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Green Carpet Fibers


Bare Feet on Green Carpet

Carpet fibers are thin, thread–like structures that are made into yarn and then woven or tufted into carpet. Since the bulk of carpet is made from carpet fibers, selecting the right carpet fiber is one of the most crucial choices when it comes to buying green carpet.

There is some debate about what qualifies a carpet fiber as "green". With a large selection of emerging carpet manufacturers jumping on the green flooring bandwagon, green carpeting choices are growing and selecting the right one is becoming more and more confusing. You should be careful when selecting green carpeting to be sure you don't end up with carpet that doesn't meet your original environmental intentions. Carpet fibers that are green in one area may not necessarily be green in another. In this section, we will weigh the green pros and cons of many different green carpet fibers and help you decide which one is best for you.

Note: While discussing different types of green carpet fibers, you will notice that we list examples of different brand names. This is helpful when shopping for green carpet as many carpet manufacturers will list the brand name of the carpet fiber on the label of the product. It is important to note that there are several other brand names of fibers not mentioned in this section that may also qualify as green.

Carpet fibers are divided into two main groups – synthetic and natural. Synthetic means that the carpet fiber has been made by a synthetic, or a chemical process. Natural fibers are instead formed by nature.

Carpeting Products

Synthetic Green Carpet Fibers

Image of Polyester Fibers

P.E.T. Polyester Fiber – P.E.T. polyester fibers are made from recycled plastic bottles (such as ketchup and soda bottles) thus reducing need for petroleum based materials and reducing overall landfill waste. Carpet made with this fiber often has the highest level of recycled content in comparison to carpet made with other recycled fibers. At the end of its life, carpet made from P.E.T. polyester fibers can be recycled into other products such as car parts. In addition, P.E.T. fibers are naturally stain resistant, eliminating the need for chemical stain treatments. Both the Envirelon line of carpet (made by Talisman Mills) and Beaulieu of America's® residential carpet lines are made with 100% recycled P.E.T. polyester fibers. Mohawk's EverSTRAND® residential line as well as some of their commercial lines also use recycled P.E.T. polyester fibers.

Image of Nylon Carpet Fibers

Nylon Fiber – Nylon is the most commonly used carpet fiber today, with a hold on over half of the carpet market. Nylon carpet fibers can be made with recycled content, putting nylon on the list of potentially green carpets fibers. In addition, the carpet industry is continually finding innovative ways to recycle nylon carpet at the end of its lifecycle, thus reducing carpet's burden on landfills. Carpet manufacturers such as Shaw, Mohawk, and Interface FLOR are stepping up to help increase carpet recycling. Nylon is now being recycled through Shaw's Evergreen Plant, Mohawk's GreenWorks Plant, InterfaceFlor's ReEntry Carpet Reclamation Program, and several other emerging carpet reclamation centers nationwide. Shaw's Eco–Solution Q Nylon and Invista's Antron Nylon are good examples of carpet fibers made with recycled nylon. For more on recycled carpet, visit FindAnyFloor's® section on Carpet and Recycling.

Mohawk's SmartStrand Carpeting Logo

Fibers Made From Renewable Resources such as Sugar from Corn – Nowadays renewable resources (such as sugar derived from corn) are being used to make carpet, thus reducing our dependence on petroleum based products and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Good examples of a carpet fibers made partially with sugar derived from corn based fibers is Mohawk's SmartStrand® (made with DuPont™Sorona® renewably sourced polymer) and InterfaceFLOR's polylactic acid (PLA) fiber which is blended with nylon.

Natural Green Carpet Fibers

Image of Wool Carpet Fibers

Wool Fiber – As a green carpet fiber, wool has its up and downs, like most other natural carpet fibers. Wool fibers are considered a sustainable resource because they come from the cut hair of sheep (or, on rare occasions, llamas or goats), rather than coming from petroleum based products, and are also biodegradable. On the downside, wool carpet rarely comes from the US meaning that lengthy shipping adds to energy usage. One must also take into consideration the energy and resources it takes to raise the animals that grow wool. Another common criticism of wool is a moth–proofing chemical that is commonly, but not always used, which results in the off–gassing of VOC's.

Image of a Cotton Plant, Sisal,
Sea Grass and Coir Fibers

Cotton Fiber – Cotton carpet fibers come from the seed of the cotton plant, making them a sustainable resource. On the downside, because cotton can stain and matt easily, cotton fibers are not very commonly used for carpet. In fact, carpet made with cotton fibers accounts for less than 1% of the carpet market. It is more common to see cotton area rugs and mats that are easily washed once soiled.

Other Plant Fibers – Like cotton, other plant fibers such as sisal, sea grass, hemp, jute, abaca, and coir can be used to make carpet, but are more commonly seen in area rugs and mats. Plant fibers are biodegradable, meaning that if they are disposed of they will decompose over time. When purchasing carpet made from plant fibers, you should ensure that the carpet emits low levels of VOCs and is untreated by chemicals. You should also consider where the fibers originated and whether or not they were shipped long distances, which adds to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Fiber Construction – Density, Pile Height, Face Weight, and Twist

Image of a Carpet Label

Longer lifetimes mean fewer replacements therefore, the expected lifetime of a carpet can add to its green status. Being that the construction of a carpet can add to or subtract from the carpet's lifetime, it is important to note the carpet's fiber density, pile height, face weight, and twist of the carpet fibers. While it is not always true, the general rule of thumb is that the denser the fiber is packed, and the shorter it is, the better it will perform. For carpets that have twisted fibers, the tighter the twist, the better it will hold up. For easy comparison, carpet manufacturers are required by law to list their fiber content on their label for easy comparison.

Note: Face weight, a measurement of ounces of fiber per square inch of carpet, should not be confused with total weight, which includes the weight of the backing(s) and any other materials used to construct the carpet.

Choosing the Right Green Carpet

It is important to remember that other factors, besides carpet fiber, can attribute to the eco–friendliness of a particular carpet. These factors include carpet's supporting materials (backing, cushion, adhesives, and so on) as well as the products and methods used for installation and cleaning of the carpet. If all this seems a little overwhelming, be sure to check out FindAnyFloor's printable Green Carpet Checklist where we have simplified the basics of selecting green carpeting in one easy–to–read guide.

Recommendation: To ensure that you are purchasing carpet that promotes a healthy indoor air quality (IAQ), choose carpet, padding, and adhesives that have the Carpet and Rug Institute's (CRI) Green Label or Green Label Plus which means that they emits very low levels of VOCs.