factor this into your costs. We offer advice on buying underlay later in this article. 

3. Work out some rough costs

In many cases, you'll need to have a surveyor come round to give you a full price estimate, including carpet and underlay plus extra accessories (such as door trims) and fitting costs. But doing some calculations in advance can help you narrow down what's likely to be within your budget. 

When working out carpet costs, remember that you have to buy the carpet in set widths, so there can be a lot of wastage.

Carpets are mostly sold in rolls that are either 4 or 5 metres wide, and a section will be cut from the roll to match the length of your room. The carpet fitter will trim away any excess from the width, but you’ll still have to pay for this unused carpet. 

You can use offcuts to make doormats and rugs, or to carpet the inside of cupboards. They’re also handy for placing underneath the legs of furniture to avoid squashing the pile.

How much do you need to spend to get a good carpet?

The price of your carpet will vary considerably depending on its material. Typically natural-based materials such as wool and silk are more expensive. 

High-grade wool is one of the most expensive carpet materials, with prices for 100% wool carpets ranging from around £28 per square metre to more than £100 for a branded one. Polypropylene is one of the least expensive options, with prices starting from as little as £6 per square metre.

If you know the measurements of your room, use our carpet calculator to get an initial cost estimate (this does not include fitting costs or any extras).

4. Get a full estimate for supplying and fitting your carpet

The next step is for a surveyor from your chosen retailer to visit your property, take accurate measurements and give you a full estimate of the costs. This will usually be a free, no-obligation appointment, but check the small print before you book.

If you haven’t yet ordered samples, ask the surveyor to bring some. They might be able to bring larger samples so you can get an even better idea of how the carpet will look.

The surveyor should advise on any extras that you’ll need to pay for, such as:

  • removing and disposing of old carpet or other flooring
  • moving furniture
  • gripper rods (to hold the carpet in place) and door trims
  • door alterations.

Ask for an itemised quote of all the costs so you can see exactly what you’ll be paying for. This can also help you to see where you could save some cash.

5. Order your carpet

Make sure you’ve got your estimate to hand when you order your carpet.

Discuss the quote with the retailer to make sure you have everything you need, and that you’re not paying for services you don’t want.

You’ll probably have to pay for the carpet and underlay upfront, and pay separately for fitting costs when the carpet is laid, but check the payment arrangements with the retailer so you don't get any nasty surprises.

6. Get your carpet fitted

A close up of someone's hands fitting a carpet

When you book your carpet fitter, check the services they offer and any extra costs involved. If you need to find your own carpet fitter, read our advice on how to hire a carpet fitter.

You can use our Which? Trusted Traders search tool, below, to find a reliable carpet fitter you can trust. All Which? Trusted Traders go through a rigorous assessment process that includes credit and customer reference checks, as well as a visit from a qualified assessor.

How to save money on buying carpet

  • Buy in winter Prices typically start to drop in mid-December, and you can find good discounts through the January sales.
  • Haggle If you’ve seen a good deal on a similar carpet elsewhere, try using it as leverage to negotiate with the salespeople.
  • Get itemised quotes This will let you see where extra charges have been added that you might be able to avoid. For example, if there's a fee for removing old flooring, this might be a task you could do yourself.
  • Consider remnants Most carpet stores have a section with pieces left from the end of rolls, which are often discounted. You might get lucky and find one that's the right size for a small space.
  • Reuse door trims and gripper rods You can reuse your existing accessories if they’re in good enough condition.
  • Shop around for underlay Sourcing the underlay separately from where you buy the carpet might be cheaper. Some carpet owners have told us they found identical underlay to that offered by the retailer for half the price online. Just make sure it will definitely turn up before your carpet fitters do.
  • Look out for discontinued stock Carpets that are being discontinued often have price reductions. Make sure you have a back-up option or time to go back to the drawing board if the carpet sells out before you order, though.

How to choose the best carpet underlay

If you're planning to splash out on a luxurious new carpet, it can be tempting try to keep costs down by opting for cheaper underlay – or even reusing your existing underlay. The truth is, regardless of how much you spend on carpet, it will only be as good as its underlay. Just like carpet, underlay wears out over time, so you should replace it every time you buy a new carpet and factor this into your costs. 

A good underlay will improve how your carpet looks and feels, and how well it lasts. It will also boost heat and sound insulation.

How much does carpet underlay cost?

Depending on the type and quality, the cost of underlay can range from £3 to more than £11 per square metre. In high-traffic areas (such as stairs), it's worth spending a bit more for a higher-quality underlay. 

The retailer is likely to recommend a particular underlay, but if you're keen to cut costs, you might find you can get cheaper options elsewhere. 

Types of carpet underlay

  • Polyurethane (PU) foam underlay PU is made from recycled furniture foam and is soft underfoot, making for a great insulator. This was chosen by three in 10 of our survey respondents.
  • Rubber underlay Brilliant for low-traffic areas, rubber underlay is soft and feels great underfoot. It's not as as bouncy as other types.
  • Felt underlay This is a natural and often more eco-friendly choice, especially if it's made from recycled materials. Felt underlay is typically made of wool, although it can also be combined with other materials.

Underlay comes in different thicknesses, typically between 6mm and 12mm. Typically, the thicker the better –10mm was a popular choice among those who responded to our survey* – although how important this is will depend on the room. 

Each underlay product also has a tog rating. This refers to its level of heat insulation; the higher the tog rating, the better the insulation. The tog rating is influenced by the underlay composition, density and thickness. Typically it varies from 1 to 4, with 2.5 being a common rating.

If you're thinking of getting underfloor heating, the tog rating of the carpet and underlay combined needs to be low enough to allow the heating to work effectively. Consult your underfloor heating supplier or carpet retailer for more advice. 

If you're considering underfloor heating, under a carpet or any other type of flooring, read our guide on underfloor heating pros and cons.

Looking after your new carpet

New carpets can shed balls of fluff for several weeks after they’ve been laid. Some amount of shedding is perfectly normal and you can keep it under control by vacuuming regularly.

To keep your carpet in good condition, check out our guide to buying a carpet cleaner and our advice on how to clean a carpet .

*Based on a November 2021 survey of 6,381 people who had bought carpet in the last five years.