The Woolen Home: Carpeting

If you ever find yourself in Shetland, a must-do experience is connecting up with Oliver Henry at Jamieson and Smith to hear him talk about how the use of Shetland wool has evolved over the years.

Oliver spent most of his life sorting and grading wool at Jamieson and Smith. The finer fleeces were sent for wool processing, and the coarser fleeces went into all sorts of projects. At one point in his talk, Oliver is sure to show you a sample of wool carpeting, a sensible use for the coarser wool fibers that come through the warehouse door. The sample panels are about 8 inches square and look and feel like high density office-style carpeting. Probably not something most of us would want to have in a home setting.

Oliver Henry at work at his sorting table at Jamieson and Smith.

But Jamieson and Smith has recently renovated their and now has a classroom with a more “typical” looking carpet under the table, carpet fibers all standing tall, forming a uniform surface beneath our feet. When Oliver pointed out that the carpet in the classroom was made from Shetland wool, I immediately bent over to touch it. Unlike the sample tiles, this carpeting was extremely thick–I almost couldn’t get my fingers between the fibers. It was so thick that it looked like short, office-style carpeting, but was really a more “standard” carpet depth. Unlike acrylic carpets, though, the thickly packed wool fibers created a mat beneath our feet with little give. We were being help up by the carpet, rather than sinking into it.

Many of us already know about wool rugs. Whether they are loom woven or hand-tied, a wool rug can add a splash of color to nearly any room. But there are many reasons why you might want to carpet a room with wool.

Wool is a strong and resilient material, making wool rugs durable and able to withstand high-traffic areas in your home. With proper care, they can last for many years. Decades, in fact. Some older houses have wool rugs nearing 100 years old. And when the time does come to replace a wool carpet, you can rest easier knowing that it will biodegrade back to the soil rather than living in a landfill forever.

Wool carpeting is also an excellent insulator. It helps to retain heat in the winter, basically functioning as a layer of insulation on your floors, keeping your floors warmer and minimizing heat transference to other levels of your home. It can also help to keep your home cooler in the summer by providing some insulation against heat.

On the left side, short pile Shetland wool carpeting, similar to high-density office-style carpeting.

As I found out that day in Jamieson and Smith’s classroom when I probed around in the wool carpeting, wool is naturally soft and comfortable underfoot. It provides a cozy and warm surface, making it a great choice for areas where you spend a lot of time, such as living rooms or bedrooms.

Sometimes people worry that they might have to be more precious about wool carpets, but wool is slow to absorb liquids, which means it is usually easier to clean up spills. And wool fibers don’t tend to cling to dirt. Many find that it’s easier to clean and maintain than a man-made fiber carpet. It’s also less prone to static electricity.

The trend toward hard flooring in homes in the last few decades has reminded us all about sound’s tendency to reverberate through a space. Wool’s dense fibers absorb sound, making it an excellent choice for reducing echoes and noise in a room.

Those who deal with allergies often do better with wool carpeting. Contrary to synthetic materials, wool is resistant to dust mites, mold, and bacteria, making it a good choice for those with allergies or sensitivities.

It’s also the safer option. Unlike acrylic carpeting, wool is naturally flame resistant. In fact, in order for wool to burn, it needs more oxygen than what is available in the atmosphere, so it self-extinguishes. At worst, if a fire breaks out in your home, a wool carpet will get a little scorched if it comes into direct contact with something that is on fire. At best, it will stop a fire from spreading further in your home.

There are downsides to wool carpeting. It is, definitely, the more expensive carpet option. But given its easier care, health and environmental benefits, safety features, and longevity, the cost may be worth it.

Due to the cost, the majority of us are not going to be replacing all the flooring in our home with wool carpeting. But, a strategically chosen room might be possible. Or it may make sense to someone buying or building a new house to invest in wool carpeting at the start of the life of the home, knowing that it will likely not need replacing the entire time they live in the home.

For the rest of us, there are more affordable options to wool carpeting in the form of wool rugs. Shopping online, it’s often possible to limit your searches to rugs made from wool. In shops, take the time to look at the tag or ask the sales staff for the fiber content. Buying from “big name” stores with the newest stock might still be pricey, but wool rugs can be had from retailers such as TJMaxx or Wayfair who sell off-brand merchandise or goods that didn’t sell when they were first released to the market elsewhere. Wool carpets offer the same benefits as wool rugs, only they are transportable.

Another issue to consider is potential moth damage. But wool moths tend to prefer dark spaces. Use your wool rugs in brighter areas of the home and vacuum them weekly, and you should be fine.

We tend to think of wool as something we wear. But wool carpeting and rugs are an easy way to replace man-made fibers in our home, to the benefit of our health and safety.