Carpet Backing

It didn’t hit me until an email I received a couple of weeks ago that I haven’t discussed carpet backings on this site (besides a quick mention of the definition of carpet backing).

Did I not mention carpet backing because it’s not important? Or did I overlook it when teaching you how to buy carpet? The answer is a little bit of both:

The carpet you buy will have a very suitable backing 99% of the time.

Very rarely is the backing of the carpet the reason it does or doesn’t perform well. However, there are a the reasons I feel this post is important:

  1. There’s a chance (although small) that if you don’t know about carpet backing you could be the 1% that ends up with a terrible one that ruins the carpet
  2. Some people are concerned with VOCs/indoor air quality coming from the carpet backing (more on this at the bottom of the page).
  3. (the more important reason) I sometimes hear of salesman using backing as a selling point. Usually, this is a misleading sales tactic, and it helps for you to know a little about carpet backing to avoid falling for it.

(shameless advertisement: If you need to find a carpet installer, click here to get pre-qualified installers in your zip code. a good installer can make or break your carpet purchase)

Make sure you’re not confusing carpet backing with carpet padding! Occasionally I hear someone talk about “carpet backing,” and they’re referring to the carpet padding. Both the carpet padding and carpet backing are beneath the carpet, but they are two completely different things. Backing is what the carpet fibers are sewed into—it’s physically part of the carpet. Padding is the very important cushion installed beneath the carpet. Learn everything you need to know about carpet padding here.

Soft Plastic Backing

The majority of carpets sold in the United States (and likely many of the other developed nations) have soft plastic backings. The theory behind these backings is they are soft enough to not damage the floorboard beneath your carpet, while still durable enough to outlive the rest of the carpet. As a general rule, these backings live up to the hype pretty well.

Soft plastic backings are typically constructed with polypropylene or some other synthetic (man-made) material. The most common brand name soft backing is ActionBac, so don’t be confused if you see it. ActionBac is a very respected and quality backing, but there are many suitable generic backings as well. If you have the choice between ActionBac and a generic soft backing, I would buy the ActionBac. If there’s a large price difference, I would stick with the generic backing.

Captain’s ending the hype! Some carpet backing may claim to be mildew resistance or have other special features. The fact is most polypropylene resists mold and mildew effectively without special treatment, so these backings likely are mildew resistant. However, if you have a problem with mold and mildew in your home, it will still grow beneath the carpet. The key takeaway is that these “special” backings do what they say, but this doesn’t mean they will solve your problem.

Jute Backing

This is what I call the “good old days” backing; it is the most durable backing, but it was replaced by soft plastic which is much less expensive but still a very acceptable level of quality. There’s no doubt that jute is the most durable backing, but in most cases, it’s overkill. You don’t need to pay extra to get a jute backing. If you’re buying luxury carpet, such as a heavy wool Berber carpet, there’s a good chance it will come with a jute backing. In this case, you’re buying a luxury carpet, so you might as well have a luxury backing.

Foam Rubber Backing

This is one of the cheap backings. You’ll find it on “do-it-yourself” carpets such as indoor-outdoor carpets and kitchen carpets. You shouldn’t use a carpet with foam rubber in a main living area. The good news is I haven’t seen cases where this backing was used in rooms where it shouldn’t be.

What glue is used?

So now you know the three major backing categories, but there’s one key detail you don’t know: backings are composed of two layers that are held together with glue. The quality of the glue impacts the quality of the backing—if it’s poor quality, the backing will split.

How do you tell if the glue is good quality? The bad news is you can’t. The good news is it usually goes hand-in-hand with the quality of carpet you buy. In other words, the only time you get poor quality glue is when you buy a carpet that won’t last long anyway.

What about carpet backing and VOCs?

One final reason you may want to know about carpet backing is because it can affect the air quality. Some homeowners are concerned with VOCs (basically, indoor air pollution).

VOCs and their health affects is still a controversial topic, but I have an article covering the latest information on VOCs related to carpet, and how to reduce them. Check out this article: New Carpet Smell: How to limit your famly’s health risk.

Captain’s tips on what to do next:

As you can see, backing is usually not the “weakest link” of your carpet purchase, so it usually won’t make or break your purchase.

With that in mind, learning about backing helps you not fall for marketing gimmicks, and may improve your indoor air quality.

Here’s what I recommend you do next:

  1. If you want unbiased help through the entire carpet shopping process, check out my step-by-step guide on how to buy carpet.
  2. If you came here because you’re concerned about indoor air quality, check out my guide on how to reduce the new carpet smell.
  3. If you came here wanting to learn about the pad that goes under your carpet (not the backing), check out my popular carpet padding guide.

Any questions on carpet backing? Let me know in the comments below.

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Hardi

I am looking for carpet for automotive applications. The carpet must be stretchable to allow it to follow interior contour. What’s suitable backings that having this property?

Rick

“WHAT GLUE IS USED”…you never answered the question….. What are the glues that are used and do they emit an odor when heated??

Millie JeZior

Our carpet is two years old. It is suddenly sounding – crunchy? The pad manufacturer cams to the house. He thought it was a bad pad – still under warranty – it was replaced. We vacuumed – it’s ceunchy again? What could the problem be? The installers have never seen this – and they heard it. They think it’s the carpet?

Charlsey Ellis

I was sold carpets that had plastic backing. Seemed like a great idea repurposed milk jugs.
What they didn’t tell me was they are almost impossible to vacuum. Forget cleaning with rug shampoo.
I hate them. Stuck with them.

Sue

I have a question regarding jute backed carpet. We just installed new carpet in our family room that has a jute back. In an attempt to keep the carpet clean, is it OK to place remnants of the carpet on top of the installed carpet? ( I remember reading some where that the jute will damage the carpet fibers it’s on top of but I couldn’t find any mention of it on the web now.)