Knowing how to install carpet on stairs can give an added elegance and sophistication to your space. Stairs are the most frequented and highly trafficked area of a home or office. They sustain more impact than flat ground because of the added force of gravity when you ascend and descend the stairs. Carpeting can protect your staircase from daily use and increase the value of your space aesthetically.

What Do You Need to Install Carpet on Stairs?

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Once you understand how to install carpet on stairs yourself, you'll need a variety of regular and specialised tools in order to complete the project effectively. It's a worth-while investment to make sure you have all the equipment you need before starting: that way you'll save money in the long run by not having to make adjustments or corrections.

Here is our recommended list:

Tape Measure

A standard 1 inch by 25 ft tape measure is definitely required to carpet stairs. Having the correct measurements is paramount to creating an evenly spread a layer of carpet.


Tack Strips

Dual purpose tack strips are perfect for small DIY projects involving carpet. For use on both residential wood and concrete floors, tack strips feature nails to anchor themselves to the floor while the tacks can attach to the back of stretch-in carpet, there by securing it in position while you lay the rest.


Hammer

As with any DIY project, a hammer always comes in handy, especially when installing carpet. You'll need a decent 16oz claw hammer to hammer in the nails needed to secure the tack strips and carpet to the floor.


Nails

If you need a hammer for installing carpet on stairs, then you will need nails. The best option is to purchase a hardware nail assortment kit that features nails in 3 different sizes, including 2 inch, 1 ¾ inch, and ¾ inch. The ¾ inch nails will be especially useful if you need to secure the carpet to the corners and steps.


Carpet Padding

This is a great addition to have underneath any carpet, especially high-traffic areas such as stairs. Carpet padding is placed prior to installing the carpet and increases the overall longevity of the carpet fabric. It adds insulation, cushioning and sound proofing, and a protection for the carpet and floor against scratches or dents.


Utility Knife

The best tool for precisely cutting carpet to specification is a utility knife, and we strongly recommend having one before starting work. Installing carpet on stairs effectively will require precise cuts so its best to have the right tool to do so, otherwise you may regret the finish on the edges of the carpet once you're done.


Hammer Tacker

A hammer tacker is a tool that staples the floor depending on where you strike, and they are necessary to have while installing carpet to ensure its secure on every angle and side of the staircase. Otherwise, you may have to resort to either nails or tack strips, but too many of those in the installation can be aesthetically displeasing and dangerous to bare feet. You may need to purchase staples separately too.


Carpet Runner

This is for installations that only partially cover the staircase, and that's if you have decorative wooden flooring you'd like to show off. Carpet runners usually come in 27- and 32-inch widths, so after knowing the measurements you need, decide upon a style and size you want.


Carpet Awl

This is a handy tool that you can use to safety remove, readjust or stretch the carpet, without causing any damage to the material or your flooring. It's especially useful to holding carpet in a precise placement while you secure with a hammer and nail, or staple.


Knee Kicker (Optional)

Although this optional, since you can use any object that's a solid rectangular block, it still makes a world of difference when you're trying to layer the carpet in the corners of the steps evenly. It's called a knee kicker because of how you place your knee to apply the tool in layering carpet effectively.


Fabric Cutter (Optional)

Fabric cutters, such as carpet sheers, knives or electrical saws, are more effective at efficiently cutting and sizing carpet that utility knives. Fabric cutters will give you a firm control and speed to ensure a clean and precise cut every time. While this tool isn't necessary to cut and size carpet, we highly recommend it to get the best results.

Now that we've gone over the tools necessary, let's go over some key things to keep in mind before we dive into how to install carpet on stairs!

Can You Install Carpet on Stairs Yourself?

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Once you know how to install carpet on stairs, it's a great way to save money. However, it's important to weigh up your options before proceeding to do it yourself, since paying a professional to install your carpet will result in a quality finish with less hassle than a DIY method.

Tools

As mentioned, installing carpet effectively requires the use of certain specialty tools, such as a knee kicker and fabric cutter, and while a professional will have access to these tools with the knowledge of how to use them, as a novice, you may not. Many stores do make it easy to rent the necessary equipment by the day, but this may not be the most cost-effective option if you have zero familiarity with the tools. Plus, if you're only laying the carpet once, it's definitely not cost-effective to purchase any of the required tools as the amount of money may add up to the cost of just hiring a professional.

Knowledge

Installing carpet goes beyond knowing how to use to specialty tools because professionals will also be well-versed in the particular technique required to lay the carpet padding symmetrically. The carpet padding fits underneath the actual carpet and is necessary to provide extra cushioning as well as protection against potential matting of carpet fibres.

If not installed correctly, the carpet padding can leave bumps which will protrude through the carpet's surface when installed, and the result is not aesthetically pleasing. In short, installing carpet can be done yourself, but you must make sure that you are well prepared with the right tools before attempting it to ensure a pleasing result and money well spent. Now that you have the tools you will need, it is time to dive into how to install carpet on stairs.

How to Install Carpet on Stairs

1. Decide on the Method

You need to determine the look you want for your home to decide if the Hollywood Method or the Waterfall Method is best for your stairs. The Hollywood Method is the most popular choice for visible stairways, where the carpet is wrapped over the edge of the tread and around the front edge of each step before being fastened down on the riser. This method provides for a tailored and contoured appearance.

The Waterfall Method is a simpler alternative which adheres the carpet to the edge of the tread and then drops it down to the back of the next tread. This method is more casual and reserved for basement stairs or projects with a thick carpet, as it does not require the carpet to be secured to the riser.

2. Choose the Carpet

A more creative step, it is important to review all the options available to you: but we recommend a pre-made stair runner carpet that has been machine-hemmed for easy installation. You are free to cut and hem the carpet runner from any wall-to-wall carpet roll, but it must be stitched with a border to prevent fraying before you start.

3. Calculate the Measurements

Part of knowing how to install carpet on stairs correctly is to ensure you measure the width and length of your stairs
prior to purchasing the carpet runner. Always start with the width! You can work this out by using a measuring tape or ruler and working across the step from edge to edge.

If you purchase a pre-hemmed carpet runner, you will have various options for width to choose from to suit your needs, but 27 and 32 inches are the most common widths available. On the DIY side, if you plan to customize your own carpet runner with wall-to-wall carpet, try placing craft paper or a flat bed sheet onto a step, folded in half. Adjust the fold until it covers the full width of the step and measure the paper or sheet for precise accuracy.

When measuring the length of your stair runner, you only need to measure one step and then multiply the answer by the number of steps in your staircase. So just add the depth of the stair tread with the height of the riser and multiply by the number of stairs.

It is worth noting that if you decide upon the Hollywood Method you will need to allow for a little extra length so you can fasten the runner properly. We suggest adding 1 inch for each nosing and an additional 18 extra inches for safety.

4. Prepare the Stairs

Prepare the stairs using tack strips and thin pieces of wood, similar to yardsticks with tacks pointing upwardm to hold your carpet in place. 

To achieve the right grip, you need to:

  • Cut your tack strips into lengths which are 4 inches shorter than the width of your carpet runner
  • Allocate two strips for each step of your staircase
  • Center the first strip on the riser ¼ inch from the bottom and nail it in place
  • Center the second strip on the tread, ¼ inch from the rear

You want to make sure that the strips angle in toward each other so that the points of the tacks almost touch.

5. Laying the Carpeting Padding

To ensure each of your steps have extra cushioning, we recommend laying down carpet padding as a base. The choice of material for padding is yours, but we suggest investing in high-quality, thicker padding, as opposed to general wall-to-wall padding, as it can extend the life of the carpet. Carpet padding is incredibly useful for high trafficked parts of your house like the stairs.

To lay the padding:

  • Measure and cut the padding into evenly sized rectangles with a utility knife (same width as the length of each tack strip and 3 inches longer than the depth of the tread)
  • Secure one end of the pad just in front of the tack strip on the tread
  • Hammer the tack and staple the pad down every three inches across the step
  • Pull padding tight around the stair nosing and staple the padding every 3 inches along the riser (underneath lip)
  • Trim any excess padding where the nosing and the riser meet
  • Repeat for each step

Be mindful not to cover any of the tack strips with the padding.

6. Install the Carpet Runner

Begin at the bottom of the stairs and work your way up to the top of the staircase. You want to make sure the runner is centered, with equal amounts of wood on each side, before pressing it into the first tack strip. Use a carpet awl to ensure a clean finish between the bottom of the stair riser and the flooring.

Keep the carpet even with the floor and trim any excess with a carpet knife before securing it to the riser just beneath the next tread with staples. We advise spacing the staples 3 inches apart. If you are carpeting your staircase with the Hollywood Method, it is important to secure the runner to the underside of the nosing and staple 3 inches apart.

7. Recenter the Runner

After re-centring the runner, push the carpet back over the nosing and toward the next tack strip. Then place the front part of the knee kicker two or three inches from the second riser and give it a jolt to tighten the carpet along the edges. Always start in the middle and then gradually work your way to each edge to flatten out any bubbles. If the runner begins to buckle, pull it up from the tack strip and start again. There should be no bumps ever!

8. Secure the Runner

Once you are satisfied with the runner's position, use the carpet awl to push the seam of the runner into the crease of the step where the tread meets the riser and then into your tack strips. Then staple the runner into that exact same crease to permanently secure it there. Remember to staple on either end of the strip as well as each outer edge, two inches from the bottom of the riser.

9. Repeat

Simply repeat steps 7 and 8 for each step on your staircase until you reach a landing or the top riser.

10. Finishing the Edges

When you reach the top riser, neatly fold the runner's edge back on itself and staple the folded carpet underneath the overhanging lip of the flooring.

Conclusion

brown carpet installed on the stairs

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We hope this article has given you the tools and information you need to know how to install carpet on stairs and has equipped you with the confidence to revamp your space today! Should you have any more questions about installing carpet, head to your local hardware store and speak to a specialist, or reach out to the friendly team at Home Project DIY.

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