Fixing Creaky Stairs the Easy Way

A staircase viewed from the base of the bottom

Aditya Gujaran/EyeEm/Getty Images

Are creaky, squeaky stairs making you think your home has turned into a haunted mansion? If you have been procrastinating on this project for years, you may be surprised to learn that two very simple items may be causing this. Both can be easily cured and do not require the expensive services of stair technicians.

The Reason Why Stairs Creak

Yes, it is true that your stairs are a complex system comprised of many elements—treads, risers, balusters, railing, and more. In the end, the creaks might be coming from any one of those hundreds of pieces.

That being said, don't be intimidated. A large proportion of squeaks are caused by friction: wood rubbing against metal. Specifically, this wood-against-metal sound is 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.

Hopeless to Heroic Stair Fixes

  • Re-Nailing: Hammering down the same loose nails in their same places is pointless. This fix may work for only a very short period—even as little as a few hours. 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.
  • Doubling Up: Driving the second nail next to the original nail is better, but still qualifies as a temporary fix. 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. This is a definite possibility with old stairs.
  • 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.
  • Solid Stair Covers: 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, they act as a bridge, redistributing the walker's weight across the width of the stair tread.
  • Screws and Wedges: The ultimate solution—short of rebuilding your stairs—is to secure loose treads to the stringers with screws. This is supplemented by forcing small wedges between treads and stringers from underneath. This method is detailed below.

Above The Stairs Solution

  1. Find: 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.
  2. Remove: 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.
  3. Pull: Remove any visible loose nails. This will usually not be possible, so consider it a bonus if you can do this.
  4. Drill: Pre-drill a hole next to the squeaky nail. If you were able to remove the nail, you could use this pre-existing hole.
  5. Screw: Then send in a screw and secure the tread down.

Under The Stairs Solution

It helps immensely 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.