How to Fix Creaky Stairs

A staircase viewed from the base of the bottom

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Stairs are a complex system comprised of many elements—treads, risers, balusters, railing, and more. When you have creaky stairs, those creaks might be coming from any one of those many pieces.

Yet a large proportion of squeaks are caused by friction: wood rubbing against metal. Specifically, this wood-against-metal sound is likely coming from one or more nails pushing in and out of the nail hole. Since stairs get a lot of traffic, it is inevitable—and natural—that nails will begin to loosen from the wood. Fixing your stairs' creakiness is a simple project that will bring much-desired quiet back into your house.

Safety Considerations

Be careful when working on stairs, even with such a simple fix as this. Always be aware of where you are standing. Be careful of protruding nails and screws.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Material Cost: $10 to $20

What You Will Need

Equipment/Tools

Materials

  • Painter's tape
  • Screws
  • Nails
  • Wood glue
  • Wood wedges

Instructions

Locate the Source of the Squeak

Identify squeak hot spots by having an assistant slowly walk up and down the stairs as you try to locate the squeaks. If you have access to underneath the stairs, also check out that area. Tag squeaks with a square of painter's tape.

Remove the Runners and Obstructions

If you have a runner on the stairs, remove it. For continuous runners, remove the entire runner. For tread-sized runners, remove only individual runners necessary to obtain access to the squeaky nail.

Pull Loose Nails

Remove any visible loose nails. If the nails are protruding at least 1/4-inch, it should be easy to push the claw section of the hammer under the nail head and pull back on the hammer handle.

Drill Next to the Hole

Pre-drill a hole next to the squeaky nail. If you were able to remove the nail, you could use this pre-existing hole.

Drill New Screw

With the cordless drill, drive in a screw and secure the tread down. If the screw is smaller in diameter than the nail hole, either use a larger screw or develop a new hole in the stair tread with the drill.

Alternative Methods of Fixing Stair Creaks

Re-Nailing and Reinforcing

Hammering down the same loose nails in their same places may work for a very short period—even as little as a few days. The reason is that the squeaky nail has already formed a hole in the wood that is too large for the nail. Hammering it down will not help much.

Driving a second nail next to the original nail helps. By nature, nails are meant to pull straight out. This means that whatever force pulled out the original nail will eventually pull out your second nail. One thing to watch for is whether the new nails will split the stair nosing, a definite possibility with old stairs.

Adding Stair Runners

Sisal, rubber, or carpet stair runners are mainly a sound blocker. You will still hear the squeak, but it will be less pronounced.

Installing Solid Stair Covers or Caps

Wood caps that you cut to size and fit over your stair tread and runner do a fairly good job of eliminating squeaks. For one, like the stair runners, they act as sound-proofing elements. Mainly, though, these supplementary stair treads act as a bridge, redistributing the walker's weight across the width of the stair tread.

Inserting Screws and Wedges

An excellent solution—short of rebuilding your stairs—is to secure loose treads to the stringers with screws. This is supplemented by forcing small wedges between the treads and stringers from underneath.

It helps if you can have access to the underside of the stairs. The fix then is much like the fix you would undertake for a squeaky floor. With this method, you can investigate and see if any wedges or blocks were attached to the spaces between the riser and tread.

There may be a chance that the blocks have fallen out or loosened. In this case, you reattach the block with wood glue and finish nails. Alternatively, underneath the stairs, you may find that there are wedges also at this riser-tread joint. In this case, you can tap in new wedges along with a light coating of wood glue on the wedges before you drive them in.

It doesn’t take much force. In fact, if you force the wedges in too far, you risk separating the risers and treads.