How to Install a Stair Runner

Our staircase transformation was a big before and after of 2019.Stairwell before

When we first saw the house, I knew that the little “office” setup near the stairs just wasn’t functional for our family. It was sooooo tight.  It was almost impossible to squeeze a body in there, let alone an office chair. We decided to rip out the desk and that entire wall to open up the space. Then, with new floors, new trim, and a metal railing…it really felt completely different.Our staircase after

And this is how our staircase looked for the last four months – pretty, updated, but still a tiny bit bare. I had always planned to install a stair runner here (especially before the baby’s arrival) but it wasn’t on my immediate calendar. It wasn’t until Finn fell down the stairs in December that I decided to add it to the top of our priority list! Don’t worry, he was a-okay, but he went all the way from the top of the stairs and fell to the landing with his work bag, air pods, and everything flying askew.

Luckily, I was home and heard the big thud and helped the poor guy up. He had a big bruise on his butt for a week!How to install a stair runner

After his fall, I added “stair runner installation” to the top of our DIY list. In fact, that day I went and ordered rug samples so we could get this project moving forward.

Choosing a Stair Runner

I had heard good things about rugs from Annie Selke, so I started there. My main goal was to choose a runner that was durable and would hide dirt well. We’re constantly going up and down these stairs and the last thing I wanted was to install a rug that would look dingy within a week. I ended up mainly focusing on indoor/outdoor rugs. Here are the ones I ordered…Stair runner samples from Annie Selke

(From Top to Bottom): Black & White // Striped // Cream // Gray

Immediately,  I knew that the cream sample was out. I didn’t realize it when I ordered but it’s a cotton fabric, not the indoor/outdoor fabric I thought it was. Cotton won’t hold up very well in the long-run, nor will that light color. So, immediately that was out of the running.

While I liked the gray, it was just a tad too “preppy” for our home style. I then narrowed in on the two black ones. I liked the one with the big stripes the best, but a few people on Instagram cautioned me from using it because they have it in their home and the white parts look dirty all the time.

Black striped stair runner

In the end, this fabric was the winner and I ended up finding it on Wayfair for less than Annie Selke! The only thing I was nervous about was the horizontal stripe along the runner. When installing, it can be tough (almost impossible) to keep that line perfectly straight the entire time. This made me pause, but when I saw it installed on this fellow blogger’s staircase (and saw how pretty and organic it looked), I decided to take the plunge!

Supplies to Install a Stair RunnerStair runner supplies

You’ll first want to make sure that you order enough fabric for your runner. To calculate this, measure the length of the tread (the stair where you step), the height of the riser (the vertical part of the stair), and the depth of the nose (the curved part of the stair). Adding all of these together and multiplying that sum by the number of stairs will give you the total length (in inches) that you need to buy for your runner. Our stair landing

Because we have a landing, we had to include that area as well. In the end, I ordered four stair runners which would give me some extra fabric to work with.

Best Tips to Install a Stair RunnerHow to install a stair runner

This was the first time Finn and I had ever tackled a project like this, so we did a lot of research ahead of time. We read tutorials, figured out our final supply list, and searched and searched for a good solution to add the stair runner to the landing (more on that soon). We learned a lot along the way and I want to share my best tips to install a stair runner with you!

Do A Bit of MathOur stairs before

You’ll need to figure out exactly where you’re going to place both the rug pad and the runner on your stairs. You’ll want each to be directly in the middle of the step. We figured out the width of our step, the width of our runner, and determined that we would need three inches on each side of the runner when it was installed. For the rug pad, we decided to bring it about an inch in from the runner on each side (so it wouldn’t peek out at all).

Cut Your Carpet Pad to SizeUse a straight edge to cut your material

When I ordered the stair runner, I also ordered this carpet pad.  Not only will the carpet pad make your runner a bit cushier, but it will also help keep your stair runner in place (a must!). Through the many tutorials that I read, I learned that you don’t want to get a carpet pad that is too thick or else it will look a little bumpy on the stairs. I ended up getting this one that is 1/8 inch thick. Cut your rug pad

We cut our rug pad to size making strips for the top of each stair. New fabric scissors

I highly recommend picking up new fabric scissors for this project! You’ll want sharp ones to get a clean cut on the rug and pads, so make sure you get some new ones.

Carpet Tape Works WonderfullyCarpet tape to install a stair runner

To attach each carpet pad to the stairs, I used carpet tape. Whoa, this stuff is sticky! At first, I tried to use scissors to cut it off the roll, but ripping it ended up working out way better! My scissors were just getting goo all over them, so it wasn’t a good idea. Do the rip instead! Carpet tape on the rug pad

I placed the carpet tape on the sides and front of each carpet pad. We ended up pushing the rug pad to the back of the stair (touching the riser), leaving about an inch at the front of each step. Adding rug pads to the stairsRug pad on the landing

We also added the rug pad to our landing, using the same technique.

Figure Out Your Landing

Before we attached the stair runner, we had to figure out the landing. That dang landing was the scariest part of this project. If you just have normal stairs with no landing, this project should take you no time at all! The landing ended up taking us an extra one to two hours because we wanted to get it just right. After doing lots of research, we decided to miter our rug at a 45-degree angle and adhere it together to make the turn on the landing. Let me walk you through what that means. How to install a stair runner on a landing

We took two stair runners placing them perpendicular to one another. We then folded in the ends at a 45-degree angle. This was tough with our particular fabric because we had to make sure the lines were all matched up. It was at this point that we actually realized that our rugs were all slightly different, so we opened up all four rugs to find two that matched the best. Cutting a runner at a 45-degree angle

After lots of tweaking, here and there, we took the scary step and cut each rug on an angle. It was a terrifying cut, but we did it! Carpet adhesive

Once those were cut, it was time to adhere them together. I bought this carpet adhesive for that step. Use an iron to adhere carpet together

We placed the adhesive under the cut line, again making sure the two pieces of fabric were lined up perfectly. Next, take an iron (on the hottest setting) and place it on a rag over the runner.

Note: It takes a looooong time for the adhesive to heat up and bond the two fabrics together. Leave your iron on each section for at least a minute and just move it up and down the entire length of the cuts. Iron the backside of the carpet adhesive

Once the front is bonded as well as possible, carefully (!!!!) turn everything to the backside and iron from there. Again, keep the iron on each section for at least a minute.

Even though we were timid every step of the way, this actually worked and we found ourselves with two pieces of stair runner adhered together!

Attaching the Stair Runner

Use a staple gun

Air compressorI have a nail gun with an air compressor that we use for many projects around the house. I ended up buying this staple gun to use with that same air compressor for this project. It’s an inexpensive purchase and ended up working perfectly!

use the carpet tuckerWe got the runner placed perfectly on the landing before securing it onto the stairs. I then started stapling it on the lower portion of the stairs first. To do this, I used the carpet tucker to get the runner as tight against the stairs as possible. Best tips to install a stair runnerThe above numbers show how I placed each staple. I placed a staple in the center underneath the nose of the stair, and then worked my way out to the ends every 3-4 inches. Once that was secure, I would use the carpet tucker to get it flat against the riser, and did the same at the base of the stairs. I stapled underneath the nose and then at the base of the riser for each step until I ran out of runner.

Note: Keep your stair runner as straight as possible as you go. You can use painter’s tape on your stairs so your runner stays within the correct lines. Or just keep a tape measure handy and make sure you have an even amount of wood showing on each end.

Adding More LengthHow to add another stair runner

It’s likely that your stair runner won’t cover all of your stairs and you’ll need to use multiple runners. Because we wanted to hide the seam as best as possible, we cut the runner so it ended at the base of a stair. That way, we could place the next runner over it and the transition would be concealed in the nook of the stair. use a fabric ripper

Our runner had a finished edge on the end, so we used a seam ripper to take the stitches out and get a flatter fabric. How to install a stair runnerWith it flat, we could then staple it over the old runner and continue attaching the second runner. Bottom of the stairs

At the bottom of the stairs, we hemmed and hawed over where to stop it. In the end, we decided to take it down on the bottom riser, but we stopped before the shoe of the molding. We figured it would be too bumpy if we added it there. It ended up looking pretty good!

Repeat the same steps on the remainder of the stairs

We repeated the same steps going up the stairs from the landing until everything was covered and secure!

Our New Stair RunnerOur new stair runner

I really do love our new stair runner. Is it perfect? Not at all, but it looks great! It ended up being pretty tricky to get the horizontal lines of the rug perfectly straight on each step. This doesn’t bother us much, it just makes for a more organic and natural-looking staircase. How to install a stair runner

If it would bother the heck out of you, then I suggest going with a solid fabric for your house! How to install a stair runner on a landing

I’m so pleased with how our landing turned out because I was most nervous about this part of the project. That carpet adhesive really does work well to keep the fabric all stitched together! If we didn’t have the landing, this project would have been far easier, but it ended up being a fun challenge. Fabric on the stair runners

We’ve had the stair runner installed for about two weeks now and I fall more in love with the fabric every day. It’s very soft underfoot and I know the dark color and pattern will hide dirt well in the long-run. Our new stair runnerLet’s take a look at the before and after of this space!

Stair Runner – Before & AfterHow to install a stair runner

Tips to install a stair runner
Our staircase after
Tips to install a stair runner in your home

Would We DIY It Again?Finn walking up the stairs

Absolutely!! This is a complete DIY project that anyone could do. It took us about six hours to tackle from start to finish, but without the landing, I bet you could get it done in less than four. Our best tips to install a stair runnerIt’s funny because we learn these skills and sometimes it’s a loooong time before we ever get to do that same project again. I mean, when is the next time we’ll install a stair runner? At least we get to share all of the things we learn with all of you!Our new stair runner

Plus, Finn feels much safer walking up and down these stairs now. Ha!

P.S. We have since added an accent wall to the stairwell. Come take a look at this DIY project.

Our new stairwell accent wall


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.