How to choose a carpet
Types of carpet
By Kate Martin
Article 1 of 3
Types of carpet
Whether you need a good-value carpet that’s tough enough for a hall, or a little luxury for the living room, this guide will help you choose.
If you're thinking about buying a new carpet, there are a few decisions you need to make. As well as choosing a colour or pattern to suit your space, you'll also need to pick a type of carpet and a material.
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, and will also ultimately come down to your budget.
The main things to consider are:
- 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, will benefit from more durable materials. If you've got children or you like to entertain, you'll need something that's easy to clean, while pets with claws will rule out looped carpets that can easily snag.
- The look and feel you're after. 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.
Why choose carpet?
Carpet is good for making a room more cosy and insulating your floors. It's a good choice if you tend to walk around barefoot.
In our latest survey*, most of our 2,000 respondents told us they chose their carpet for comfort, warmth and the way it feels.
But the carpet owners we spoke to pointed out that they had found lots of practical reasons to choose carpet over other flooring types, including:
- to provide a non-slip surface on stairs
- because pet dogs found laminate too slippery to walk on
- it can easily be lifted to do work on floorboards or plumbing below
- objects dropped on a carpet are less likely to break than those dropped on a wooden floor
- they're easier to lay over uneven surfaces and can do a better job of disguising the problem.
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).
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.
There are a few ways to check a carpet's durability before you buy, but one quick test is to press your thumb into the pile. The more quickly it springs back and recovers, the more dense and resilient it should be.
You can also take a look at the back of the carpet to see how closely packed the tufts are, or check its weight, which should be printed on the back of your sample swatch. Carpets with long, loose strands are lighter and less durable than short, dense ones.
Woven and tufted carpets
There are two main types of carpet in the UK: woven and tufted. The difference lies in the way they're made: woven carpets are labour intensive and therefore more expensive, while tufted carpets are easier to produce. Most carpet sold in the UK is tufted.
You can 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 them 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 are 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 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.
They also come in a wide range of prices, starting at just 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 have very different appearances.
Flick through the gallery below and then read on to find out more about the different types of tufted carpet, or go straight to our interactive tool to help you choose the right carpet.
These carpets have a soft, deep, cut pile, but they’re easily flattened and show vacuum cleaner marks. They're popular for bedrooms and living rooms, but best avoided in busy areas such as hallways.
Twists are smooth, hardwearing and practical, which makes them very popular. They don't show footprints or furniture marks, and are good at hiding dirt. They're a good choice for areas with lots of foot traffic and for families and pet owners. More than a third of people we surveyed* had bought twist carpets in the past 10 years.
This style is generally hard-wearing and practical, so it's good for high-traffic areas. But loop carpets are a no for pet owners, as animals with claws – especially cats – are likely to get them caught in the looped fibres.
Berbers are made from uncut loops of pile, with a distinctive knot effect. They tend to be affordable and hard-wearing, and often have a lightly flecked colouring which makes them excellent at hiding dirt. Like other looped carpets, they can get pulls and snags.
Manufacturers of this style use a combination of cut and looped pile to create patterns. They're less popular now than in their 1970s heyday, but can still be found at a handful of retailers.
These carpets have a dense, short pile with a smooth finish, so they’re soft and cosy. This makes them a popular choice for bedrooms or living rooms.
Choosing the best carpet materials
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 people told us that they chose a wool and synthetic mix, which can provide the benefits of a natural carpet with some of the useful qualities of synthetics, such as increased stain resistance.
Here’s how the different materials compare:
This synthetic is a good choice if you’re on a budget, as it’s generally cheap. It feels soft to the touch and is stain resistant. But it attracts oil, so any oil-based stains on these carpets will be tough to remove.
Popular because it looks and feels most like wool, polyester is usually used as part of a blend with real wool. Like other synthetics, its stain resistance is a major benefit. It’s sometimes made from recycled plastic bottles, so can be an eco-friendly option.
Nylon, also known as polyamide, is the most durable of the synthetic fibres. It can stretch without losing its shape, making it a good choice for rooms where furniture is often moved around, such as dining rooms.
Wool carpets are natural, durable and provide good heat and sound insulation. They can also absorb and release moisture in the room, controlling humidity levels. But they do tend to be more expensive than synthetics, the colours can fade over time in areas consistently exposed to sunlight, and they're popular with hungry carpet moths and carpet beetles.
Plant-based carpet materials are growing in popularity, thanks to their stylish and contemporary appearance. But just like wool, they don’t come cheap.
- Sisal is rough underfoot but is known for being hard-wearing. Its big drawback is that it can easily stain or get watermarks.
- Jute is less durable than sisal, but also softer, making it a better choice for bedrooms.
- Seagrass is resistant to stains and watermarks, but also to dye, so you won’t have much choice of colours.
- Coir is durable and low-maintenance, but feels rough so it’s better suited to areas where you won’t be wandering around barefoot.
If you don’t think carpet is the right option for you, explore the different types of wood flooring and get expert tips on how to buy and install it.
*Survey of 2,151 Which? members in August 2019