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Wool and Carpets - 6000 Years of Innovation, Quality and Sustainability

Authors:
  • Bremworth Carpets and Rugs Ltd

Abstract

The first manufacture of rugs with pile yarns made from animal fibres was well over 6000 years ago and the oldest carpet still in existence is around 2400 years old. The carpets and rugs sector is the major end-use of strong wool which makes up around 45% of global wool production (fine wool comprises 35% of global production). The advantages and perceived deficiencies of wool carpets in comparison with newer generation synthetic carpets are highlighted with possible solutions and new directions for research. Improvements in these areas are essential for wool to maintain its share of the carpet market.
Wool and Carpets – 6000 Years of Innovation, Quality and Sustainability
Peter Ingham1,*, Steven McNeil2, Warren Meade2,3, Matthew Sunderland2
1KBR Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand
2AgResearch Ltd, Private Bag 4749, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand
3now at RD4, Christchurch, New Zealand
* Corresponding author: Peter Ingham; E-mail: inghamp@xtra.co.nz
Keywords: wool, carpet, tufting, appearance retention, fire safety, indoor air pollution.
Abstract. The first manufacture of rugs with pile yarns made from animal fibres was well over
6000 years ago and the oldest carpet still in existence is around 2400 years old. The carpets and
rugs sector is the major end-use of strong wool which makes up around 45% of global wool
production (fine wool comprises 35% of global production). The advantages and perceived
deficiencies of wool carpets in comparison with newer generation synthetic carpets are highlighted
with possible solutions and new directions for research. Improvements in these areas are essential
for wool to maintain its share of the carpet market.
Introduction / Early History
In 1949, the well-known Pazryk knotted carpet (Figure 1) was discovered in the grave of a
Scythian prince in the Pazyryk Valley in Siberia. It is the oldest existing carpet, estimated to be over
2400 years old.
Fig. 1 The Pazyryk carpet, at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
Gradually, the art of the knotted carpet spread around much of the ancient world and carpet
fragments have been excavated in many areas. The biggest technology change came about with the
introduction of powered looms in 1839 and the Jaquard patterning mechanism was developed in
1849. Tufted carpets, a much cheaper manufacturing method, were the next major technological
breakthrough in the 1950s in Dalton, Georgia. In 1950, only 10% of all carpet and rug products
were tufted and 90% were woven. Today tufteds are 90% of the total and wovens just 2% and the
Dalton area produces more than 70% of the total output of the world-wide carpet and rug industry
[1].
Tufting of wool carpets. Wool’s traditional market was (and in many cases still is) woven carpets
and early attempts to tuft wool yarns were largely unsuccessful as the attempts used weaving yarns
Key Engineering Materials Vol. 671 (2016) pp 490-496 Submitted: 2015-06-05
© (2016) Trans Tech Publications, Switzerland Revised: 2015-07-12
doi:10.4028/www.scientific.net/KEM.671.490 Accepted: 2015-07-12
All rights reserved. No part of contents of this paper may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of Trans
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which were strong enough for the weaving process but not strong enough to handle the extra strain
of the new tufting machines.
A combination of re-engineered yarns incorporating at least 40-50% good quality NZ fleece
wool together with WRONZ-Eye needles [2] (Groz-Beckert) (Figure 2) which significantly reduce
the stress on the yarns showed that wool carpets could be tufted successfully thus opening up a
much needed new market area for strong wool. A later development was the Fernmaster tufting
needle [3], which is commercially produced by Eisbar / Groz-Beckert. This needle with two eyes
(Figure 3) directs the yarn along the needle axis which reduces the yarn insertion force by up to
70% and reduces twist migration resulting in a much more even and regular carpet appearance in
loop pile carpets.
Fig. 2 WRONZ-Eye tufting needle (left) Fig. 3 Fernmaster tufting needle.
compared to a conventional needle (right).
Advantages of Wool Carpets
Appearance retention. The appearance retention of wool carpets is often recognised as being
superior to those of other fibre types, particularly nylon. This is due to a number of factors: the scale
structure of wool contributes to hiding soil along the scale edges where it is significantly less visible
compared to being evenly spread on the fibre surface as in the case of nylon [4]; the low static
propensity of wool carpets together with the low surface energy epicuticle coating on the fibre
reduce soil attraction and adherence; wool (in comparison to nylon) is a softer polymer whose
surface very slowly ablates during heavy foot traffic [5]. This acts as a natural soil shedding
mechanism; wet cleaning of wool generally removes a greater amount of soil from wool than nylon
carpets and effects a greater degree of pile recovery.
Fire safety. Fire safety of carpets does not just rely on ignitability, but also on the propensity for
flame spread and smoke generation. Testing of comparative tufted (Saxony style) wool, nylon and
polypropylene carpets with the well-validated NBS Flooring Radiant Panel Test [6] which closely
simulates real-life conditions, showed major advantages for wool carpets in flame spread and
particularly in smoke emission (Figures 5 and 6).
Key Engineering Materials Vol. 671 491
with underlay
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Fig. 4 NBS Radiant Panel Test for Saxony carpets with 1500 g/m2 surface pile weight,
waffle rubber underlay.
Fig. 5 NBS Radiant Panel test - smoke results (carpet details as per Figure 5).
These results show a significant advantage for wool over nylon and particularly polypropylene
carpets for Critical Radiant Flux (related to flame spread) and major advantages for smoke
emission. Smoke levels were around 10 times higher for nylon carpet than wool and around 80
times higher for polypropylene carpets. The use of a waffle rubber underlay did not increase the
smoke emission with a wool carpet; with the synthetic carpets there were very substantial increases.
The reason for these differences stem largely from wool’s inherently lower flammability and the
fact that the wool pile formed a thick intumescent char which protected the lower pile, backing and
underlay.
Removal of indoor air contaminants. Wool carpets have been shown to rapidly remove
formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, common contaminants in the indoor air
environment (Figure 6) [7].
It is estimated that wool carpets may continue purifying indoor air for up to 30 years because of
the high acid-combining potential of wool and its irreversible reaction with formaldehyde.
Wool carpets also have a strong moisture buffering effect which reduces moisture peaks during
activities such as washing, cooking etc thus playing a part in reducing condensation problems and
inhibiting the growth of harmful moulds [8].
with
underlay
0
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0.6
0.7
CRF (wats/cm2)
wool
nylon
pp
492 Wool and Textiles Sustainable Development
Figure 6. Comparison of the absorptions of indoor air contaminants by carpet pile fibres [8].
Acoustic, thermal and walking comfort. Wool carpets perform well as dedicated acoustic
materials in absorbing airborne noise; additionally, they reduce floor impact noise at source.
Carpets are particularly effective for absorbing the objectionable higher sound frequencies. Overall
they have a dramatic effect in improving the acoustic comfort in a room.
The thermal insulation properties of carpets are valuable in two respects; fuel saving (5-13%
savings have been recorded) and apparent thermal comfort to occupants.
Wool carpets provide comfort and safety for standing and walking. The high friction and low
glare of carpets reduces the risk of slips and falls, and their resilience reduces the severity of falls
[9]. The enormous ranges of possibilities for the colours and patterning of wool carpets has been
utilised to design carpets which enhance the safe walking of people, particularly the elderly, with
impaired vision or gait [10].
Environmental impact. When considering the environmental impact of a product, one must
consider the production, use, recycling and ultimate disposal. Wool is a natural, renewable and
sustainable fibre produced with low energy inputs, on land that is often unsuited for other uses, and
with valuable co-products meat leather, milk. The maintenance of wool carpets has been shown to
have a smaller environmental impact than the maintenance of hard floors [11]. As used wool carpets
are biodegradable [12] they may be returned to the land to support plan growth [13]. The overall
environmental impact of wool carpets is lower than that of synthetic carpets [14].
Disadvantages of Wool Carpets
The improvements in nylon carpet fibre technology over the years (delustring, soil hiding and
soil repellency, stain resistance etc) together with the very high resistance to colour fading made
possible by the use of pigments (“solution dyeing”) rather than dyes have created a perception in the
market place of a technical superiority which has been reinforced by large promotional expenditure
by the major nylon carpet fibre producers.
Past R&D has been successful in overcoming many of the problems of wool carpets, eg: shading
/pile reversal (Trutrac) [15]; photobleaching or first-fade (Lanalbin APB) [16]; pile shedding
(Lanasan NCF) [17]; insect resistance (new agents with markedly reduced environmental impact
using bifenthrin [18], chlorfenapyr [19] and fipronil; appearance retention of wool carpets was
significantly enhanced by the introduction of melt-bonded yarns using bi-component polyester
yarns as a minor blend component [20] for dry spun yarns and by the Chemset/Twistset [21]
process for oil-spun yarns.
To improve the stain resistance of wool carpets, the same syntans used to treat nylon carpets can
be successfully used, however higher quantities are needed when using dyebath-type exhaustion
application methods which can lead to photoyellowing problems if there is not careful selection of
treatment used.
Key Engineering Materials Vol. 671 493
The lightfastness of wool carpets was not a significant problem when wool and nylon carpets
routinely used the same dyestuffs. However, the relatively recent widespread use of pigment
coloration led to potentially much higher light fastness for nylon carpets.
Generally, light fading of wool carpets is on tone and largely unnoticed in practice, but in some
areas of the world (principally the southern hemisphere) where there is a higher sunlight ultra-
violet content there is a perceived problem which is exacerbated by trends of large floor-to-ceiling
windows often without curtains or blinds.
The development of a novel method of applying vat dyes to wool [22] without significant
damage has shown that very high light fastness is also achievable on wool carpets (Figure 7). In this
method, the dyes are reduced to a soluble form, exhausted, the oxidised back to the insoluble form.
Figure 7. Vat dyed wool samples compared to conventionally dyed samples after 248 day
glasshouse exposure. Top row from left, red acid dye (0.1% omw), red acid dye (1% omw), red vat
dye (0.1% omw) red vat dye (1% omw). Bottom row, from left, blue acid dye (0.1% omw), blue
acid dye (1% omw), blue vat dye (0.1% omw), blue vat dye (1% omw).
The Future of Wool Carpets
There is no doubt that wool will be widely used in carpets and rugs for the foreseeable future.
There is still a large market for traditional hand-knotted rugs which are now overwhelmingly wool
and should continue to be so.
Whilst large parts of the machine woven rug sector have moved to polypropylene, wool should
continue to dominate the upper market products where the aesthetics and performance remain
important. Similarly, wool should continue to have a significant presence in the Axminster and
Wilton woven sectors, particularly in carpets for the hotel/hospitality and restaurant sectors where
highly patterned wool carpets have unrivalled appearance retention in demanding situations. Their
excellent flame resist properties are also a major positive in this sector.
However, it is predicted that wool’s share of the major machine tufted market is likely to
continue its steady decline, not least because of the decline in supply of suitably specified wool. The
production of wool tufted carpets in Europe peaked around 1990. There is however, still a large
global supply of strong crossbred wool. The best efforts of product developers have found only
niche alternative uses for this wool, including building insulation, filters and bedding and none of
the alternative end uses seem capable of consuming a sizeable proportion of this wool.
How to reverse this decline? During the long-lived fashion for Berber carpets, production of
tufted wool carpets boomed. Although eventually synthetic carpet manufacturers produced
lookalike Berber styles, the Berber trend was largely wool based with a natural look of blended
natural colours with contrasting neps in the yarns. Another wool-specific fashion would be a major
boost to wool tufted.
One unique property of wool is its ability to felt. Felted carpet yarns have been produced on a
small scale for many years largely using small-scale equipment to produce specialty effect yarns of
high count. Yarn felting provides a more cohesive tuft end in cut-pile carpets and the resulting
carpets have excellent appearance retention compared to those from conventional yarns.
494 Wool and Textiles Sustainable Development
Batch felting of hanks of yarn has been used extensively but the development of the continuous
Periloc machine in the 1970s by TNO in the Netherlands [23] was a significant development.
Although now largely used for specialty effect yarns, it did allow production of a tuftable yarn
directly from slubbing off the woollen card, thus eliminating the costly and capital intensive process
of yarn spinning.
Neither of these processes have had extensive development to optimise a high production
slubbing-to-tufting yarn process, nor have any more speculative competing technology processes
been investigated, eg an air/steam process analogous to air jet spinning.
A successful system promises a low-cost yarn which eliminates the costly spinning process and
produces a wool-only yarn with a unique appearance and leads to high performance carpets with
outstanding appearance retention properties.
May wool carpets continue for another 6000 years!
References
[1] Carpet and Rug Institute, www.carpet-rug.org/About CRI/History-of-Carpet.aspx
[2] US Patent 4502403A, Tufting Machine Needles, (1985).
[3] W.J. Meade, J. Ewers, W. Beyer, Tufting needle development, Textile Asia. 31 ( 2000) 30-32.
[4] A.J. McKinnon, J.R. McLaughlin, Dependence of carpet soiling on fibre properties, soil
composition, and carpet construction, Proc. 7th Int. Wool Text. Res. Conf. (Tokyo), 3, 336-45,
(1985).
[5] D.F.G Orwin, J.L. Woods, R.G. Gourdie, Cortical cell type and wool strength, Proc. 7th Int.
Wool Text. Res. Conf. (Tokyo), 1, 194-203, (1985).
[6] ASTM E648-14c, Standard Test Method for Critical Radiant Flux of Floor-Covering Systems
Using a Radiant Heat Energy Source, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, (2014).
[7] P.E. Ingham, S.M. Causer, R.C. McMillan, The role of wool carpets in controlling indoor air
pollution, Textile Institute Floorcoverings Conf. (Blackpool, UK), (1994).
[8] W.J. Meade, Consumer properties of carpets, WRONZ Technical Bulletin, January 1998. Wool
Research Organisation of New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ.
[9] B.E. Maki, G.R. Fernie, Impact attenuation of floor coverings in simulated falling accidents,
Applied Ergonomics. 21(2) (1990) 107-114
[10] S.J. McNeil, L.S. Tapp, The design and initial evaluation of visual cues in carpets to assist
walking, Journal Text. Inst. doi: 10.1080/00405000.2015.1034929.
[11] R.A. McCall, S.J. McNeil, Comparison of the energy, time and water usage required for
maintaining carpets and hard floors, Indoor and Built Environment. 16 (2007) 482-486.
[12] R.H.T Barker, M.E. Taylor, P. Johnstone, C. van Koten, Biodegradation of wool carpet pile,
AgResearch Technical Bulletin FBP 23243, 2013. AgResearch, Lincoln, NZ.
[13] S.J. McNeil, M.R. Sunderland, L.I. Zaitseva, Closed-loop wool carpet recycling, Resources,
Conservation and Recycling. 51 (2007) 220–224.
[14] J. Potting, K. Blok, Life-cycle assessment of four types of floor covering, J Cleaner
Production. 3(4) (1995) 201-213.
[15] E.J. Wood, Developments in wool carpet manufacturing, in: K.K. Goswami (Ed), Carpet
Manufacturing, Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge, UK, 2009.
[16] M.M. Dodds, Stable colours for wool carpets, WRONZ Technical Bulletin, March 1999, Wool
Research Organisation of New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ.
Key Engineering Materials Vol. 671 495
[17] P.E. Ingham, M.R. Sunderland, S.J. McNeil, R. Marazzi, Lanasan NCF: nanoparticles enhance
carpet performance, International Dyer. 191(1) (2006) 23-25.
[18] J. Barton, It’s a bugs life– or is it?, International Dyer. 185(9) (2000) 14-16.
[19] W. Mill, Beating moths the clean way, Wool Record. 166(3758) (2007) 30.
[20] J.D. Watt, Stabilizing carpet yarns by melt-bonding, Textile Institute Floorcoverings Conf.
(Blackpool, UK), (1993).
[21] A.J. McKinnon, Package-to-package carpet yarn wet processing. The CHEMSET technology,
Wool Sci. Rev. 66 (1990) 3-43.
[22] S.J. McNeil, M. Meslet, P.E. Ingham, L. Zaitseva, K. Finch, E. Abdalla, K. Foster, P. Metcalfe,
K. Brown, Wool coloration with improved light fastness, 11th International Wool Research
Conference, 4-9 September 2005, Leeds, UK (CD format).
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496 Wool and Textiles Sustainable Development
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