Carpet 101: A Pile of Information

Carpet 101: A Pile of Information

We tackled carpet cushion in our previous installation of Carpet 101; today let’s talk about the different kinds of carpet pile, as well as some of the pile-related terms used by carpet people.

First, it might be useful to understand how carpet is made.  The manufacturing process for just about every kind of carpet is essentially the same. The fibers are made into threads, which are then wound into yarns. Those yarns are threaded through needles which punch the yarns through a primary backing fabric to make loops of yarn of various lengths. The loops may or may not be cut, then the resulting fabric is dyed, treated, etc., and glued to a more rigid secondary backing fabric.



To make cut pile carpet, blades effectively give the carpet a haircut as the yarn-bearing needles punch through the backer fabric. They shear off the ‘tops’ of the loops, so the effect is essentially a twelve-foot-wide flat-top hairstyle.  A side view of the carpet looks like hairs, with individual strands, or tufts, of yarn.

This kind of carpet has that fluffy, velvety look we normally associate with carpet, and tends to be softer to the touch. It comes in a massive array of colors and fibers (nylon, polyester, olefin, acrylic), with various densities (how many tufts of yarn per square foot) and pile-height (how long each yarn tuft is), and differing yarn twists (how tightly wound the yarn is).

As with carpet padding, higher density performs better over time, particularly with cut pile. With more tufts per inch, the strands can support each other, lessening the crushing effect of foot traffic, so the fibers stay ‘new’ longer.


Illustration of loop pile


To make loop pile carpet, the loops of yarn are left uncut after the needles punch them through the backer fabric (no buzzcut). This makes for a durable, fuzz-free, crush-resistant carpet that is great for very high-traffic areas. A side view of the carpet looks like… well, like loops of yarn. The loops are different lengths for different overall durability and application, but are all the same size within the same carpet.

High-density, longer loop pile is sometimes grouped into the category of ‘Berber’ carpets, named for the handwoven wool carpets produced by the Berber people of North Africa. Modern loop-pile carpets are generally made from synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester.

Illustration of pattern loop pileAmazing textural patterns can be made by varying the lengths of the loops (the yarn-bearing needles push some loops further through the primary backing fabric, and some loops not as far) in the same piece of carpet, creating a pattern-loop pile.  This creates both visual and surface variances, even with a solid color yarn.  Use multiple colors of yarn in addition to multiple tuft lengths and you get wonderfully patterned soft surfaces.

Regardless of pattern, loop pile carpet tends to be firmer to the touch, not as soft and velvety. It is, however, highly resilient, and provides the same soft insulation benefits as cut pile carpet.




So let’s say you like both cut pile and loop pile. How do you decide? Good news! You don’t have to choose! As you might expect in indecisive America (*ahem*), there exists a combination of the above two styles (!! I know, right?), called cut loop pile. It features both cut pile and loop pile in one design. As in the pattern loop manufacturing process, the yarn-bearing needles push some loops further through the primary backing fabric and some loops not as far, but in a step similar to the cut pile process, blades trim the tops off the longer loops to form cut tufts. The result is a carpet pile that features both loops and individual tufts.


As you can probably surmise, carpet is a vast and varied medium.  There is a carpet in existence for nearly every carpet-worthy application (and if it doesn’t yet exist, a pile of scientists are most certainly working on it) (Ha!). Design possibilities are endless!

If you’ve been thinking about carpet, have questions, or just want to learn more, check out our flooring page, then stop in or give us a call!



Upcoming Carpet 101 articles (stay tuned!)

  • Carpet 101: Residential applications
  • Carpet 101: Commercial applications