The Best Carpet for Stairs

Staircase in a home featuring beige carpet.
Slobo/E_/Getty Images

Choosing carpet for the stairs can be a bit more difficult than choosing carpet for other areas of the home. This is because, in addition to having to decide on carpet style and color, the carpet has to be of appropriate durability and thickness to be installed on the stair. Of course, it also has to look good as it wraps around the edge of the stair, and through the railing posts, if any.

Let’s take a look at the important components of making a carpet great for stairs.

Durability

Stairs are the highest-traffic area of any home. Therefore, it is crucial that the carpet covering them be durable enough to stand up to the heavy traffic, and still look good. This means that if you are carpeting your bedrooms, hall and stairs, the carpet that is suitable for your bedrooms may not be appropriate for your stairs.

When choosing carpet for stairs, you typically want to go with the highest durability that you can afford, in the style that you prefer (unless the highest grade is too thick for stairs – more about that in a minute).

The durability of a carpet depends on several important factors. For more information, see how to determine the quality of a carpet.

Thickness

Many people think that a thicker carpet is more durable. This is not always the case; in fact, some of the most durable carpets have the thinnest profiles, and some of the thickest carpets are full of air.

Thickness is an important factor in the suitability of carpet for the stairs. A carpet that is too thick can be a safety hazard, because as it wraps around the nosing (front edge) of the stair, it acts as a ramp for your foot, with nothing substantial to support your foot underneath. A very thick carpet can lead to slips and falls, something that no one wants to have happen on stairs.

In addition, carpet installers don’t like working with thick carpets on stairs. As you can imagine, it is more difficult to wrap a thick carpet around the nosing and through the railing pickets.

Berber

Many people think that looped carpet, such as berber, is not an option for stairs. They worry that as the carpet bends over the nosing, the backing of the carpet will show between the rows of loops. The truth is that berber can be used on stairs and can look quite beautiful, provided that it is of proper quality.

When people pick up a berber carpet sample and bend it backwards, they are sometimes able to see the backing between the rows. This is referred to in the industry as “smiling”. However, typically when a person is doing this, they are bending the carpet the wrong way.

The rows of loops in a carpet are stitched lengthwise on the roll. When the carpet is seen to be smiling, it is because it has been bent sideways, so that the rows are going from side to side on the sample. If the carpet is turned around, so that the rows are going from top to bottom on the carpet sample, the smiling effect no longer occurs, because the loops fold over the bend in unison.

When carpet is installed on stairs, it is installed lengthwise, so the rows of loops run from the top of the stairs to the bottom. This prevents the smiling effect on the front nosing of the stair.

Open Stairs

If the stairs are open on the side, then the carpet must be bent in two ways: lengthwise over the front of the stair, and widthwise over the side. In these cases, there is the possibility for smiling to occur on the side of the stair.

In order to avoid side smiling, look for a high-quality berber with larger loops, which can help to cover the space between the rows when bent sideways. Higher qualities of berbers will have less space between the rows.

Soil Resistant

If you are choosing a carpet that will only cover your stairs (and not other areas such as the family room) stain resistance is not a top priority, because the carpet is not likely to be subjected to many spills. However, you should still look for a carpet that has good soil resistance.

Learn the difference between staining and soiling.

The oils on the bottoms of your feet can leave a residue on the carpet as you walk up and down the stairs. You can avoid this by wearing socks or slippers in the home. However, if you have pets, or simply prefer to go barefoot, then make sure you get a carpet that is soil resistant, so that the residue doesn’t stick to the fibers and attract dirt particles.

Warranty Coverage

One thing that is important to note is that a lot of carpets don’t provide warranty coverage for stairs. Although it seems strange (after all, most houses and even some condos/apartments have stairs!) historically, manufacturers excluded all stairs from the carpet’s warranty.

In recent years, however, more carpets are being offered with a warranty on stairs. If you are concerned about having the protection a warranty can offer, then make sure that the carpet you choose for your stairs does in fact cover stairs in the warranty.

All Things Considered

The best carpet for stairs is one that meets all of the factors outlined above: durability, appropriate thickness, soil resistance, and warranty coverage. So, what is this carpet? While there is not an exact carpet that is unequivocally the greatest carpet for stairs, you might want to check out one of the brands I like, such as the Mohawk SmartStrand collection. The carpets in this collection all feature excellent soil resistance and warranty coverage on stairs, and a large number of the many styles available are suitable in terms of thickness and durability.