adding a DIY stair runner

We’re back! After spring break, an unfortunate run-in with COVID, and a visit from the grandparents, we’re back with a fantastic DIY project.

Installing your own stair runner is a way to instantly elevate the look of your house without spending much money or time. Plus, it makes the stairs safer! Both John and I slipped on the stairs before the runners were installed, and we find that the runners offer much more traction than the bare wood stairs.

Take a look at the photos below to see how much personality and coziness the runners add to our stairs.

It’s a huge difference, right? And, truly, it’s not that hard to do.

Young House Love wrote an excellent blog post detailing exactly how to add a runner. I started following it, but then I got impatient (story of my life) and just started stapling the rugs down and working by sight. And I think both runners still turned out great!

If you want to tackle this, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A buddy to help position the rug (I’ve installed three of these by myself, and it’s a much harder task to do by yourself)
  • Staple gun and staples
  • Tape measure
  • Painters’ tape
  • Hammer to pound in staples that don’t go in all the way
  • Needle-nosed pliers to remove staples that break
  • Sharp razor knife to cut the end of the rug
  • Sharpie in a color that roughly matches your rug.

I recommend investing in a high-quality electric staple gun. This will make all the difference! Some tutorials advise using carpet tacks, and I’ve tried that, but they can sometimes come loose or poke up through the rug with time. Those tack heads don’t feel good on bare feet!

Also, please learn from my mistake and buy more rugs than you think you’ll need. (Bonus if you can easily buy more or return unused ones!) My current runners are from World Market (here and here). A few years ago I bought some fancy rugs online and tried to fashion them into a runner, but it didn’t cover the full length of the stairs. See the ridiculous result below. When I tried to buy more of the fancy rugs, they were sold out. I ended up having to rip it all out and start over with rugs from World Market!

these fancy rugs weren’t long enough to cover all the stairs — eek!

Please also learn from my mistake and stick to indoor/outdoor rugs. The rug in the photo above had a thicker pile, and it was much harder to manipulate and attach to the stairs. Plus it was much harder to clean than the World Market rugs we’re using now.

When it’s time to install, I recommend considering the width of your runner and the width of your stairs when you decide where to place the runner. Although most rugs are centered on stairs, sometimes the stairs themselves bump out at certain points. (This happens near the top of our basement stairs — see the photo above.) Decide which wall will be the guide for the runner and how far the runner should be from that wall. Then mark that distance on each step with painters’ tape. This visual cue will make it easier to keep the rugs straight, and the tape will peel off easily when the project is finished.

Begin installing the runner at the top of the stairs, not the bottom. Consider how people’s feet will pull on the runner when they walk up and down the stairs. Add additional staples under the lip of each stair, particularly in the spots designated by the white arrows in the photo below.

Reinforce under the lip of each stair

Most runners are between 8′ and 12′, which means you’ll likely need 3 or 4 runners to cover a standard set of stairs. Joining a new rug to a rug that’s already installed can be tricky. Overlapping the rugs can create a tripping hazard and doesn’t look great, and it’s also important to be mindful of not exposing a rug edge that will fray with time. If at all possible, it’s best to snug up the edge of the new rug under the lip of a stair, even if that means you need to trim some of the installed rug to avoid much overlap. In my experience, it’s good to leave at least 1/2″ of the installed rug to overlap with the new rug. Remember, you can always trim it more, but you can’t add it back once it’s cut! If necessary, you can join the new rug at the back of a tread (see the white line in the photo below), but I’ve found that the edges of the top rug tend to fray.

, and it looks much better when you join the rugs under the lip of a stair.

If necessary, you can join a new rug at the back of a tread

When stapling, I suggest inserting the majority of your staples in the stair rise (the vertical wood that you don’t step on). I added a few staples on the outer edges of the treads where people don’t tend to step, but I didn’t use any staples in the center of the treads.

And, the absolute best tip (credit to Young House Love): color your staples with a sharpie when you insert them into the staple gun! I used a brown sharpie for our main-level stairs and a blue sharpie for our basement stairs. Thanks to this easy step, our staples are largely camouflaged!

If you try this project, please let me know and share pictures!


  1. BIll | 30th Apr 22

    Very informative for a DIY’er! And you got beautiful results.

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