Most of us don't give carpet much thought until we first move into our own home. But it's important to understand the basics before you commit to buying what can be an expensive item. Making the right decisions before your purchase should mean you have a carpet which suits a room's purpose, in terms of appearance, tactility and expected amount of use.

Here we look at the main types of carpet material and weave - and offer tips on underlay, making measurements and ordering.

Pile – what is it?

Pile is the soft upper layer of the carpet – the area you stand on. Pile quality is based on weight – how much yarn is used to make the carpet. More durable carpets tend to have heavier piles.

It should be noted however that deep pile carpets can flatten over time – and are best fitted in low-traffic rooms. Shorter piles are more durable, but don’t look or feel so luxurious.

Piles come in many forms, with varying weights, weaves and materials.

Twist pile

Made with yarn that has been twisted tightly to make a pile with a lightly textured surface. Very hard-wearing.

Velvet pile

As the name suggests, this pile type is softer underfoot. Different in appearance to the twist pile, yet similarly durable.

Loop pile


The yarns in this carpet type provide the appearance of natural flooring, with loops on the surface. A more textured look is created with loops of differing levels, while loops of the same height will provide a more even appearance. However, those with pets may wish to avoid this carpet type, since claws and loop pile do not mix!

Saxony pile

A luxurious carpet type with longer piles, the Saxony is not suitable for heavy-use areas because of its tendency to flatten out. Both wool and man-made fibres are used to make Saxony style carpets.

Woven carpets

This carpet type is made with threads that interlace one another. This labour-intensive carpet is in general more costly than other types.

Axminster versus Wilton

Woven carpets are made with one of two weaves: Axminster or Wilton. With Axminster, tufts are cut to the desired length and then fixed to the backing. By contrast, Wilton looms weave an ongoing loop, which is then cut to the desired pile height.

Axminster carpets can deal with more patterns and colours, while Wilton carpets tend to be made with limited colours – or in monotone.

Tufted carpet

About 70% of UK carpets are tufted, chiefly because they are more affordable to make. This carpet type is made with tufting machines – kind of oversized sewing machines.

Materials
Wool carpets

More environmentally friendly than man-made fibres, wool has an elastic quality which means it can recover from regular footfall very well. The natural crimping found in wool also helps keep a room insulated. Wool is also not very flammable. On the downside, it cannot cope with serious stains too well.

Polypropylene

One of the best-known man-made fibres used in carpet manufacture, polypropylene is ideal for heavy-traffic rooms – especially where animals or children are likely to make a mess. However, it is less luxurious in appearance and feel and does tend to flatten more rapidly than wool.

A combination of both

Carpets with both fibre types are available, usually at a ratio of 80-20 in favour of wool. This offers durability, easy cleaning – and a sense of luxury.

Shapes and sizes:

  • Wall-to-wall
  • Area rugs – available in various sizes
  • Carpet squares – difficult for homeowners to lay by themselves
  • Scatter rugs – smaller than area rugs, these help protect high-traffic zones
  • Carpet runners – for heavy use hallways, these are usually long and rectangular shape

Do I need an underlay?

Underlay or carpet padding is important as it helps make up for uneven floors. It also prolongs the life of even the most expensive carpets. In addition, it helps with insulation. While it may be tempting not to buy an underlay, it could save you money in the long run.

Tips on ordering a carpet
  • Take care when measuring the floor. Include nooks, crannies and indentations – such as those created by bay windows.
  • If a carpet fitter measures the space, do your own measurements too – and make sure both sets of figures tally.
  • Order your carpet according to the expected level of use: choose man-made fibres for high-traffic areas and natural fibres for low-traffic areas that you want to look visually appealing.

Colour

Last but not least, give the colour of your carpet some serious consideration. It will impact the mood and ambiance of a room. If choosing a carpet for a commonly-used living area, be sure the colour pleases you.

Swatches

Obtain carpet swatches to take home so you get a better idea of how the room will look in a particular colour, material, weave or pile.