Olefin (Polypropylene) Fibers in Carpets and Rugs

Polypropylene (olefin), a by-product of gasoline refining, continues to gain market share for two reasons: it costs significantly less than nylon and it is inherently stain resistant. Its present market share is nearly 1/3.

Its inherent stain resistance arises from its lack of dye sites, the fact that it is chemically inert and the fact that it absorbs virtually no water. In fact, chlorine bleach and even battery acid have no effect on it. It is inherently mold resistant. It is also resistant to fading from sunlight and is, therefore, the fiber of choice for outdoor use.

Testing for Olefin fiber is quite simple - It's the only fiber used in carpet manufacture that floats in water. Simply clip a tuft in a corner, place it in a cup of cleaning solution, immerse the tuft below the surface and squeeze out all the air. If it floats, it's olefin! BUT, if you’re planning on using chlorine bleach to remove a stain, test with chlorine bleach too in case this is a nylon-olefin blend.

Olefin’s biggest drawbacks are its lack of resilience, its strong attraction for oily soils, and its propensity to wick more than nylon resulting in more frequent complaints of “reappearing spots”, streaking, yellowing, and resoiling. Also, because it has a much lower softening point than nylon, friction from moving furniture or casters can permanently damage the fibers. Additionally, a broken vacuum cleaner belt will seriously and permanently damage an olefin rug or carpet, melting the rubber into the fiber. Fortunately, because it is so resistant to most chemicals, more aggressive cleaning agents can be used on olefin.

Olefin is used in most Berber carpets or for use where a less expensive product is required and life expectancy and long-term appearance are unimportant. Olefin is the fiber of choice to use outdoors. Olefin should NEVER be used where the primary soil is oil; for example, olefin should never be used in a car showroom.

To reduce wicking on olefin carpets and rugs, it is best to prevacuum, make extra drying passes, and use air movers to speed up drying. Bane-Guard™ or Teflon® is recommended for olefin. Olefin should never be treated with a solvent-based protector. The mill can apply protector to olefin, by essentially fusing it into the fiber.

The attached chart of carpet fiber characteristics gives a quick overall comparison of the primary carpet fibers.

Products for Cleaning and Protecting Olefin Carpets and Rugs:

Additional Information on Carpet Fibers and Manufacture: