The importance of Fibre Identification

Before any job, whether it be carpet or upholstery cleaning, I carry out a pre-inspection and record the findings on my pre-inspection software.

This records fibre type, construction, age and condition and helps me to ascertain the best method to use when setting about cleaning.


Even some professional cleaners do not take the time to go through the various necessary tests to identify fibres or fabrics prior to cleaning.

However, it is hugely important to know as much as you can about the fibre content to ascertain the best techniques, chemicals and temperature ranges to use.

Some cleaners might say that their experience allows them to identify many fibres and fabric construction techniques by sight but, be warned, even the ‘Old Hands’ that have been around forever can be fooled.

Some other cleaners just don’t know about it and are unlikely to unless they are properly trained and qualified.


This is the least accurate method and the one that is most likely to fool even the most experienced cleaner.

For example, acrylic is manufactured to look like wool, however acrylic fibres can also be manufactured in a velour finish and so could be confused with cotton velvet or perhaps chenille.

Generally, it is easier to visually identify a fibre after a problem has surfaced but by then it may be too late. For example, rayon / viscose velvet or velour crushes with use but even worse things happen if it is wet cleaned. The pile flattens and may never look the same again. The image below shows a piece of viscose carpet onto which water has been applied! The pile, once flattened, never returns!

Viscose Carpet

Some fabrics are, however, easy to identify visually with experience. Haitian cotton, raw silk, glazed chintz and wool are pretty easy. After that, however, picking out fibre content by looking at it is very difficult, in fact almost impossible to do.

A cotton and rayon blend can be made to look exactly like silk. Nylon and polypropylene are also very difficult to distinguish in bulky weaves.


In my pre-inspection I ALWAYS carry out a ‘burn test’. This isn’t to test how flame proof your carpet is, but to identify the fibre!

Burn Test 1

This is more accurate than visual testing, but can still be tricky. Blended fabrics, which most fabrics are, can present conflicting information during testing. However the burn test is fairly simple, and is the most commonly used test for on-location cleaning. It relies on the senses of sight and smell to ascertain the fibre type.

The test is carried out by burning a fibre or yarn sample and observing the flame colour and action, smoke, action of the burning material, odour, ash shape, colour, lustre and consistency.

You can be assured that I take the utmost care when cleaning your valuable items and for this reason the pre-inspection is a vital first step.

I hope you’ve found this informative. If you have please ‘like’ and ‘share’ this post where it will appear on my Facebook page.