How to Install Carpet on Stairs [Full Guide]

Not only does carpeting make your stairs more comfortable. It also absorbs soundwaves, making your home quieter.

They are also a good safety measure, as they provide better foot traction, lessening your risk of slipping and falling.

Installing carpet on stairs is a job usually done by professionals. With a little patience, it’s surprisingly easy to do this job yourself.

Here’s how to add some extra plush to those steps!

In-Short

  • With the Hollywood method, the carpet is tightly wrapped around each part of the stair (the nose, tread, and riser).
  • With the Waterfall method, the carpet gets attached to each tread and drops down to each step without adhering to the risers.
  • Since stairs undergo wear and tear, it’s important to pick a carpet that is durable.
  • Calculate your runner length by using this formula: Length = stair tread depth + height of the riser, multiplied by the total number of stairs.
  • Add some extra length to the above runner: about one inch for each stair nose, plus 18 additional inches.
  • You’ll want to install carpet padding, which is easy to work with and extends the life of your carpet.
  • When installing your carpet, work from the bottom up.

What You Need

You’ll need to have all these items to make your job a success. If you don’t have specialized tools like the knee kicker, you can look into renting them at your local hardware store.

  • Padding
  • Carpeting
  • Hammer and nails
  • Tape measure
  • Tack strips
  • Utility knife
  • Hammer tacker
  • Knee kicker
  • Carpet cutters

Before You Start

As with most other carpeting jobs, it is essential to plan ahead. The job itself should take a few hours to complete, tops. However, you will need to think about the following factors in advance.

Hollywood vs. Waterfall Method

There are two different ways to install carpet on your stairs. Both of which will determine the stairs’ overall look in your home.

With the waterfall method, the carpeting adheres to the tread’s edge and drops down to the next stair without getting adhered to the riser. This is a simple installation method because it’s one long piece of carpet running down the entire staircase.

It is usually used for basement stairs or thick carpeting.

The Hollywood method is more sophisticated. The carpet is tightly wrapped around the tread (the top of the step) and fastened to the riser (the front of the step). This provides a more clean, tailored appearance than the waterfall method.

This is a typical method for more visible stairways in the home.

Pick Your Carpet

Stairs undergo a lot of wear and tear, so you’ll want to pick a durable carpet. We break down the details in our article about what makes carpet durable. 

We even discuss picking the best carpet for stairs, specifically. 

The most convenient option for stairs is a pre-made stair runner. You can also have a runner cut from any type of carpet, which will be important if you want to use the same carpet as the rest of your house.

Each side, however, should be stitched with a border to help prevent fraying on the edges. This step requires special equipment and a professional.

Get Measurements

Start by figuring out the width. You may want to measure the width of your steps. If you’re getting a pre-hemmed runner, it will usually come in set widths of 27 or 32 inches.

Pick the one that suits your needs, depending on how much bare material you want to be exposed.

For length, you’ll want to measure the depth of your stair tread, as well as riser height. Use this formula for calculating the length of your stair runner:

Length = stair tread depth + height of the riser, multiplied by the total number of stairs.

According to U.S. building code, the height limit for risers is 7.75 inches, and tread depth should be between 10 and 11.5 inches. This is primarily a safety concern, so you should ensure that your stair measurements fall within these guidelines.

So for example, let’s say your flight of stairs has 13 steps, with a riser height of 7.5 inches and tread depth of 11 inches.

Length = (7.5’’ + 11’’) * 13 = 240.5 inches of carpet

One important tip is to get a little extra carpet. This is especially crucial if you’re using the Hollywood method, where the fabric wraps around each stair more tightly.

On average, you’ll want to add 1 extra inch for each nose. Having 18-20 extra inches for spare carpeting is also essential.

Referring to the previous example: add 13 inches (1 inch for each step) to 240.5, plus 18 extra inches. You’d be looking at a runner length of 271.5 inches.

Here’s How to Do It

Install Tack Strips

The first step of installing carpet on stairs is the tack strips. These are pieces of wood similar to yardsticks which use tacks to hold the carpet in place.

Each tack strip should be 4 inches shorter than your runner’s width. You should have two for each step: one on the tread and the other on the riser. 

Nail one tack strip on each riser, positioned 0.25 inches from the bottom, and one on each tread, 0.25 inches from the rear. The strips should be centered and angled toward each other, almost touching.

Add Carpet Padding

This material will serve as a base to give your carpeted steps more cushion and extend your carpet’s life. We discuss carpet padding in more detail here. 

Cut your carpet padding into rectangles with your utility knife. Your rectangles should be the same width as your tack strips, and three inches longer than your tread depth. 

For each step, position the rectangle on the tread, right in front of its tack strip. Use your hammer tacker to staple it in place, applying a staple every three inches.

Then, with the padding tightly wrapped around the step’s nose, staple the other side onto the riser in the same way.

Repeat this process until all steps have padding.

Install Carpet Runner

Now for the fun part! The key is to work from the bottom of the staircase to the top. Ensure the carpet runner is centered so that there are equal amounts of wood showing on each side.

Press the carpet into the first tack strip. Trim the edge of the carpet as necessary, to keep it level along with your floor.

Secure to the next riser with staples spaced about three inches apart. For the Hollywood method, secure to the bottom of the nosing as well.

Keeping the runner centered, push carpet over the next step, toward the next tack strip.

Tighten your carpeting along the edges using your knee kicker. Start from the middle and go out to the edges to remove bubbles.

Your runner might buckle at times. If this happens, pull it out of the tack strip, re-insert, and start over.

Staple It In

Use your carpet awl to push your carpet into each step’s seams and into your tack strips. Staple the carpet into each step’s crease (in front of the tack strip and on the carpet edges, 2 inches from the back of the tread). 

Once you’re at the top of the steps, fold the top of the carpet runner in and staple it under the top of the floor. 

That’s it, you’re done! One last thing before you enjoy your newly carpeted stairs.

Like all other carpets in your house, you’ll want to know how to keep it clean. Thankfully, we can advise you on the best carpet cleaning solutions!

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