Should You Put Carpet on Stairs or Not?

Installing Carpeting on Stairs
Getty / Banks Photos

When carpeting your home, you may get an offer to carpet the stairs, too. On a per-square-footage basis, stairs are a bit more difficult to carpet than floors because of the tucking and tacking required to get the carpeting tight on the stairs. This offer will likely cost you more money. Is this something you should do?

Types of Stairs That May Benefit From Carpeting

  1. Basic Stairs: Functional, builder-grade stairs--stairs that exist only to move people from point A to point B, with zero concern for aesthetics--can be improved with carpeting. It is difficult to fix unattractive stairs because they do not lend themselves to painting. Carpet works wonders on stairs like this. Beautiful hardwood stairs will be ruined by the addition of carpeting because the tack strips need to be nailed down, creating holes in the wood. Besides, most homeowners with nice wooden stairs wouldn't be considering carpeting in the first place (would they?).
  2. Noisy Stairs: Where carpeted stairs really excel is in houses that have noisy stairs. This noise may be a result of children (once young kids learn all about the staircase, they will use them relentlessly). Or it might be that the stair materials are too thin to adequately absorb sounds. Rather than replacing risers and treads, it's often easier to carpet them.

Waterfall Technique

Waterfall is considered to be the faster method of installing carpet on stairs and uses only one strip of carpeting.

After cutting a strip of carpet the width of the stairs, you start at the bottom and work upward. If you know what a stair runner is, it's much like this--a continuous strip of carpet. You can only use this method if your stairs have no nosing (a section of the tread that protrudes beyond the riser).

Cap-and-Band Method

Cap-and-band is also called wrapped nose. Each stair receives two separate sections of carpet: one for the tread, another for the riser.

The tread carpet butts up against the tread and then wraps down and around the stair nose. Then another piece is added for the riser. More laborious than the waterfall technique, for novices it can produce a cleaner, crisper look because you don't have to deal with trying to tighten up uncooperative carpeting: the cuts do this for you.  

Carpeted Stairs Are Slippery and Can Be Dangerous

Carpet is responsible for more stair-falls (usually going down) than uncarpeted stairs. But the great paradox: even though they cause you to fall, they ensure that your bumpy journey downward will be as soft as possible.

Eased Stair Treads
One reason is that carpet eases the stair tread's edge. Carpet materials such as olefin and polyester are slippery. Carpeting creates a softened curve on the nose of each stair. Typically, this sharp edge helps to provide grip. But when carpet blunts that edge, your foot cannot grip as well. Walking downward on carpeted stairs is especially hazardous.

Depth Perception Is Altered
Who would think that carpet messes with your depth perception, too? Uncarpeted stairs have crisp lines that your eye can immediately identify. The edge is clear, and it's this edge that your foot needs to meet. Carpeted stair treads tend to visually merge, making the target difficult to identify.

Shorter Tread Depth
Remember that carpet shrinks stair tread depth. Stair treads are, by code, 10 inches deep, minimum. Carpet on stair risers shrinks stair tread depth by up to a half-inch. This can present a slight trip hazard since your foot has less area to rest on.

Carpeting and Noise Reduction

Carpet is great at blunting or even completely eliminating the sound of people walking on wooden stairs. Consider that you've got both padding and carpet working for the cause, and you'll realize that bare wooden stairs can in no way match the quiet that carpet offers. One thing it doesn't fix, though: squeaky stairs.

Cleaning Carpeting Stairs

Cleaning carpeted stairs mean using a handheld vacuum, and you will never be able to get them perfectly clean. By contrast, wooden stairs can be cleaned with a whisk broom and dustpan. With carpeted stairs, you will never be able to adequately clean that angle where tread and riser meet.

Installation Speed

Installing carpet on stairs might be an all-morning affair. For professional carpet installers, they can do it in about two minutes per stair.

Once the strips and padding are installed and the carpet cut to size, carpet installers can really go to town when laying carpet, waterfall style. This is because that long, narrow section of carpet just keeps getting tucked and tacked upwards, no interruptions.

Summary

Install Carpet on Stairs Here

  • Staircases or houses in general which are very noisy
  • In homes with active children
  • On functional, non-beautiful stairs

Avoid Carpeting

  • On quality hardwood treads
  • In homes with elderly residents or others at risk of falling