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What is Carpet Backing?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Carpet backing is exactly what it sounds like: the back of a carpet. It is the section of a carpet which does not face up, so consumers rarely interact with it. However, carpet backing is extremely important, providing shape, structural stability, and protection to the carpet it backs. There are a number of different styles of carpet backing, and it can be made from an assortment of materials, ranging from natural fibers to polyurethane.

There are two main components to carpet backing, which can vary from carpet to carpet. The first is primary backing, which forms a structural element of the carpet. It is the coarse material through which the fibers of the carpet are woven or tufted. Secondary backing is not structural, but it provides support to the overall carpet, and it may help to insulate the carpet from moisture, bacteria, and mold which could seep up from the floor below; it tends to be less coarse, since it is not a substrate for tufted material.

There are a number of things to consider when buying carpet, and backing material is an important one. Many companies make carpets with backing that it supposed to resist mold, mildew, rot, and other problems which can plague carpeting, and some also also pride themselves on using environmentally friendly backing, which can be made from recycled carpets or natural materials. Organizations which promote carpet recycling point to the millions of tons of carpeting which are discarded worldwide annually as a potential environmental issue which should be addressed; consumers can help encourage recycling by asking for recycled materials.

In addition to carpet backing which is built into the carpet, many companies offer carpet padding which they may call “carpet backing,” since it is installed under a carpet. Typically, carpet padding is designed to pad the carpet, provide more insulation, and prevent mold and mildew from setting in. It may be treated with various substances to achieve these goals; some carpet padding can offgas with strange fumes, which is why people like to allow carpet to settle for a few days before using a space.

On a throw rug, you may want to take a look at the carpet backing before purchase. You may see that only the primary backing is present, in which case you can clearly see the methods used to construct the carpet. If the carpet has a secondary backing, you might want to ask what it is made out of and how to care for it, as well as the carpet itself.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon282035 — On Jul 26, 2012

I'm new to flooring too, but wool is the only non-synthetic carpet (Although sorona by dupont is sometimes considered a mix of natural and synthetic). Wool is the best for retention. So in other words, after ten years of use, it will look closer to what it looked like when it was installed, than a synthetic carpet. Also it has better resistance to fire, so it is a very good idea to install carpet near fire, if they need carpet there.

Wool as a fiber has a natural spring to it, so it's harder to leave footprints and vacuum marks. Also I think it doesn't have problems with static, but I may have that wrong. The downside is cost and soiling. Also, as a side note, wool shouldn't affect people with asthma as the shedding (another problem with wool) is too big to breathe in. Hope that helped.

By anon40710 — On Aug 10, 2009

so if a throw rug just has a primary backing on it, it should be safe to use on laminate floors? I just want to take care on my new floor.

By fran1220 — On Sep 25, 2008

I am relatively new to the flooring business, and have gotten a request for a carpet constructed with a natural rather than synthetic backing (with the implication that natural is better) Since virtually everything I see from the manufacturers is synthetic, I would like to know pro and con on both.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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