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Identifying Carpet Fiber Types

By Michael Hilton

While the easiest method of identifying carpet fiber type is to simply look on the back stamp (found on the underside of each carpet installation), removing installed carpet is not always the easiest option. Carpet inspectors are well-versed in the various fiber identification techniques, but the consumer may be unfamiliar with these techniques.

There are generally two methods of identifying carpet fiber types -- a burn test evaluation and chemical testing. The third method, feel, is reserved for old carpet pros, who can generally rub their hand across the pile and identify the fiber type.

The chemical test is by far the most reliable, but most consumers may not have access to the various chemicals necessary to perform this test. Each fiber can be dissolved in a particular chemical. Briefly, the following should be noted.

Nylon: dissolves in formic acid. A few drops of formic acid on nylon fiber will begin to dissolve the fiber in 20 to 60 seconds. A rule of thumb would be that type 6,6 nylon takes longer to dissolve than type 6 nylon.

Wool: Dissolves in Chlorox in about 5 minutes. If wool has been blended with other fibers, these fibers will remain undissolved.

Acetate: Dissolves in acetone. Note some cleaning compounds may use acetone as a dry solvent, so if you are cleaning furniture, this is a mandatory test, since many furniture fabrics may use acetate.

Olefin: While this fiber "floats on water", naphtha can be used for fiber identification. To use the specific gravity test, place a drop of dishwashing liquid in a cup of water and place the fiber in the mixture. Olefin fibers float whereas all others sink.

Polyester: dissolves in boiling di-methylformamide. In case your kitchen cupboard is missing this rarely used, but necessary ingredient, move to the burn test area.

Fiber Burn Testing In using the burn test there are three basic characteristics which must be observed; Flame, Ash, and Odor

Fiber Flame Ash Odor
Nylon blue base/orange tip
burns evenly
No smoke/white puff
Round bead
gray/brown/black
hard
Celery
Wool orange
sputters out
no smoke
Irregular, black crumbles to coarse powder Burning hair
Cotton/Jute orange
burns evenly
continues to smolder
No smoke
Irregular glowing ember, gray/black, crumbles to fine powder Burning Paper
Olefin Blue base/orange tip
burns evenly and rapidly
no smoke
round bead, light tan to brown, hard Paraffin or asphalt
Polyester Orange
sputters
sooty black smoke
round, shiny, black, hard Sweet fruity
Rayon Orange
rapid burning flame
No ash, no bead Burning paper

About the Author
Michael Hilton was the original creator of Carpet Buyers Handbook. Having owned and operated a carpet wholesale company, Hilton has a vast knowledge about all-things carpet related as well as other types of flooring.

Other Helpful Links
Construction Basics
Needle Punch Carpet
Carpet Fibers
Identifying Carpet Fiber Types
Carpet Fiber Processing
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