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Top 5 Problems with man-made fibre carpets: polypropylene, nylon & polyester

The top 5 Problems with Man-Made Fibre Carpets

Man made fibre or synthetic carpets have been incredibly popular in recent years but we’re now seeing a trend away from this style of carpet towards more environmentally sustainable choices. Unsurprisingly, at Flooring by Nature we’re not the biggest fans of man-made fibre carpets, we much prefer natural fibres. 

However we understand that man-made fibre carpets have their place and might suit some people, but we think there are some inherent characteristics of this style of carpet that you need to consider before taking the plunge on what can be an expensive purchase so we explain some of the key problems with man-made fibre carpets so you can make an informed buying decision.

Man-made fibre or synthetic carpets are those made predominantly from plastics such as polypropylene, nylon or polyester and they include some of the most popular carpets in the UK (you may have heard of the Sensation range by Cormar Carpets which has been hugely popular and is still fit in the showhomes of most of the big UK housebuilders.) We’ve been in the carpet trade for over 40 years, we’ve seen trends come and go, and have also experienced how products perform over time in real homes. Here’s our top five issues that we’ve experienced with man-made carpets over the years:

1. Flattening & Matting

The main issue most customers are likely to experience with man-made carpets is one of flattening in high traffic areas. This happens to all carpets to a certain degree but many man-made fibre carpets have characteristics that make this issue more apparent.

Man-made fibres are not as resistant to flattening as wool. Wool contains a natural bounce and springiness which means it bounces back better when stepped on than man-made fibre carpets. 

Many man-made fibre carpets are specifically designed to be very soft to the touch and of a longer pile length. This gives a luxurious feel when first fitted but is not a resilient design for any but the least walked on floors. 

A long soft pile has even less natural bounce back and once walked on the pile will quickly lay over and be noticeably flatter than the surrounding pile that is not walked on.   

This doesn’t mean the carpet is wearing out but rather that it will not retain its new appearance for very long.

Another issue related to the pile is matting, this can happen on long, soft piles where dust and dirt becomes embedded in the pile leading to the individual tufts matting together and losing their soft, thick appearance.

Daily vacuuming with a quality vacuum cleaner with a beater bar is essential to help prevent the pile flattening or matting.

Problems with man-made fibre carpets

2. Fire risk

Wool is naturally fire retardant which means it doesn’t burn easily. Man-made fibre carpets are made from oil based plastics so will have the opposite effect and may ignite easily if exposed to flames and will also quickly melt if accidentally exposed to heat sources such as straightening irons or stray sparks from fireplaces.

By far the safest option would be to have carpets made of fire retardant wool, not flammable plastic in case the worst should happen and you experience a fire in your home. One of the most dangerous aspects of a house fire would be the toxic smoke that is released from burning materials and plastic carpets would be a key source of these deadly airborne toxins. 

Man-made fibre carpets are often sold as an ideal option for children’s bedrooms due to their stain resistant properties, however we feel this view should be re-considered due to the fire risk they pose.

3. Not environmentally friendly

We all know that we need to reduce our reliance on plastic, from purchasing products with less packaging to using bags for life at the supermarket. Another way to cut plastic out of our lives is to avoid it when decorating and furnishing our homes. 

You may opt for fabrics made from natural materials when selecting sofa coverings or curtains such as cotton or linen or choose a natural fibre floor covering made from 100% wool or natural sisal.

Man-made fibre carpets on the other hand are made from different types of plastic, commonly polypropylene, nylon or polyester. All of these are oil based fibres.

This means at the end of their useful life they will not biodegrade but will more likely exist in landfill for hundreds of years or be disposed of in an incinerator, adding carbon and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Some man-made fibre flooring may claim to be recyclable but in reality the facilities to economically recycle carpet do not commonly exist in the UK. 

There are some exceptions such as the Sedna carpet for example which consists of a man-made fibre range that is made from Econyl, recycled Nylon. https://sedna-carpet.com/en/home

4. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Chemicals used in the manufacturing process may release VOCs through a process called off-gassing. Carpet, particularly when it is new, may release VOCs into the air of your home. 

High levels of VOCs can cause an unpleasant odour, irritation to eyes, nose and throat, headaches and breathing problems particularly in people with existing breathing difficulties. 

It can be difficult to compare potential VOC levels in different ranges of carpet as these are not always published by the manufacturer. However as a general guide the more man-made ingredients included in a product then the higher the potential for off-gassing of VOCs.

Natural carpets on the other hand are more likely to have very low levels of VOCs. Look for products made from natural materials such as undyed wool or plant fibres like sisal.

5. Poorer thermal insulation

We’re often asked about the insulating performance of carpets, particularly in these days of high energy prices. Many carpets now display their tog ratings. This is a measure of their thermal insulating properties – just like how duvets are rated by tog. 

A good quality carpet and underlay can make a real difference to the feel of a room by insulating the floor, particularly if the floor is concrete. The higher the tog level then the higher the insulating properties and the warmer your home will be. You can get some high ratings in both man-made fibres and wool carpets but we find that weight for weight the highest tog ratings generally come from the wool carpet options.

For example, pair our Envirolay 54oz wool felt underlay at 3.42 tog with the Brunton Wool Loop carpet at 2.56 tog to gain an impressive combined insulating layer of 5.98 tog. 

Remember if you’re fitting over underfloor heating, it’s important to minimise the insulating properties of the carpet and underlay. This will ensure heat can transfer into your room and your heating system is able to work efficiently. 

As a general guide, do not exceed 2.5 tog combined underlay and carpet over underfloor heating or you may find it takes an extended time for your room to warm up. 

For carpet installations over underfloor heating we recommend using the Olympic 6.5mm crumb rubber underlay which provides high quality support to the carpet at a low tog rating of 0.7 tog.

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