Removing carpet from stairs is slow and painstaking but it has its rewards. Carpeting on stairs gets a lot of foot traffic and it wears down fast, especially on the stair nose. So, you might want to freshen up the stairs with new carpeting.
Or you might want to go in a different direction, either refurbishing the treads and risers or installing decorative stair covers. Whatever your choice, the first step is to remove the carpet from the stairs.
Before You Begin
Before removing the carpet, decide what to do with the stairs afterward. Whether you will install new carpeting or install a hard surface like stair caps will have a bearing on aspects of carpet removal.
Installing New Carpeting
If you will be installing new carpeting, you may be able to keep the tack strips and carpet padding and reuse them.
- Tack strips: Carpet tack strips usually can remain in place and be reused. In this case, be careful when removing the carpeting to avoid damaging the strips.
- Carpet padding: Carpet padding is often too flattened or dirty to be reused. If the existing carpet is relatively new, the padding likely can be reused. Even if the padding is in good condition, you may want to remove it so you can clean up the stairs.
Installing Hard Surface
If you will not be installing carpeting again, you may want to install a hard surface like wood stair tread and riser covers, laminate, or vinyl. Or you may want to refurbish the wood by staining or painting it.
For installing hard surfaces on stairs or refinishing them, the carpet padding and tack strips must be removed. For refinishing, you'll want to remove every fastener rather than hammering them down flat.
Stair Parts and Terminology
- Tread: Horizontal part of the stair that the user steps on.
- Riser: Vertical part of each stair; the board that encloses the back of the step.
- Nose: Rounded prominent section of the tread that hangs over the riser.
- Padding: Soft polyurethane foam pad, usually 3/8- to 7/16-inch, that rests underneath the carpeting.
- Tack strip: Narrow wood strips nailed to the stair treads and risers that have sharp nails. Tack strips hold the carpeting in place.
- Carpet pile: Loops of yarn-like fabric that form the soft portion of the carpeting.
Be vigilant when working on the staircase to avoid falling backward. Carpet tack strips are extremely sharp. Touching them, even lightly, will pierce the skin. When prying off tack strips or carpet staples, always wear eye protection. When removing carpet from stairs, wear breathing protection since carpeted stairs tend to be dirty underneath the carpeting and padding.
Equipment / Tools
- Flat-head screwdriver
- Pry bar
- Utility knife
- Shop vacuum with filter
- Eye protection
- Breathing protection
Start at Top With Your Tools
One option is to start at the bottom and work upward. But starting at the top and working downward is easier on your knees, plus there will be less chance of being jabbed by the carpet tack strips.
Store all of your tools on the stair tread above the one you're working on. Have a shop vacuum plugged in nearby.
Pull Carpet Off Top Stair Riser
Use the pliers to grab the carpet pile of the carpet on the top stair riser. Grab toward the upper left or right corner of the riser. Pull toward you to release the carpet from the tack strip. Put away the pliers. Pull the carpet off of the stair riser by hand.
Pull Carpet Off Top Stair Tread
Continue to pull the carpeting off of the stair tread. Be careful of carpet staples that remain in the carpeting. Roll the carpeting backward and downward.
Remove Carpet Padding (Optional)
Rip into the carpet padding with the pry bar. The padding will usually need to be removed in chunks rather than in full pieces.
Remove Carpet Staples from Top Riser and Tread
Use the pliers to grab the remaining carpet staples and pull them to remove them. Dispose of each staple as you remove it.
For staples that are too low for the pliers to grab, force the flathead screwdriver under the staple and work it upward.
Remove Carpet Tack Strips (Optional)
If you decided to remove the carpet tack strips, slip the flat end of the pry bar under the end of one of the tack strips. Pry upward. It's rare that a tack strip will pull up unbroken. Usually, the strip must be pried up in separate sharp pieces. Once a tack strip has been fully removed, use the curved end of the pry bar or the claw end of the hammer to pull out the remaining nails.
Cut Carpeting as Needed
After three or four stairs, the removed carpeting is usually too heavy and unwieldy to comfortably keep in one piece. Use the utility knife to cut the carpeting widthwise from the back.
Clean Treads and Risers
After the carpeting, padding, and tack strips have been removed, return to the stairs with the pliers, hammer, and prybar. Work downward, pulling out or hammering in any remaining carpet staples or tack strip nails.
When to Call a Professional
Carpet installers often will remove and dispose of old carpeting as part of the new carpet installation process. If you are having new carpet installed, you may not need to remove carpeting from the stairs yourself.
Carpet, Moisture and Mold Study. Carpet Research Institute.