Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Summary: Installing carpet on stairs reduces the risk of falls. While carpeting won’t prevent falls, it can give people and pets better traction when going up and down. Carpeted stairs also provide more cushion than wood, so they can be safer if someone does fall. However, hardwood stairs are easier to clean.
Your stairs play an essential role in getting around your home on a regular basis. Because of their aesthetic and functional nature, you should carefully evaluate the best flooring option for them. Consider whether to use carpeting or wood.
Both flooring options have pros and cons, so you should consider your specific situation. Keep reading as I’ll walk you through to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each so you can make an informed decision.
Pros of Carpet
One of the biggest pros of carpeting on stairs is its safety. The carpet offers a bit of traction as you go up and down, so you can decrease the chance of slipping. It won’t eliminate your risk of falling, but it can also make the fall less uncomfortable by providing some cushioning.
Another advantage of carpet stairs is that they can absorb sound much better than hard surfaces. If your stairs are right by a bedroom or office, you can probably hear everyone as they walk up and down on the wood. But the right carpeting can mitigate that.
Carpet is also a good option if you have a tight budget. You can save a lot of money because you don’t have to worry about buying wood and preparing it for the stairs.
Cons of Carpet
Some carpets aren’t as safe as others, so you may still slip. Depending on the fiber density and carpet length, you may slip as often as you would on hardwood stairs. In this regard, low-pile carpeting is a better choice over high-pile carpeting.
Carpeting can also collect dirt, dust, and human and pet hair. As you and your family go up and down, the stairs can get dirty pretty quickly. Unless you’re willing to clean the stairs daily, you may want to choose wood flooring.
Also, the carpeting may start to pull away from the stairs over time. You may need to put in a new carpet, which can take time and money. When the carpet pulls away, it may not be as safe as it once was.
What You Can Do
If you want to use carpeting on your stairs, you can get past the downsides. Some people have carpet stairs, and they love it. After all, carpet provides a lot of benefits to the whole family. And it can be an easy option if you don’t want to deal with wood.
The carpeting may not look the best, and it can be hard to clean, but it’s an economical option for many houses. Here are a couple of ways to overcome the biggest disadvantages of carpet stairs.
If you’re concerned about safety, look for the right type of carpet. Loop pile carpet is where the fibers are in loops, and this type can be durable and smooth. Within this category are a few different subtypes, including Berber, level loop, and multi-level loop.
Berber is probably the best type for stairs because the others tend to have patterns. However, any of them can look good and be a nice choice for your stairs.
You can also find cut pile carpets, where the fibers don’t use loops. Saxony textured, and frieze carpets are some of the most popular types in this category. The first two offer tight fibers, so they can offer durability and avoid the problems of shag carpeting.
Frieze carpets are more like shag carpets and aren’t the best for high-traffic areas, like stairs. So, leave this type as a last resort.
You can also keep your carpets clean if you’re willing to spend more time on them. Regular vacuuming of your stairs a few times a week to keep them from getting too much dirt or hair building up.
That way, you can keep the stairs clean and safe for your family. You don’t need to spend much time cleaning daily, but the more you do it, the more it can help.
Suppose you’re too busy or don’t want to clean your stairs that often, you can hire a cleaning service. You can ask if the company offers individual services, so you can have someone just do your stairs when you don’t have the time.
Pros of Wood Flooring
The most significant advantage of wood flooring is that you can save a lot of money by refinishing existing stairs. All you’ll need is some new finish and the labor to do it. You won’t have to spend money on carpeting or carpet installation, and you can do the refinish in a few days.
Wooden stairs can also be a more aesthetic choice if your home has hardwood floors. While carpeting can be safer, it won’t necessarily look very good if everything around it isn’t carpeted.
Choosing wooden stairs that match your hardwood floors will make your home more cohesive. It’s a small detail you may not always notice, but it can make things look smoother.
Wood floors are also a lot easier to clean than carpet. You can use a broom and dustpan and go a lot longer between cleaning the stairs.
Cons of Wood Flooring
Unfortunately, if you need to buy new wood stairs, that will cost about twice as much as carpeting. You’ll need to save up a lot of money before you get new stairs, or you may have to finance the purchase.
Wood stairs can also be much louder than carpeting because nothing can absorb the sound. That may not matter in some homes, but it can be a nuisance to anyone sleeping or working right by the stairs.
And, of course, wood floors can be dangerous. If you aren’t careful, you can slip and fall on the stairs, and the wood can make for a hard fall. You don’t have anything to protect you or cushion you.
What You Can Do
If you want wood stairs because the rest of your home is wood or you want to refinish what you have, you can. There will always be disadvantages to the things you do to your home. The good news is that you can find some affordable, easy solutions.
Wood flooring has more cons than carpeting, but it can be a good option for aesthetics. If you’re worried about the cons, such as safety, here are some things you can do when you get wood stairs.
Use a Carpet Runner
You can use a carpet runner to cover your steps with carpet while leaving the wood sides open. This can be a great compromise if you want to show off the wood finish but want the added safety and quietness of carpeting.
You don’t have to pay for an all-new carpet, but you can use the stairs as if they were carpet. A stair runner is an excellent choice for longer staircases or if you want something more permanent on your stairs.
Once you install the stair runner, you can keep it there until you choose to redo your stairs. Plus, it can be easier to fix if the carpet starts to pull up and away from the stairs.
Use Carpet Treads
Carpet treads are an even easier option than a carpet runner. You can buy the treads from any home improvement store and install them yourself in a few minutes. The carpet treads go on individual stairs, so they don’t have to follow the entire staircase up and down.
Getting carpet treads can be a good choice for a shorter staircase. The treads function like carpeting or a carpet runner, but they cover even less space on each stair. That makes them easy to clean, and you can even remove the treads if they get too dirty.
You can replace one with a new tread, which can be much easier and more affordable than replacing the entire carpeting or carpet runner. Carpet treads don’t always feel like carpet, but they’re still good at adding traction and making your steps quieter.
What to Consider
Before deciding if your stairs should have carpet or wood flooring, consider the various factors. Of course, you may already have a preference. In that case, you should choose the option you want because that will make you feel more comfortable.
However, if you still don’t know which option to choose, you should research more. Think about everything from your current home to your budget to your family’s schedule. That way, you can decide on the best option for your stairs.
What You Currently Have
Consider if you currently have carpet or wood stairs. Keeping the same flooring will be much easier than switching to another option, especially if you already have carpet. Odds are, the wood underneath isn’t in the best shape, so you would need to invest a lot in new stairs.
If you currently have wood flooring, refinishing is more affordable than switching to carpet. You can always add carpet treads or a stair runner to enjoy some of the benefits of carpeting without spending much money.
But if you want to switch, you should switch. You can consider other factors to help decide if keeping the same flooring is better.
The Rest of Your House
You probably want your house to look pleasing and cohesive throughout all the common areas. If those areas involve stairs, the stairs should match the surrounding floors. So, if your main floor is wood, you may want to use wood on your main staircase.
But if you have stairs leading down to a basement with carpeting, you may want to use carpeting on those stairs. That can be a good option if you have a door that leads to the stairs that go down to the basement. However, if the door is at the bottom of the stairs, you can match the stairs to the floor above.
You can mix and match and have some stairs with wood flooring and others with carpeting. Consider how each looks in that part of the house to decide which is best.
Another thing to think about is how much installing and maintaining the stairs will cost you. Carpeting is cheaper than wood but requires much more ongoing maintenance. You’ll need to spend more time vacuuming a set of carpet stairs, or you’ll have to deal with more dirt.
On the other hand, wood can be a more expensive investment. However, it won’t collect as much dirt, so you can go a few days between when you sweep it. That can be nice if you have a busy schedule and can’t afford someone else to clean the stairs.
But wood floors can scratch, so you may need to refinish or repair them more often. It probably evens out eventually, so think about if you have more money to spend now to help decide which flooring to get.
Maintenance and Cleaning
No one likes to spend time cleaning, and the stairs can be more challenging than other places in your house. Fortunately, you can run a broom and dustpan over your stairs and collect all the dirt and hair at the bottom. Cleaning wood is easy enough.
But if you need to clean your carpet stairs, you must get a vacuum. You’ll need to have an outlet nearby to use a corded vacuum, or you’ll need to make sure you charge your wireless vacuum before you decide to clean.
Both options can require some planning, and it can be hard to maneuver a bulky vacuum up and down the stairs. If you aren’t willing to do that, you may find that your stairs collect a lot of hair and dust.
Proneness to Slipping
Think about if you or your family tends to slip on stairs. Perhaps your spouse doesn’t have the best hips, or you have small children who like to run up and down, causing them to fall. Or maybe you have dogs that aren’t very careful on the stairs.
Getting carpeting or adding a carpet runner can help with this. You may still fall, but you probably won’t fall as often as you would on wood alone.
If you never fall, you may prefer the benefits of wood. Wood flooring can look sleek, so as long as you’re careful, it can be a good alternative.
Consider where your stairs are in relation to other rooms. Are they right next to your home office or someone’s bedroom? If so, go into that room and shut the door. Have someone walk up and down the stairs to see how much you can hear now.
Carpeting is much better at absorbing sound than wood. So, if you can clearly hear someone’s footsteps, you may want to use carpet on those stairs. That way, you can focus on your work during the day or get a good night’s sleep.
But you can use wood flooring if your stairs aren’t right by these rooms. You won’t have to worry about disturbing others when you walk up and down.
When deciding what carpeting to get, consider how often someone uses a particular staircase. You should look for more durable, shorter carpets on the more common staircases in your home. That way, the stairs can hold up to more traffic.
For example, shag carpeting won’t last as long as the tighter weaves, even though it can mask footprints. If you have stairs leading to a bedroom or the basement, you can use shag carpeting there since you probably won’t use those stairs that much.
But for the stairs between the main levels, you should choose wood or a more durable carpet. That way, the stairs can last longer and withstand more foot traffic.
Who Should Choose Carpeting?
You should choose carpeting for your stairs if you tend to slip easily. Carpeting is also a good option if the stairs are next to a bedroom or office to mask the sound. You should also use carpeting on stairs that lead to a carpeted room or floor so that the two can match and flow well.
Who Should Choose Wood Flooring?
Wood can be a great option if you aren’t concerned about slipping on the stairs. It’s the better choice for homes with wooden floors because it can keep everything cohesive. Wood is also an excellent choice if you don’t want to deal with the extra cleaning and maintenance of carpeting.
Both wood and carpet stairs have their advantages and disadvantages. The best choice depends on your personal circumstances and personal preference. Wood can look much better visually, adding to the value of your home. It is also easier to clean than carpeting, making it a good low-maintenance option. A carpeted staircase, on the other hand, offers better traction, more cushioning, and improved noise reduction.
Consider if your home has more wood or carpeting throughout and if you or other family members tend to fall easily on stairs. If you have young children who could fall when running up and down a flight of stairs, it might be a good idea to avoid wooden staircases until they are older. Once you take these factors into consideration, you can then select the right option for your home.
- The Spruce: Pros and Cons of Carpeting on Stairs
- Home Stratosphere: The 7 Different Types of Carpet For Your Home
- Jabara’s: Should I Should Choose Wood or Carpet Flooring For Stairs?
- Patch: Why are carpet runners important for steps?
- Dean Flooring Company: Non-Skid Carpet Stair Treads
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