Alternative Fibers

Some fibers are rarely used for wall-to-wall carpets but are getting more attention for use in area rugs. Cotton, for example, is too weak and stain-prone for carpeting, but a cotton-wool blend can make a luxurious rug that feels good on bare feet. Other natural fibers can be used for rugs as well. Eco Rug, for example, offers room-sized rugs woven from seagrass, hemp, jute and sisal, with a natural latex backing [source: EcoRug].

Choosing Carpet Fiber: Olefin (Polypropylene)

Olefin and polypropylene are two names for the second-most widely used carpet fiber after nylon. Olefin is not as durable as nylon, but it's chemically inert and resists acid and bleach well. Olefin fiber carpets can be cleaned using strong cleaners without risk of damaging the fibers. Less expensive than nylon, olefin is a good choice for a carpet that does not need to be particularly durable. Olefin is solution-dyed and is the most colorfast of all fibers. An olefin carpet is good in an area exposed to sunlight.

Olefin is water-resistant. The fiber naturally wicks moisture, moving it toward the tip of each strand, so it discourages mold and mildew. It is often used for outdoor carpets and is ideal in damp basements. It dries quickly after getting wet.

An olefin carpet can be hard to keep clean. It attracts dirt and looks dingy when soiled. Even after the carpet is cleaned, the fiber tends to wick more dirt from the base as it dries, causing spots and streaks to reappear. Olefin is more resistant to water-based stains than nylon, but is vulnerable to oil-based stains and grease. Even bare feet walking on an olefin carpet can leave behind enough oil to show traffic patterns.

Olefin fiber carpets are not as resistant to wear as nylon. The fiber is not as resilient and doesn't spring back as readily. The carpet may mat where it has been repeatedly walked on -- the flattening is usually impossible to repair. The pressure of furniture can crush the fibers, leaving indentations. Another drawback to olefin is its relatively low melting point, so low that the friction of dragging furniture quickly across a carpet can be enough to leave scorch marks.

Olefin is best used in low-traffic locations. Its stain resistance makes it good for places where children and pets might create spills, such as a family room. It's ideal for damp areas, from pool changing rooms to basements to patios. It's also a good choice for computer rooms, because unlike nylon it does not create static-electric charges.

Look for olefin carpet that has a low pile or low loops in its construction. This will help it to resist being crushed or matted. Olefin fiber carpets of this type are common in commercial applications. They're popular in retirement and nursing homes because wheel chairs roll over low-loop carpets easily. When choosing olefin, you might opt for darker colors, which are less likely to show dirt or scorch marks.

Read on to learn about the carpet fiber that can be made from recycled soft drink bottles.