Stairs with carpet

Update Your Staircase: How to Install Carpet on Stairs

Can’t decide between carpet or wood for your stairs? Why not choose both! A stair runner gives you the best of both worlds. You receive the ornateness of the wood coupled with the benefits of carpet tiles. Update your staircase: how to install carpet on stairs.

Narrower rugs go down the center of the stairs, leaving exposed wood on each side. Using a carpet runner to install carpet pads adds better grip, noise reduction, and absorbs shock. Installation is only a couple of hours if done correctly.

What You Will Need

  • Hammer
  • Tape Measure
  • Carpet Tack Strips
  • Nails
  • Carpet Padding
  • Utility Knife
  • Staples
  • Hammer Tacker
  • Knee Kicker
  • Carpet Awl
  • Carpet Shears

First Step: Determine the Look

You can install carpet in two ways for stairs: Hollywood style and waterfall.

  • The Hollywood style firmly wraps carpeting around the front edge of each individual step. It is then fastened on a riser, providing a contoured and clean look. Since it is so tailored, it is a common technique to use for visible stairways.
  • The waterfall method is simpler. Carpeting is attached to the edge of the thread. It is then placed straight down while meeting the back of the proceeding tread. The carpet pads are not secured to a stair riser. It offers a cascading look that is often used for basement stairs or with thicker, harder to manipulate carpet.

Second Step: Select a Carpet


A stair runner, which is prefabricated, and machine-hemmed carpeting are more convenient. However, carpet can be hemmed from a wall-to-wall carpet roll. Be advised that both sides need to be stitched closed to prevent fraying.

Two specialty sewing machines need to be used and are used only by professionals. They will have to be custom cut.

Third Step: Collect Measurements

Begin with the preferred width of the stair runner. Most carpets that are pre-hemmed are sold in 27” and 32”. Select one that fits the tread size. Ensure that it covers as much/little wood as you would like. If you are having it custom cut, or you need help visualizing what the final result will be, drape a flat sheet/kraft paper, folded lengthwise, to determine the width.

Calculate the length of the carpeting. Add the stair depth measurements and stair riser height, then times by the number of all the stairs. For the Hollywood method, extra length is required to completely fasten the runner. Add an additional inch per nosing. Eighteen extra inches should be added for spare.

Step Four: Prepare for Installation

Install tacking strips with nails pointing upward. They will grip the carpet and keep it in place. Tack strips should be cut 4” shorter than the runner’s width. Cut two strips per stair.

Nail one strip to each riser. Center it with ¼” from the bottom with one per tread. ¼” should be from the back, and it, too, should be centered. The strips need to angle toward each other. The tack points need to be almost touching.

Step Five: Cushioning

For more cushioning and shock absorption, install carpet padding. Padding comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. Stick to high-quality material, as it will extend the life of your runner. Start by using a utility knife to cut the padding into rectangles. They should be of equal length and width as the tacking strip. They should also be 3” longer than the tread’s depth.

Avoid covering the tacking strips. Attach one end just reaching the tread’s tack strip. Use a hammer tacker and place a staple every three inches horizontally. Pull the padding tightly around the nosing of the stair, then staple the runner underneath spaced every 3”.

The pad should be trimmed where the nosing and the top of the riser intersect. For the waterfall, clip corners so the pad isn’t visible.

Repeat for each stair until all of them are completed.

Step Six: Install the Runner

When the padding is in place, install the carpeting. Beginning at the bottom of the staircase, center the runner so equal amounts of wood are shown per side. Press it into the first tack strip (located at the bottom of the riser). By using a carpet awl, you can obtain a flawless appearance between the bottom riser and the floor.

The runner needs to be even with the floor. However, if it isn’t, then trim it with a carpet knife. Secure the carpet to the riser beneath the following tread by using staples. They should be spaced 3” apart.

For the Hollywood method, fasten the runner underneath the nosing. Staple it in at 3” apart.

Step Seven: Recentering the Runner

After this is done, recenter the carpeting. Push the runner back over the nosing, then forward it to the next tacking strip. The front portion of the knee kicker should be 2-3” away from the following riser. Give it a push with your knee to tighten along the edges.

Beginning at the center, work toward each edge. This will decrease any bubbles forming in the middle. If the carpeting buckles, pull it from the strip and start over.

Step Eight: Push Carpet into the Seam

When you are happy with the results, a carpet awl can be used to push the carpet back tightly into the seam (where the riser and tread meet) and into the strips. Staple the carpet into the area where the tread and riser intersect on the strip’s ends and the outer edge. It should be 2” from the base of the riser.

Step Nine: Repeat

Complete Steps 7 and 8 until you reach the top riser or landing.

Step 10: The Grand Finale

Once you reach the top, fold a seam with the runner’s upper edge. Staple it underneath the flooring’s overhanging lip. You are now finished! If you don’t want to use tacking strips, you can use glue. There are some disadvantages to this method as the stair won’t be as comfortable and it is tougher to remove.

Installing carpeting on stairs is a great way to update the look of your home. With two methods to select from, you can obtain multiple looks for each area. Installation is not difficult to accomplish, and the overall appearance is stunning.

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