Identifying carpet can be perplexing since many of the fibers look alike. Using the wrong system to clean delicate fibers can cause severe damage resulting in poor appearance or even the necessity of replacement. Thankfully, there is a simple process using the appearance and odor of the fibers to help you determine what type carpet you are dealing with.  

WARNING!: Extreme caution should be taken to reduce the possibility of starting a fire or burning yourself. Use a pair of tweezers to hold the fibers and an ashtray to collect the residue. Using the tweezers, hold a few strands of the carpet fiber to be identified over an ashtray. Ignite the fibers with a lighter or match. Observe the residue and smell the particular odor. Remember that although most office carpet is nylon today there is a growing trend towards polyester.


Nylon burns slowly but will often self-extinguish leaving a hard light-colored bead that is very hot. Smells like celery.

Wool does not ignite easily, and is left as a brittle, charred black ash, cool to touch. It has a smell of burning hair.

Polyester behaves in a similar way to nylon but may shrink away from the flame quickly. It has a sweet (like over-ripe fruit) odor when burned.

Acrylic burns readily and melts and will not self-extinguish. It will leave a brittle black bead which is very hot and has an acrid (spoiled meat) odor.

Polypropylene (Olefin) shrinks quickly away from the flame, burns readily and melts. It will not self-extinguish and will leave a hard round (hot) bead which may be light brown in color. It is the only fiber that floats in water.

Finally, you may be able to check the label for content. 

Once you have identified the fiber, select the correct cleaning product and system to clean the carpet safely and effectively. Check with your distributor or chemical representative for more information.  

Your comments and questions are important.  I hope to hear from you soon.  Until then, keep it clean.


Mickey Crowe has been involved in the industry for over 35 years.  He is a trainer, speaker and consultant.  You can reach Mickey at 678.314.2171 or