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Take your stairs to the next level with a stair runner! (See what we did there?) Installing a plush and personality-packed carpet runner on your stairs will add warmth, style, and safety.
1. What Stairs Are Best?
If you’re a novice, learning how to install a stair runner, stick with straight hardwood staircases with treads that have finished edges. If you have fully carpeted stairs, this DIY stair runner project will get a bit more complicated, as carpeting may cover an unsightly subfloor that will need to be converted to hardwood first—a bigger project and one for the pros.
2. Do The Math
How wide a stair runner do you need to install? Measure the total width of your steps and subtract how much wood you’d like exposed on either side. The standard stair width is 36 inches. Look for runners that are between 27 and 30 inches wide, but go wider if your stairs are wider. To calculate runner length, measure one step’s depth and the total riser height, including the nose (the rounded edge of the step). Multiply the depth by the total number of treads, and the height by the total number of risers. Add those numbers, plus at least 6 inches extra for trimming.
3. Select A Stair Runner
Look for a rug that’s durable yet pliable with a tightly woven, flat weave. Wool, indoor/outdoor polypropylene, and high-quality woven cotton are good options that can stand up to heavy use. Avoid materials with a loose-weave construction, such as jute, that will fray when cut.
The options are endless, but darker colors tend to be more forgiving in high-traffic areas.
Go simple with subtle texture or bold with vertical stripes or an allover pattern. Matching is easiest when the pattern extends all the way to the short edge of the runner. When planning your stair runner installation, avoid anything with a precise geometric pattern that will be difficult to line up and keep straight.
“If you have kids or pets or clumsy tendencies like I do, stair runners are a family-friendly solution to prevent slips and reduce wear and tear on your hardwood treads.” —Jonathan
4. Prep Steps
Before you install the stair runner, consider how to prep and clean your stairs. First, vacuum or use a microfiber duster. Next, mop thoroughly using a wood-floor cleaning product or a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar in a gallon of water. Then, if needed, add a fresh coat of paint, or restore stained-wood shine with a floor polish like Rejuvenate Wood Floor Restorer (available in hardware stores).
5. Establish Guides
An important step for how to properly install a stair runner is to create guides. Mark the center point of each step. Subtract your runner width from the step width and divide by two. Lightly mark that distance on either side of the step to help you keep your runner straight as you go.
6. Add Rug Pads
The best rug pads for installing a carpet runner on your stairs are thin but dense. Trim a rug pad to size for each tread using fabric scissors. For a flat-top installation (when the carpet falls straight from the edge of the stair to the tread of the next step), each pad should be 1 inch narrower than the runner width and about 1/2 inch narrower than the tread depth so it remains hidden. Add double-sided carpet tape to each side and in the middle. Center the pad, line it up with the back of the tread, and staple it in place using a pneumatic stapler.
For a wrap installation (when the runner hugs the edge of the stairs and tucks under the lip), cut the pad so it’s 1 inch narrower than the runner and 3 inches longer than the tread depth; wrap it around each step and staple so it’s tight around the step nosing.
7. How to Install The Stair Runner
- Start at the top and work your way down: Add a strip of carpet tape to the short end of the runner, and align the top of the runner with the bottom edge of the first step. Staple every couple of inches under the tread nose, starting in the middle and working your way out. Staple along the outer edges of the runner, as well.
- As you pull the rug taut, use a bolster chisel to push it into the edge of the stair at the base of the riser. Staple every few inches along the base and also along the outer edges.
- For a wrapped look, pull the rug taut around the nose, and use the bolster chisel to press it tightly in place as you staple every few inches underneath the nose. For a waterfall look, pull the runner taut and staple every few inches along the edge where the riser meets the tread. Continue the process step by step.
- When you near the end of the runner, complete the last full stair you can, stapling it at the base of a riser. Leaving 2 or 3 inches for overlap, use fabric scissors or a utility knife to trim any excess, including the finished edge, to reduce bulk.
- Begin again by overlapping and aligning the new runner over the cut edge of the first one, and continue stapling as before.
- When you reach the bottom of the stairs, pull the runner taut and create a crease at the base of the stairs using a bolster chisel. Measure a few inches from the crease and mark a line using the straight edge. Fold under the cut edge and staple in place.
8. What You’ll Need for You Stair Runner Installation
- tape measure
- pneumatic stapler
- 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch staples
- fabric scissors
- utility knife
- straight edge
- double-stick carpet tape
- bolster chisel
9. Tips on How to Install a Stair Runner Like the Bros
- If you’re working with a striped or directionally patterned rug, stand back frequently to make sure the design looks straight.
- Vertical stripes and patterns work much better than strong horizontal stripes or patterns, which may never look completely straight on steps.
- Check your runner’s alignment after every step. It’s very easy to get a little off-center, and the mistake will get worse as you go.
By Drew & Jonathan | Feature photograph by Alanna Hale | Drew + Jonathan photograph by Emily Shur | Second stair runner photograph by Amy Bartlam
Looking for the perfect wallpaper to match your stair runner? Check out these wallpaper prints that will enhance your staircase style.