Hardwearing, natural, soft underfoot, the right carpet can transform a room – and if you choose the correct fibres for the location, a good carpet will last for years. Expert advice from Which? will guide you to the perfect choice.
A carpet can change a room's whole appearance, and you'll probably want it to last for several years, so it pays to do your homework. Knowing how to spot good quality is crucial if you want your carpets to wear well, keep their colour and look good for years to come.
Wear and Tear
Think about how much wear your carpet will get. Does it need to look good for just a few months until you sell your house, or does it need to withstand years of heavy foot traffic, kids or pets?
Picking the right fibre will ensure it doesn't wear out too soon. Wool is the most widely used – it's soft, springy, easy to clean, will retain its colour and appearance for years, and is naturally flame resistant. Carpets made with wool feel luxurious, especially in a high pile, but quality varies so look for a Woolmark guarantee. A second natural option is sisal, which is highly durable, wears very well and is available in a choice of colours.
Alternatively, you could consider synthetic fibres. Nylon is hard-wearing and good for heavy foot traffic in areas such as the hall. It's cheaper than wool but less durable, so is often used as a 20 per cent blend with wool for added durability. Polypropylene is cheaper than nylon, stain resistant and durable, but may flatten quickly and is flammable. Polyester wears well, but also flattens fairly quickly.
Most carpets are tufted, as this is the quicker and cheaper method of manufacture. Woven carpets keep their appearance and last longer, but they are pricier. They come in two types – axminster is patterned, and Wilton is often plain, but can contain up to five colours.
Splash of Colour
Neutral shades are the most popular colour choices, as it is easy to build a decorating scheme around them. Light carpets make rooms appear larger, but they will show up the dirt more than darker carpets. North-facing rooms don't get as much sun as south-facing rooms, so they tend to look colder and darker. They can be made to appear warmer by choosing reds, oranges and yellows.
Always take a sample home to see how the colour looks, both in the daytime with natural light and at night with your lighting turned on.
Plain or Patterned
Plain carpets can be easier to live with than patterned as they will co-ordinate with a wider range of furniture and wall coverings. Plain, light carpets work well if your furniture is bold and colourful. On the downside, they can make large rooms with few furnishings look empty and uninteresting, but using texture such as a shag pile can add interest.
Patterned carpet is making a comeback. There are a wide range of patterns to choose from, including classic florals, contemporary motifs or tartan. A patterned carpet can act as the focal point of a room if you have pale, plain furniture and walls, and can also hide signs of soiling and wear. Avoid large patterns in small rooms as they make the room feel cluttered.
Texture and Tread
Carpets come in a wide range of textures that affect feel, appearance and performance. Shorter pile carpets, such as twist and loop wear better and are easier to maintain than longer pile, such as shag and saxony, but aren't as luxurious. Avoid loop textures if you have pets with claws.
Underlay improves the feel as well as the heat and sound insulation of a carpet – and can increase its life by up to 40 per cent. Most underlay sold in the UK is foam or rubber. Experts say that new underlay with each carpet is vital for it to sit properly and wear evenly.
The industry trade body, the carpet Foundation, says that you should expect to pay from £20 per sqm for a good-quality carpet, but shop around and don't be afraid to haggle if you see a carpet you like. Retailers may encourage you to save money by choosing cheaper carpet, but that can be at the expense of quality. To get the best job done, you should also consider paying for fitting and a good-quality underlay.
Get it Fitted
Professional advice, measuring and fitting is important to make sure there are no noticeable joins, bumps or gaps. If you buy from an independent shop, consider a specialist retailer who's registered with the carpet Foundation. They adhere to an office of Fair trading approved code of practice by giving expert advice, written quotes and good after-sales services. If you choose your own fitter, make sure that they're a member of the national institute of carpet and Floorlayers (nicfltd.org.uk).
Check with the retailer if the service includes clearing the room, lifting and removing the old carpet, checking that loose floorboards are secured and installing hardboard or plywood if the floor is uneven.
Check whether the carpet has been treated with a protective finish, such as scotchguard, to prevent permanent staining. If not, you can have this done professionally or do it yourself – but ask the retailer whether it is necessary.
Use doormats to prevent wear near doors and furniture coasters to prevent marks from furniture. Snip any snags or pulls with a pair of scissors, rather than pulling them out.
To keep them in good condition, give your carpets the occasional deep clean. You can do this yourself with a carpet cleaner, or hire a professional accredited by Woolsafe or the national carpet cleaners association (ncca.co.uk).