Carpet Runner on Stairs

Staircase with white and brown steps lined with tan carpet runner in the middle

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

A stair runner is a piece of carpet that doesn’t cover the entire width of the stair. It is typically installed over hardwood or tiled stairs. Runners come in virtually all colors and patterns and are also available in different widths.

Why Add a Runner?

There are a number of reasons for adding a runner to a staircase. One of the most common and perhaps obvious reasons is safety. Wood or tiled stairs can be quite slippery, which can present a danger, especially when there are children, pets, or people with mobility issues in the home.

Adding a runner reduces the danger by providing a safe place to walk on the stairs, not to mention the added comfort of the soft carpet underfoot. In addition, carpet absorbs noise much more than hard surfaces do, so adding a runner will make trips up and down the stairs much quieter.

Finally, a carpet runner adds style. A staircase featuring a runner creates a beautiful focal point in your home, but you have to be sure to select the proper runner.

There are two options for choosing a runner on stairs: a pre-made runner, usually featuring a pattern, or a custom-made runner, often made out of broadloom.

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Runner Width

When considering a staircase, a common question is how wide should the carpet runner be. The answer to this will depend on the width of your stairs.

For stairs that are approximately 3 feet wide, we would suggest a 27-inch runner width. This width allows for good coverage so that you don't feel like you are walking on a narrow strip, and is not too wide to overpower the stairs.

For wider stairs of about 4 feet or 5 feet, a 32- or 33-inch runner is a good option, as it will leave a nice amount of floor showing on either side and will not be diminished by the size of the stairs.

If you have a custom staircase that falls outside of the standard sizes listed above, your best bet would be to have a runner custom made, so that you can tailor it to your specifications to allow for an appropriate scale. See below for more information on making a runner out of broadloom.

Type of Pattern

Patterned runners are beautiful, and come in a limitless choice of colors and designs. Be sure that the pattern will work on stairs. Some patterns are more effective on long, flat surfaces, such as a runner in a hallway, and don't work as well when they are bent and folded over the stairs. If you have a curved or winding staircase, this is even more of a concern.

Unless you have a straight staircase (with no curved steps), we caution against using a precise pattern on stairs, such as a diamond, square, or other geometric design. Even on straight staircases, matching up a linear pattern can be difficult. If the pattern is off even the slightest, it will stand out conspicuously, and the overall effect will be spoiled. If you have your heart set on such a pattern, be sure to have it professionally installed by someone who specializes in staircase work.

Non-geometric designs, such as abstracts or the floral designs commonly found in Oriental rugs, are a good choice of pattern for stairs. These designs don't require the same precise matching as geometrics and therefore create an attractive finished look.

Pattern Size

For the scale of the pattern, it is best to go small on a stair runner. Large patterns will be lost and will look too uneven as the carpet bends over each stair. Smaller patterns will nicely showcase the design of each tread and riser. On narrow staircases, a small pattern can help the stairs to seem wider, as multiple pattern repeats trick the mind into seeing a bigger expanse.

Custom Runner

Perhaps you would prefer a runner with no pattern, or with a more subtle design (such as one created by a cut and loop style). In these cases, having a runner made out of broadloom is your best bet. The runner can be cut to your exact specifications and finished on the sides by binding or serging the edges.

Having a runner custom made out of broadloom can often be less expensive than purchasing a pre-made runner. It does not require a large amount of carpet to cover a staircase, so you may even be able to purchase a discounted remnant and have it made to your size.

Don't think that you have to look for a remnant that is a long, narrow size. Runners are not installed on the stairs in one piece. Even pre-made runners are cut into pieces to allow proper fitting to the stairs. When you find a remnant or a piece of carpet, it will essentially be cut into sections that will be installed end to end, giving the appearance of a seamless runner on the stairs.

Stair Treads

One option for stair carpeting is to cover only the tread (the part of the stair that you step on) with a runner and leave the riser (the back) of the stair uncovered. This creates a different overall effect than covering the whole stair and can be a good choice in more minimalistic or modern decors.

Decorative Rods

Rods are an optional accessory to stair runners. A metal rod is installed at the back of the stair, where the riser meets the tread—such as pictured above. The rod is not actually holding the runner in place. The runner is installed using staples, tackless, or whatever other means deemed appropriate by the installer. The rod is merely decorative and is completely optional. Rods usually have ornamental finials on the ends to accentuate the overall look.


Despite the fact that the carpet runner is a small piece of carpet, it still requires a cushion or underpad. The best cushion for under a runner is very thin so that it doesn’t raise the height of the runner by much. It should also be dense, to adequately support the runner so that the carpet doesn’t flex too much when walked on.

A pad of one-quarter-inch thickness is ideal for under a stair runner. Rubber pads are a good option for under a runner because it is firm and very dense.

The cushion should be slightly narrower than the runner, to allow the runner to sit tightly against the stair, and ensure the underpad is not visible from the side of an open staircase.

  • Are there advantages to adding a carpet runner on stairs?

    There are definite advantages to putting a carpet runner on stairs in your home. A carpet runner provides safety and muffles the noise of children, adults, or animals traveling up and down the stairs. A runner will also add another dimension of style to the stairs and area it's located.

  • Does a carpet runner require a pad underneath?

    You will still need to add a cushion or pad underneath a carpet runner on the stairs. It should be a thin one that is slightly smaller than the runner.

  • How much of the step should show with a carpet runner?

    Generally, you should show around 4 inches of the stair's step on each side of the runner, exposing the wood or tile for a pleasing accent.