What Carpet Is Best for Stairs?

Soft toy on stairs
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Stairs are the most common place in the home to have carpet, and yet they are also the trickiest. 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.

Safety

Having carpet on the stairs is infinitely safer than having the stairs covered in a hard surface flooring. Firstly, and most obviously, hard surfaces are slippery, and can easily lead to a fall.

Secondly, should a fall occur, carpet offers a much softer landing spot than hardwood or laminate, which could help reduce the likelihood of injury.

Appearance

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 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, it also prevents you from seeing between the 'rows' of fiber when you bend the carpet.

To get a better understanding of this, the next time you have a carpet sample in your hand, try folding it lengthwise, and then fold it width wise.

You will notice the difference; one way of folding will show a lot more of the backing. The way of folding that does not show the backing is the way that is going in the proper direction, and the way the carpet should be installed on the stairs.

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. I have seen many Berbers installed on such staircases with beautiful results.

Learn the definitions of common stair terms.

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.

Installation

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 the shape of the step. (See the above photo for an example of French capping.) This method requires much more time and skill on the part of the installer but presents a beautifully finished look.

Stringers

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 in 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 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.

Style

Many people ask me what style of carpet they can put on their stairs, and my answer is: whatever you like! Any style of carpet can be used on stairs; my only caution is regarding the thickness of the carpet. A very thick carpet cannot be used on stairs. It is much too difficult to wrap around the edge of the stair and fasten into place. In addition, a thick carpet can actually be slippery, as it prevents you from getting a good foothold, and could be a safety hazard.

Quality

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 up front, they will most definitely save you money in the long run, as the carpet will need to be replaced less frequently.

Learn how to determine carpet quality.

Many carpet warranties do not cover stairs. While this may be surprising, it is due to the 'abnormal' wear and tear that occurs due to the fact that the carpet is not on a flat surface, as mentioned above. Be sure to ask your salesperson if stairs are included in the manufacturer's warranty, and read the warranty information carefully.

With proper selection and installation, carpet can create a beautiful finished look on the stairs.