Stairs are the most common place in the home to have carpet, and yet they are also the trickiest. 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.
Carpets Provide Safety for Stairs
Even if you prefer hard surfaces such as hardwood or laminate, carpet on the stairs is still a good idea, even if it is in the form of a runner on the stairs. Having carpet on the stairs is infinitely safer than having the stairs covered with hard surface flooring. Hard surfaces are slippery, and can easily lead to a fall. Should a fall occur, carpet offers a much softer landing spot than hardwood or laminate, which could help reduce the likelihood of injury.
Stairs are the highest traffic area in any home, not only because they are often used. The impact of foot traffic is greater on stairs than on flat areas due to the added force of gravity as you descend the stairs. This means that you should be using the highest-quality carpet and cushion you can afford. While an upgraded carpet and pad will be an additional cost upfront, they will most definitely save you money in the long run, as the carpet will need to be replaced less frequently.
Durability for Carpet on Stair
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).
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 happen on the stairs.
Also, 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. It is best to get a carpet with a pile height of 1/2 inch or less and a carpet padding of 7/16 inch or less and a pile density rating of at least 8 pounds.
There is a difference between staining and soiling. 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.
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.
Style and Appearance
Any style of carpet can be used on stairs. Many people are worried about how the carpet will look where it wraps around the edge of the stair, or where it has to be cut around railing posts. Common concerns include being able to see the backing of the carpet as it wraps around the edge (especially with a looped carpet, such as Berber) and being able to see the seams where it has been joined together around a post.
You will not be able to see the backing of the carpet, except—perhaps—in the absolute lowest-grade product. Even most entry-level or builder-grade products will not show the backing when wrapped around the edge of the stair—provided, of course, they have been properly installed.
Carpet has a specific direction to the pile, and the direction must run from the top of the stairs to the bottom (not sideways). Not only does this enhance the performance of the carpet and ensure proper wear, but it also prevents you from seeing between the "rows" of fiber when you bend the carpet.
When people pick up a Berber carpet sample and bend it backward, 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 the 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.
If your stairs are open on one side (or both sides), and the carpet has to wrap around the outside edge of the staircase, there is a possibility that, with a Berber, some of the backings could show, because the carpet is now being bent in the opposite direction. With a higher-quality Berber, this should not be a problem.
With proper installation, the seams where the carpet has been joined around the posts should not be too noticeable. Certain types of carpet do hide seams better than others; longer piles such as friezes and saxonies hide them better than short or looped piles.
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 of smiling to occur on the side of the stair.
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.
Installation of Carpet on Stairs
There are two methods of installing carpet on the stair: waterfall or French cap. The waterfall method involves simply bending the carpet over the edge of the stair and bringing it straight down to meet the tread of the next step. It is an easy and fast way to install the carpet, and for this reason, many new home builders use this method.
The French cap method wraps the carpet around the edge of the stair and tucks it under the lip, contouring to the shape of the step. This method may require more time and skill on the part of the installer but presents a tailored look that you may prefer.
Stringers are the side supports for the stairs. If your stairs are closed in, the stringer will run along the wall at the same angle as the stairs. Should you cover this with the carpet or paint it?
The answer, like so many others, depends on what you prefer. Carpet on the stringers is purely aesthetic; it does not serve any other purpose. If your stairs or stringers are uneven, as with an older home or a rough DIY job, it may be a good idea to cover the stringer with carpet, to help mask the imperfections. Otherwise, the look of the carpet on the stringer could be considered somewhat dated. The more contemporary style is to leave the stringers uncovered, and paint them the same color as the trim, or stain them the color of the hardwood stairs.
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 under the warranty.
All Things Considered for Stair Carpeting
The best carpet for stairs is one that meets all of the factors outlined above: durability, an 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 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. With proper selection and installation, carpet can create a beautiful finished look on the stairs.