How to Pick Out a Stair Runner

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 Stair Runner?

There are several 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 stair 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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Buying Considerations for Stair Runners

Width of Stairs

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.

Type of Carpet

A stair runner will no doubt experience heavy foot traffic. Flatwoven or low-pile rugs are the best weaves for stair runners. Flatwoven and low-pile rugs are ideal since they do not have crushable pile and are also easier to install. Avoid shags or high pile carpeting for stair runners because heels or other items can become caught in the fibers and cause a tripping hazard. Opt for weaves of wool, wool blends, natural, or synthetic fibers for durability.

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. The runner can be cut to your exact specifications and finished on the sides by binding or serging the edges.


Patterned runners are beautiful, and come in a limitless choice of colors and designs. But you'll need to be sure that the pattern will work on stairs. Here are some considerations:

  • Geometric patterns: Some precise and linear geometric patterns, such as diamonds and squares, are more effective on long, flat surfaces, such as a runner in a hallway. These patterns don't always 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.
  • Non-geometric designs: 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.
  • Scale: Smaller scale patterns are best for a stair runner. Large patterns will look lost and uneven, especially at the bends.
  • Subtle patterns: If you prefer a barely-there cut and loop style pattern, consider a runner made out of broadloom.


Rods are an optional decorative accessory to stair runners. A metal rod is installed at the back of the stair, where the riser meets the tread. 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. Rods usually have ornamental finials on the ends to accentuate the overall look.

Although 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.


Stairs are tricky to measure since they have so many surfaces of different heights and widths, not to mention curves, angles, and landings that need precise measurements. To get the perfect fit and installation, especially if you have a custom staircase that falls out of the standard size range, it's best to hire a professional carpet installation company.

In addition, carpet professionals can create a stair runner to your specifications. But 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.

Types of Stair Runners

Stair Runner Carpet

A stair runner carpet cascades down the staircase, tightly fitting over all the parts of the staircase including each step's riser, tread, and nose. The carpet runner also covers the landings to create a unified look.

Carpet Stair Treads

Stair treads are small rectangular pieces of skid-free material (carpet or vinyl) that can be installed by a DIYer across the horizontal surface of a step. Some styles have lips that wrap over the edge (or nose) of a step for extra coverage and protection. They are typically purchased in packs so you can buy enough of them to cover every step of your staircase. Stair treads are typically self-adhesive or stapled down and can be easy to remove (depending on the installation method). Other types may have rubber backing for stability.

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

    There are definite advantages to putting a stair runner on stairs in your home. A stair 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 stair runner require a pad underneath?

    You will still need to add a cushion or pad underneath a stair 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 stair 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.

  • How do stair runners stay in place?

    Double-sided tape, a tack strip, and/or staples hold stair runners in place. The stair rods are optional and are put in place as decorative accents.

  • Is a stair runner cheaper than carpet?

    Yes, even a higher-end stair runner will be cheaper to buy and install than fully carpeted stairs.