Travel Explainer

Pile Paranoia

Why do hotel carpets feel so weird?

Room service and hotel carpet
Two hotel staples: room service and weird carpet.

Photo by Goodshoot

At the beginning of Die Hard, a tense, aviophobic John McClane receives “the secret to air travel” from his seatmate: “After you get where you’re going, take off your shoes and socks, then walk around on the rug barefoot and make fists with your toes.” If you’ve ever made fists with your toes inside your hotel room, you know the carpet feels mysteriously different. To a bare foot, it feels entirely unlike any carpet you would find in a real home—more like a fuzzy floor than a comfy bedroom carpet. Why do typical hotel carpets—the sort you encounter in a standard Hyatt or Marriott-type room—feel so weird?

Because they are built to be extremely durable. With the constant churn of guests and conference attendees, hotel carpets suffer a lot of wear and tear; perhaps only airport carpets receive more weathering. Guests spill food, ice buckets, blood, or worse on hotel carpets all the time. Accordingly, hotel carpets usually have shorter “piles,” the layer of fibers you actually touch, to make for easier cleaning. If a carpet’s pile is too tall, glass or other debris can be difficult to remove from the fibers, and that debris can damage the carpet. To your feet, then, hotel carpets feel firmer and less textured than, say, a shag rug that you might find in a living room. It’s also easier to drag luggage around a short-pile carpet.

Of course, even home carpets can have short piles. What makes hotel carpets feel especially different is their density. They generally pack more yarn per square inch. Lighter, fluffier home carpet is made for people and their kids to sit, kneel, and roll around on. But the extra material in hotel carpets makes them stronger, and there’s no expectation that guests will want to do much more than walk across them anyway, no matter how comfy they are.

Feelings aside, hotel carpets also often look strange because they are designed to obscure dirt and stains. Unlike home carpets, hotel carpets almost always carry noisy patterns with lots of color and high contrast, particularly in the corridors where stains are more readily noticeable. These wacky designs buy hotel staff more time to clean soiled carpets and also give hotels a distinctive look.

Explainer thanks Jacob Tomsky, author of Heads in Beds, and Mark Page, senior director of color and design at Mohawk Group.

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