Should Stairs Be Carpeted Or Wood?

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If you are looking at a new style for your stairs, you may be thinking about removing the carpeting. It can look dated, worn, and may not coordinate well with the rest of your floors. But are wood stairs safe? Luckily, there is a clear consensus on this among flooring professionals.

Stairs can be carpet or wood, and which one you choose is largely a matter of preference and your own style of decor. Carpet is safer and can prevent falls; however, there are ways to safely incorporate wood stairs into your home’s design.

Continue reading to learn more about how to make slippery wood stairs safe, how to pick a carpet for stairs, and the pros and cons of wood versus carpeted stairs. Also, learn some other, less common alternatives for stair coverings! So, without further ado, let’s get to it. 

staircase with red carpet, Should Stairs Be Carpeted Or Wood

Carpeting On Stairs

staircase with blue carpet, Should Stairs Be Carpeted Or Wood

There are many advantages to carpeting, which include:

  • It can reduce the noise of footsteps and creaks on the stairs.
  • Carpeting is warmer underfoot.
  • Safety – the friction from carpeting reduces the chance of a fall. Spilled liquids on carpet do not become slippery. And, if a fall does happen, carpeting provides padding to minimize injuries.

The disadvantages of carpeted stairs include:

  • Difficulty in keeping stairs clean. Carpet is harder to clean, especially when on stairs, and stairs are generally a high traffic area.
  • On average, carpeting a flight of 12 stairs will cost roughly $750 dollars for labor and materials.
  • Damage to stairs. If you have gorgeous wood stairs, covering them up with a carpet may not be necessary. While carpeting is safe, there are ways to make your wood stairs safe as well. Putting carpet (and all the staples and tack strips that go with it) on stairs can damage them, should the carpet be removed in the future.

When Carpet Isn’t The Safer Option

Carpet is widely held as being the safest choice for stairs. However, carpet poses some safety concerns as well. The main drawbacks to safety are:

  1. Carpeting can reduce depth perception. You may not correctly judge where your next step should go until it is too late.
  2. The tread edge, or the area your foot makes contact with, is reduced. This can lead to a slip right off the stair.
  3. Tread depth is also reduced, meaning your foot has a little less room for each step. 

While many people use carpeted stairs every day without a fall, there are some ways you can select the safest possible carpet. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid thick carpets. Thick carpets will reduce tread depth and edge even more. Pick one with a pile of 3/4 inch or less.
  • Do not use slippery carpets such as polyester.
  • Stay away from carpets with loose fibers and looped styles such as Berber. Looped carpets are especially dangerous to pets. Their claws can get caught in the loops, which can then cause falls.
  • Pick a thin, firm carpet pad. Select one that is no more than 3/8 inch thick, as it will provide stability underfoot.

What Is The Hardest Wearing Carpet For Stairs?

For stairs, you will want something durable that retains its shape no matter how many feet try to trample it down. A good selection is sisal or polypropylene carpet. Low piles tend to be the most durable (another good reason to pick a pile that is 3/4 an inch or less).

Wood Stairs

Wood stairs come with many advantages, such as:

  • Easy to keep clean with minimal effort.
  • Stairs can be painted, finished, or stained to complement woodwork or other decor in the house.
  • More durable than carpet.
  • More affordable – even if you need to have the stairs painted or stained, it costs an average of $548 for labor and materials. 

Of course, there are disadvantages to wood stairs as well. Particularly, these are:

  • Wood stairs may be noisy.
  • They do not have the warmth and padded comfort of carpeted stairs.
  • Wood stairs can be slippery.

If you have decided to remove your carpet and use wood stairs, you may find this article helpful: How To Remove Carpet From Stairs.

What Can You Put on Slippery Wood Stairs?

If slips and falls on wood stairs are a concern, there are several possible solutions. 

Non-Skid Adhesive Strips

Add traction to steps with these easy to install clear stair treads:

Click here to see this product on Amazon.

Grit And Paint

If you plan to paint your stairs in a new color, you can mix a grit additive directly into the paint to create more traction:

Click here to see this product on Amazon.

Also, read this article for tips and steps on painting/staining wood stairs: How To Paint Or Stain Plywood Stairs? [4 Steps]

Stair Runner

If you want the best of carpet and wood, try a stair runner. This one is durable and easy to clean, not to mention stylish!

Click here to see this stair runner on Amazon.

Stair Treads

Available in 4 colors, treads like these show off some of the wood stairs while still providing the traction of carpeting where your foot normally lands.

Click here to see this product on Amazon.

Where Should Stair Treads Be Placed?

Always follow specific instructions from the manufacturer when installing stair treads. In a standard installation, however, you will:

  • First, clean the step and allow it to dry.
  • Next, place the stair tread carpet-side down.
  • Then, place carpet tape on the top and bottom edge of the stair tread. 
  • Finally, measure the stair to determine where to place the tread on the center of the step (roughly 1/2 inch to 1 inch from the edge). Remove the backing from the carpet tape and place the tread.

For further instructions, this handy video will demonstrate the process:

How To Install A Carpet Runner

Carpet runners can be a great addition to wood stairs, providing a cozy feeling but still letting your wood steps shine. Unfortunately, they can also be a tripping hazard when not installed properly. Make sure that your runner is taped and installed securely and tight to the back of the stair. 

This video is a good resource to illustrate how to safely add a carpet runner:

What Is The Best Type Of Flooring For Stairs? 

Carpet and wood are classic options for stairs, but they aren’t the only ones. Some other ideas include:

Tile

Tile is durable and comes in a multitude of patterns and colors. A drawback of tile can be the cold feeling underfoot.

Laminate

If you like the look of wood, but don’t have it already on your stairs, laminate can be a great alternative. It’s easier to maintain and less expensive than actual hardwood but gives a similar look. However, laminate is often installed by a click-together method. The planks are a set size, and stairs aren’t a very flexible space.  While the planks can be cut down, it can be tough to install if you will be doing a lot of trimming to make each piece fit.

Cork

If you like the look of wood, but don’t want to give up the advantages of carpet, consider cork. You can have the best of both carpet and wood this way. Cork offers padding and warmth underfoot, noise absorption, and slip resistance. However, the look is much more like wood.

In Closing

There are pros and cons to every flooring option, including stairs. Some of the best stair coverings include carpet, hardwood, tile, laminate, and cork. The one that works best in your home depends on a combination of factors and your own personal preference. No matter what you choose, make sure to use slip-resistant additions if needed, such as anti-skid strips or stair treads. This way, you can have stairs that both look great and are safe.

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