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How to Install a Stair Runner

An easy step-by-step guide to putting down a stair rug runner.

Add a touch of elegance, texture and color to your home's interior staircase by installing a carpet runner. The narrow strip of carpeting is set on a pad and then attached to tackless strips nailed to each tread. The thin, dense pad helps to quiet and cushion footsteps, but it also prevents the runner from wearing out prematurely. Don't use standard foam padding; it's too soft to provide the necessary support.

Installing a stair runner on a straight staircase is a relatively easy project, even for novice do-it-yourselfers. Winder stairs that turn corners are more challenging, but still doable with our expert instructions.

Stair runners are priced by the linear foot, and available in two widths: 27 inches and 32 inches. They're made of synthetic fibers, wool, or a combination of both. Visit a carpeting outlet to see samples of the patterns and colors available.

Installing Carpet Runner on Stairs Overview

Installing Carpet Runner On Stairs Diagram Overview Gregory Nemec

How to Install Stair Rug Runner

1. Laying out tackless strips for a stair runner

Man Hammers Tackless Strip On Stairs In Preparation For Stair Rug Runner Photo by Rebecca Cinclair
  • Subtract the width of the runner from the width of the staircase (between baluster and skirtboard) and divide by two.
  • Lightly mark that distance out from the skirtboard and from the balusters on every tread where it meets the riser.
  • For each tread, use sheet-metal snips to cut a tackless strip 2 inches shorter than the width of the runner. Be sure there's a nail within a couple of inches of each end.
  • Place a scrap piece of strip flush against the riser. Center the cut strip—pins angled toward riser—between the layout marks. Butt it against the scrap and nail.

2. Fit carpet pad

Man Staples Carpet Pad On Stairs For Stair Runner Photo by Rebecca Cinclair
  • Cut carpet pad the same width as the tackless strips and 3 inches longer than the depth of the tread.
  • Butt pad to front edge of tackless strip. Fasten edge of pad to tread with 9⁄16-inch staples spaced every 3 inches.
  • Pull pad tight around nosing and staple every 3 inches into underside of nosing.
  • Cut pad where nosing and top of riser meet.

Tip: When using the waterfall method, clip 3 inches off the corners of the pad where it curves around the nosing. This helps hide the pad.

3. Secure runner to first riser

Man Glues Stair Runner To First Riser Photo by Rebecca Cinclair
  • Check end of runner with framing square. If not square, mark, then cut along backing with carpet knife. Dab cut edges with latex carpet glue to prevent fraying.
  • After glue dries to touch, unroll runner up 3 or 4 treads, making sure it's between the layout marks.
  • Push end of runner against floor at bottom of first riser. Line up runner between the layout marks.
  • Staple end of runner to bottom of riser every 3 inches.

Tip: Push stapler through the pile and against the backing before pulling trigger.

4. Attach runner to treads

Man Attaches Stair Runner To Treads With Knee Kicker Photo by Rebecca Cinclair
  • Line up runner between layout marks on first tread. Push it hand-tight toward tackless strip.
  • Place front edge of knee kicker on center of the runner about 2 inches from the riser. Hold down front knob with one hand, using the other hand to keep the kicker's shaft level.
  • Hit kicker with knee. Runner should engage tackless strip and become taut. Repeat every 3 inches, side to side.

Tip: If runner bulges and doesn't lie flat against the tread, lift it straight up off the strip and begin again.

5. Fasten runner to riser

Man Uses Carpet Tool And Rubber Mallet To Pack Stair Runner Photo by Rebecca Cinclair
  • Use carpet tool and rubber mallet to pack runner tightly between the tackless strip and the riser.
  • Near both ends of the tackless strip, staple the runner into the crease where riser meets tread.
  • Staple each edge of the runner 2 inches above bottom of riser. (For upholstered installation, staple edges to riser, then staple runner to underside of nosing every 3 inches.)
  • Repeat Steps 3 and 4 up to last riser.
  • At top of last riser, cut runner tight to the underside of the nosing or molding. Dab edges and end with glue and staple into top of riser and along edges every 3 inches.

Tip: Staple carpet directly to stairs, never through the pad.

6. Install rods (optional)

Rod Installation For Carpet Runner Photo by Rebecca Cinclair
  • Attach finials (if any) to outside of each rod bracket.
  • Place a bracket against either edge of the runner at the intersection of the tread and riser.
  • Hold them in place and mark the locations of the screw holes. Drill 1⁄16-inch pilot holes at each mark.
  • Screw each bracket to tread and riser.
  • Mark and cut rods to length with a tubing cutter or hacksaw.
  • Press rod into crease where tread and riser meet. Secure both ends in the brackets.