How to Install a Stair Runner

One wrong move, and you're sure to wish you had installed a stair runner over your slippery stairs. While carpet installation companies can easily handle this project for you, there's no reason you shouldn't consider giving it a try yourself. After all, it's pretty easy to install a beautiful runner on stairs yourself in a single day.

Staircase runners are more than a decorative detail, they're multi-purpose:

  • Enhance safety by providing a non-slip surface, reducing the risk of slipping or falling on stairs.

  • Protect the underlying staircase from wear and tear, extending its longevity and reducing maintenance costs.

  • Absorb sound and minimize noise generated by footsteps, creating a quieter and more peaceful environment in your home.

  • Offer comfort underfoot, making staircases more pleasant to walk on, especially for bare feet or socks.

Materials and Tools You'll Need

  • Tape measure

  • Padding and carpet runner, purchased in a sufficient length (add 10% – more than just a couple extra inches, if possible)

  • Sharp utility knife

  • Piece of scrap particle board (or something that will make a durable cutting surface)

  • Double-sided carpet tape or adhesive

  • Electric staple gun or pneumatic staple gun with 3/4" to 1" staples

Installing a Stair Runner Yourself: A 7-Step Tutorial

1. Measure and Prepare Your Staircase

Take measurements of each stair tread and riser. Thoughtfully account for the stair nosing around each step. Once you have your measurements, double-check your work. And then add 10% to the overall length. It's worth it to be prepared.

2. Choose Your Runner

  • Going straight to a carpet supplier and choosing a product with a pre-cut width and stitched outer edge is easiest. You can buy what they have in stock, or order a custom runner cut to your width and length with the edges bound. Avoid buying a length of too-wide carpeting that needs to be cut at home. In some cases, you might find a shorter runner intended for the floor that, when laid end-to-end, can be installed as a long DIY stair runner. Be mindful of where the "breaks" in the products will fall.

  • Choose a product wide enough to cover most of the stair tread. It's okay to leave four to eight inches of hardwood exposed on either side of the runner; sometimes that's a good look depending on the scale of the staircase.

  • When you find a runner, purchase a length that matches the measurements for your space. You don't need to ask the manufacturer to bind for finished edges, but double-check that the cuts they make are straight.

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3. Clean the Stairs

Be thorough. Remove any existing carpet or debris, like dog fur, raised staples or tacks from a previous product, and adhesive. Then, use a hardwood floor cleaner to wipe down each tread.

4. Cut and Install the Carpet Pad

  • Lay the padding across your scrap wood work surface. Use sharp fabric scissors or a utility knife to cut the carpet padding for each stair tread and riser. Cut it two inches narrower than your carpet runner to allow the runner to overlay an extra one inch on each side. Additionally, depending on the thickness of your padding (which should be no more than a half inch at max), a good pro tip is to angle the cut to minimize its reveal beneath the runner.

  • Apply strips of carpet tape to the back of the padding to secure it in place. Modern carpet adhesive works much like a tackles strip.

  • Measure and mark the center of the padding and the staircase. The runner should be perfectly centered between the edge of the railing spindles and the wall, or between both sets of spindles if there are railings going up both sides of your staircase.

  • Work from the bottom of the staircase up, continuing to check for centered alignment as you go.

5. Cut and Position Runner

  • Measure and mark the center of the stair runner and the staircase.

  • Begin by staging the runner at the bottom of the stairs, positioning it over the top of the padding, carefully aligning it with the edge of the step. This is your rough draft. The runner should be almost exactly in place, but still loose.

  • Work your way up the entire staircase, ensuring the runner is straight and centered as you go.

  • When you get to the top, there should be a substantial overage. This is because the runner isn't pulled taut or stapled yet. Do not make any cuts to the length of your runner yet!

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6. Secure the Carpet Runner

  • Starting at the bottom, use a pneumatic or electric stapler to secure the runner to the stair treads and risers. Place a row of staples along the bottom most edge, and up along the corners of each step to ensure a secure hold.

  • Maintain consistent tension as you attach the runner to each step, especially up and around the stair nose of each tread.

  • Check the alignment and straightness of the runner on every single step you work your way up the stairs. This attention to detail will ensure a professional-looking finish and prevent it from straying off-center.

  • As you work up the staircase, no doubt the excess length of runner at the top of the staircase will get shorter. Continue to monitor how much excess you have as you continue to keep the runner taut.

7. Trim Excess at the Top of the Staircase

  • Use sharp scissors or a utility knife to trim the top edge of runner and minimize the appearance of a raw edge. The cut needs to be precise and straight so the stair runner carpet can line up seamlessly with the bottom of the upstairs floor bullnose.

  • Double-check the cut end to ensure it is securely fastened. Use binding or carpet tape for added security and to prevent fraying or unraveling over time

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Does padding need to be installed on the tread and the riser?

The riser of your staircase doesn't experience the same type of wear and tear as the runner, but experts suggest running the padding the full length of your staircase — riser to runner. This helps prevent caps and sagging over time and makes the installed carpet look even.

Can I install a stair runner over laminate or hardwood stairs?

Yes, you can install a stair runner over both laminate and hardwood staircases. Remember, a non-slip rug pad or carpet padding underneath the runner will prevent the runner from slipping over time and protect the underlying surface.

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How do I maintain and clean a stair runner?

Keeping it clean starts with regular vacuuming to remove dirt and debris. Spot clean stains promptly with a mild detergent and water solution. Consider steam cleaning every two years, depending on the amount of foot traffic your space endures, and whether you wear outdoor shoes inside the house.