Spend enough time in your car, and you’ll eventually begin to consider the seeming absurdity of the vehicle’s carpeted floor. Carpet is, of course, notoriously difficult to keep clean, yet it’s been installed in a place prone to food and drink spills, mud, dirt, snow, and other gunk.

Most people put down floor mats to protect the carpet from damage, but what’s the point of a floor surface that needs another layer? Why not just make the entire thing out of rubber or another easy-to-clean material? Why install something that will eventually be hit with a Slurpee-related disaster?

The main reason isn’t because of aesthetic purposes. It’s mostly because carpet is an effective sound dampener.

There are all kinds of noises emanating from the bottom of a vehicle while it’s running, in addition to noises caused by driving over road surfaces. The synthetic fabrics in carpeting help absorb those sounds—by some estimates, by as much as 40 percent—before they reach the cabin. Cars use a variety of methods to reduce cabin noise, and certain vehicles are quieter than others, but carpeting is an inexpensive way to insulate drivers from the considerable racket that can come from the undercarriage. 

The other reason has to do with heat retention. Rather than lose heat through a bare metal floor, carpet acts as insulation and helps keep the car warm when the heater is on in the colder months.

Finally, while spills may be a nuisance, having a soda or coffee detonate on carpet is preferable to having to cope with a spill on a bare surface, where it could lead to rust or other damage.

For manufacturers, carpet is cheap, beneficial, and hides a lot of the dirt and grime that would otherwise be visible. While there is potential in other materials, like bamboo, wood can add weight to a vehicle. There’s also yet to be any widespread demand from consumers for a major change. Coupled with aftermarket floor mats, carpeting is the most practical design solution available. Just remember to vacuum regularly.

[h/t Science ABC]