carpet backing

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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 salesmen 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.
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.

Average Cost To Install Carpet Flooring Price Range: $845 - $1,650
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48 thoughts on “carpet backing”

  1. What are your thoughts on Shaw’s LifeGuard spill-proof backing? It is designed to prevent liquids from penetrating into the padding, thus reducing odors from pet accidents. It seems this would allow me to completely deodorize a mess without lingering smell. With an elderly dog who doesn’t walk well and sometimes can’t make it to her pee pad, it seems like a great product. Is it? Thanks.

  2. What are your thoughts on Shaw’s LifeGuard Spill-Proof backing? It comes on some of their pet-friendly lines. LifeGuard is supposed to prevent liquids from going through to the padding. Pet accident clean up would thus allow me -presumably – to suction away the pee and completely eliminate the odor. Sounds like a great idea. Is it? Thanks.

  3. Hello Everyone, We recently had an interior flood and are having issues with Insurance. Our original carpet is 60oz with a Hi pick back.Todays price is in the mid $90 and per their Intel analysis area offer $34 yd with a Shaw product 57.6 oz. Does Hi pick mean anything? Are there other Indpent analysis labs we could use?………Input will be greatly appreciated…..del

  4. I bought a carpet with what I thought was woven back but when it was laid and i saw the off cuts the backing was a thin mesh which came away very easily is this normal

  5. This picture is the back of 2 carpets that are supposed to be the exact same, just 2 different colors. We don’t think they are really the same. What are tour thoughts?

  6. Is propylene ok for vinyl plank flooring? I’ve heard that rubber and latex will leave a stain I’m looking for rugs for the kitchen and bathroom.

    1. It’s likely okay, but I’d check your vinyl. It depends on the finish and depending on what you pick may void the warranty.

  7. I received carpet this past Saturday was supposed to be installed but it wasn’t not the pile that I wanted it was thinner and the back I’m going to attach a picture let me know if this gives you questions

    1. I haven’t (and haven’t ever manufactured carpet), but it sounds like an exciting project! I know shoe soles have been used for carpet padding before so somewhat similar.

  8. My central vac installer said not to buy carpet with a solid back, as it could damage the vacuum. What exactly is solid backing on carpet?

    1. Carpet Captain

      I’ve never heard this. My guess is he’s saying he wants some air to be able to come through the carpet backing, so the airflow doesn’t get stuck. I’d ask him to clarify. If you could follow up with his answer here, I’d be interested in looking more into it.

  9. I want to purchase an area rug to place under my full size bed and was wondering do I need padding at all? Also, I saw a 6×9 with jute backing and was hoping that would be sufficient backing if I dont get the padding….please help!

  10. I was thinking of buying a area rug for my living room it says no backing I’m confused as to what this means does it mean is soft like a bath rug would be?

    1. Carpet Captain

      I’m confused too 🙂 Is it saying it already has ann attached backing, or is it a slim “sticky” rug that doesn’t require backing? Or is it not saying “you can’t use backing,” but saying “backing is not included.”

  11. I have a rug and i shampoo it often. Now the backing is disintegrating like crumbling off. I need a new rug but need to know what would be the best type of backing to get sense i shampoo my rug often.

    1. Do you mean an area rug or carpet (which people outside the US call a rug)? Current carpet backings shouldn’t have an issue with regular carpet cleaning.

  12. When you shampoo the carpet and the backing is plastic, does his dry? To my experience with plastic, it very difficult unless you place it in the direct sun.

    1. Yeah, it dries. Sometimes the carpet fibers act as a wick, so you get the fibers dry but they absorb more water from the lower surfaces (backing and pad). It’ll eventually get dry. This is why many professional cleaners use heavy-duty air driers.

  13. 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?

    1. I’m not sure the best backing for cars, but maybe one of the Carpet Captain readers can help with this one. All carpet backings are stretched, so any backing should have give but not sure that means it is suitable for a car.

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

    1. Carpet Captain

      It says there’s no way of knowing the glue used (as far as I know). You could contact the specific manufactures of carpets your interested in and they might give you an answer. Glues can emit VOCs (indoor smells/pollution) but likely not much post-installation. Carpets that are advertised as low-VOC are guaranteed to emit less.

  15. 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?

    1. Carpet Captain

      Nice of the pad manufacture to take the blame (especially since sounds like it wasn’t the pad!) My thought it the backing of the carpet. Usually, the backing isn’t an issue, but it’s basically a plastic (usually a soft plastic), but a poor quality or breaking down backing could crunch. Second thought would be something structural not related to the carpet. You could consider having a carpet inspector out because I’d assume if it’s the backing that the carpet would be replaced.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.)

    1. Unfortunately, there is a chance the jute stains the carpet but a few things reduce that risk. Jute, especially when wet, sometimes releases a yellowish-brown color. This is even a problem with jute carpets are cleaned because it can whick up to the carpet fibers. There are a few cases where it might be worth taking the risk: your carpet is a darker color that wouldn’t show a yellowish stain, you haven’t had any problems with your jute backing and it doesn’t appear discolored, and you don’t think moisture will ever hit the rug carpet (this is the main way the stain in transferred).

  18. Hi I am buying carpet from a flooring store and while they carry all mainstream carpet bought to order they have a warehouse with rolls of carpet that for some reason could not be used (he said because if the color didn’t match the sample) but if I like the color as is it is a great deal.

    He showed me one, great price very plush 80 weight, the color is too dark so he gave me a sample of another one but it has what he called a “soft back” I don’t know what the difference are. It is like a piece of felt, not the firmer scratchier type that almost all carpet I have looked at has.

    Any thoughts on the pros and cons of a soft backed carpet?

    1. Carpet Captain

      Most carpets should be a “softback” of some type. Hard to say in your particular case, but I wouldn’t put too much stock into the backing either way. The point of softbacks is they’re less likely to scratch up your subfloor if that’ important, and with today’s technology, most can still be durable enough to not be the “weak link” of your carpet. For the 80 oz weight, that’s pretty high, so I’d make sure it’s not “total weight” and is “face weight.” You can read more about face weight and other durability measures here.

  19. Robin McGranahan

    Hi. My husband and I desperately need to replace our carpet. I have never had to purchase it before, so I am finding your website an invaluable resource. Thank you! I visited the local showroom a couple days ago and informed the saleslady that I have two boys and an aging dog with bladder issues. She said,” I can show you just what you need,” and took me to a display for LifeGuard Waterproof Carpet made by Shaw. She showed me the backing, which is a waterproof thermoplastic, and claimed that it prevents liquid from reaching the pad at all. Her claim was believable, as the plastic-y backing felt quite thick. I had already done some reading on your site, and wondered if you’ve had any experience with this line of carpet, and what your thoughts might be. The idea is very appealing, if it does what it claims. If it truly keeps all the liquid within the carpet, then it should be easier to extract and prevent odor. I value your opinion, though and would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks again.

    1. Carpet Captain

      I can’t give a definite opinion on this brand, but judging based on other technology out there, I’d imagine the moisture barrier works. My biggest concern would be is it a “breathable” moisture barrier. Some barriers block liquid both ways, while some allow the area underneath to “breathe” through. You want breathable otherwise any bit of moisture that gets under the carpet could be a problem.

  20. About 30 years ago I purchased what looked like a typical twist carpet that was on a foam backing. The named was “Kanga back” and it had several pluses. It was far less expensive, it had built in padding, I could cut it to fit my self so no stretching, tack strip etc. I anchored it with 2 sided carpet tape. It was ideal for a basement that might get some water. It also easily released stains and cleaned up animal mistakes without odor. We had some drainage problems and did well as it dried fast and all it required was water extraction and folding it back to dry inderneath. It was good for the basement bedrooms. Is there still a form of this made?

    1. Carpet Captain

      It’s still made, but where can you get it is the better questions. It’s not commonly available. I doubt you’ll find it at big box stores, but I’d try by calling your local stores. For what it’s worth, don’t think it’s considered super durable, but sounds like you had a good experience.

  21. i have had tremendous problems trying to find area rugs that i can place on top of my wall to wall carpeting( low pile ) and put heavy furniture on top of it without buckling and wrinkling. what suggestions might anyone have ? thanks!

  22. We must replace our carpet that was ruined by a water leak. What was installed has a plastic backing that causes the vacuum to suck up the carpet like it was newspaper. Where can we find carpeting with a breathable backing?

    1. Did your backing have a type of moisture barrier? Sometimes (in cases like yours) that can backfire. Actionbac (a very common backing on today’s carpets) is breathable. Some of the higher end backings won’t be breathable, which can be an issue when moisture isn’t coming from above (eg animal urine).

  23. We purchased an oriental style rug for our living room approx 8 x 12 and it does not have a thick backing …. problem is that it constantly raises in several areas due to changes in humidity … causing wrinkles… My thoughts are to glue a heavy backing to it to prevent the wrinkles … Your thoughts ?

    1. I personally wouldn’t glue a heavy backing. It may work, but also would likely ruin any chance you have at a replacement/warranty. If you haven’t, I’d bring it up to the store you purchased it from. Buckling oriental rugs can be from many factors: the weave, deteriorating of the backing, absorption of moisture. I wouldn’t expect normal humidity to cause it. The store may say you have a defective rug, or they may tell you to change how you’re using it (eg. many oriental rugs don’t do well on top of carpet and are meant for hard floors).

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