Carpet Care – The burn test

Do you know the fiber that makes up your carpet?

It is critical to know what type of carpet you’re about to clean to make sure that you don’t do more harm than good. To know exactly what type of carpet you’re dealing with, it is also important to know how to test the fibers. The most effective way to test the carpet fibers for what it is; is the Burn Test.

Take and cut a small ‘tuft’ of the fibers out, hold them with tweezers or something similar, and then light it with a lighter and see how it burns, or melts also how it smells while burning. Look at the chart below for help identifying the carpet fibers.


Each fiber burns differently, which can help identify it. Observe how it is consumed, how it melts and what smell it releases.


A fiber sample that burns blue at the base and orange at the tip with no smoke (except when extinguished) indicates the carpet is made of nylon. The flame will sputter out. It will emit a wax- or celery-like smell as it burns and leave behind a hard, round, gray or brown bead.

Nylon has excellent cleanability with good stain resistance but using the wrong chemical can negatively affect its resistance. It is also easier to stain than other synthetic fibers, so it’s a good idea to use fabric protector when possible.


Like nylon, olefin fiber will burn blue at the base and orange at the tip with no smoke, so the flame’s appearance and the odor given off are especially important for distinguishing between the two. The flame will burn quickly and evenly, unlike the sputtering of nylon. Olefin will emit a tar-like smell similar to asphalt and leave behind a hard, round, brown or light tan bead.

If still unclear, a chemical test can distinguish between olefin and nylon. Formic acid will dissolve a nylon fiber. An olefin fiber will float on water.

Olefin is exceptionally chemical- and stain-resistant. However, it is hydrophobic, so be on guard for wicking problems — when stains or soil rise back to the surface after carpet dries.


An orange flame with black smoke and a fiber strand that sputters and drips indicates polyester carpet. This fiber will give off a sweet odor and leave behind a firm, shiny bead.


An orange burn with little to no smoke and a flame that sputters out indicates wool carpet. Wool, of course, smells like burned hair and it will leave behind a soft, black ash that crumbles when touched.

Wool does not react well to strong chemicals and will dissolve in chlorine bleach. Stain removal also can also be difficult, although with the right chemistry it is generally easy to clean.


Use the attached tables to help you identify the fiber.


Professional maintenance programs for carpet include periodic maintenance and complete restoration of these surfaces, hence the importance of knowing the different fibers that compose them to better pair the technique and maintenance products, maximize the results and protect their durability.

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