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 couple of reasons I felt compelled to right this post. The first is there are exceptions to everything, and there is a slim chance that if you don’t know what you’re doing you could buy a carpet with a backing that won’t work well in your home. The second (and more important) is a few people have told me that their salesman was using the backing as a selling point—if they’re trying to get you to buy a carpet based on the backing, you need to have enough background on it to know if what they’re telling you is good advice or pure sales pitch.
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.
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.
Captain’s parting words:
There can be a big difference in carpet backing quality, but it usually doesn’t matter. The reason: backing is rarely is the “weakest link” of the carpet. In other words, the only time you find poor quality backings are in inexpensive carpets that will have other problems before the backing goes out. So when a sales person tells you about how great the backing is—yawn and tell them you’re uninterested but would like to know more about the important things to look for when buying carpet.