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How is carpet made?

The Process of Making Carpet
A length of carpet being cut after production.
A length of carpet being cut after production.
Tarek El Sombat/iStockphoto

That plush sea of carpet keeping the floor of your living room nice and soft actually starts off as a bunch of loose strands of fibers called staples. The staples are put into a hopper where they're heated, lubricated and formed into slivers, which are wound into a long spool of fiber. From there, the carpet-making process is ready to begin.

Most carpet made today is tufted, or woven into closed loops. This method was developed in Dalton, Ga. -- the carpet capital of the world -- near the turn of the last century. Here's how it works: A needle pushes the carpet fibers through the underside of a piece of fabric called the carpet backing. A hook called a looper holds the fibers in place as the needle goes back down into the backing, forming the loop. It sounds a bit tedious, and it must have been before the advent of automated tufting machines. Today, these machines measure about 12 feet (3.65 meters) wide, with between 800 to 1,200 needles working to create carpet quickly and steadily [source: Carpeteria].

If the carpet is supposed to be tufted, then the actual creation process ends here. If cut pile carpet is being manufactured, however, then the tufted carpet goes through an additional step where the loopers holding the individual pile strands are pulled over sharp knives. This cuts the loops into the individual strands that make up a cut pile carpet.

The coloring process may take place at different stages in production, depending on the desired visual effect. As we mentioned earlier, some carpet is put into vats of water after production and boiled while dyes are mixed into the container. This is known as the Beck process. Another method, continuous dyeing, rolls and sprays dyes onto finished carpet. Still another, pre-dyeing, takes place before the carpet is processed. The actual yarn that will be used in the tufting process is dyed beforehand, which allows for uniform color.

Once the carpet is finished, it's washed, dried and vacuumed. Errant piles are trimmed and then it's sent on a conveyor belt past a final employee who uses a pile gun to fill in any overlooked bare areas. The carpet is now finished.

Sounds pretty straightforward, but what happens after you've bought and used the carpet and are ready to throw it out? What does it take to recycle old carpet? Find out on the next page.