How to Choose a Stair Runner for Style & Durability

Updated: Nov 30, 2021



Grey chevron stair carpet runner


Choosing a Stair Carpet


It’s hard to imagine a staircase that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of a stair runner. Who wouldn’t prefer the beauty, comfort, and safety of having a carpet installed on stairs over plain, unadorned wooden treads?


We’re here to help you with the difficult part – making the right carpet choice. With the myriad of patterns, fibers, and styles available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.


While you will want to choose a carpet runner that fits your home aesthetically, it's also critical to pick the right carpet fiber, construction and size. We’ve put together this definitive buyer's guide to stair runners to help you choose a runner that will stand the test of time. We will discuss carpet fiber first in this multi-part series.





Carpet Fibers

What carpet fiber is best for a stair runner?


Wool Carpet


We consider wool to be nature's best natural resource. If you have ever owned a wool suit or coat made from wool (it's probably still hanging in your closet, right?), then you know wool is made for longevity. Wool is an amazing fiber known for its durability, natural stain resistance, fire retardancy, cleanability, and air-filtering qualities. It is also people and planet friendly, which makes it our top choice for carpeting in homes today.


Cons: Can be more expensive than other carpet fibers.


Natural Fiber Carpet


Another organic carpeting choice, carpets made from natural plant fibers are loved for

their distinctive character. Irregularities in yarn size, sprouts, striations, and variations in loop and rib size are all part of this carpet's charm. Some natural fibers to consider are sisal, jute, seagrass, and coir, each having its own unique traits. The inherent beauty and environmental friendliness of these carpets and rugs add to their popularity.


Cons: Natural fibers will resort to their original color and darken or lighten as they age.

Some fibers can be too slippery to use as a stair carpet.


Synthetic Carpet Fibers


The four main synthetic fibers used in carpet manufacturing today are nylon, polyester, olefin, and acrylic.


Nylon carpet is the most widely used soft surface and is an excellent choice for both residential and commercial spaces. It is stain and abrasion resistant, has high resiliency, and comes with a built-in stain protector, making it easy to maintain. We prefer nylon 6 or 6.6 for its ability to be recycled.


Cons: Can be more expensive than other synthetic carpets


Polyester carpet, also labeled PET, is a strong, versatile fiber with superior stain resistance. Made from recycled materials, polyester carpets are soft to the touch and very comfortable to walk on. PET carpets are generally budget friendly and make a good choice for bedrooms or other light traffic areas of the home.


Cons: Will mat down with heavy use.


Olefin carpet has a matte finish, making its appearance similar to wool. Olefin, also known as polypropylene, is a strong fiber with resistance to abrasion, staining, mildew and fading. Its inability to absorb water makes it excellent for use as indoor-outdoor carpet or in basements where moisture could be an issue. Olefin carpet is less resilient than wool or nylon and is best used in low traffic areas of the home.


Cons: Can attract oil based stains.





STAIR RUNNER SIZE


Rug runner that is too narrow

This oriental rug runner is too narrow.


One of the questions we get asked most often is "what size should my runner be?".

If you are choosing broadloom carpet to be custom fitted on your stairs, we

can make your stair runner the exact width that is right for your stair treads. Typically on an average 36" stair, we leave 3" to 4" of wood showing. On a wider stair, that reveal may increase to 5" to 6", and on a narrower stair that could decrease to 1" to 2". The exact width if often determined by the carpet pattern repeat. Patterns should be centered with each side ending at the same point in the pattern. Geometric patterns should be sized so each side ends on a full or half repeat for the best look.


If you purchase a pre-finished rug runner, purchase the width that will bring you closest to the ideal width. As seen in the photo above, size matters, so don't purchase a 27" runner for a 42" stair width or you will end up with too much wood showing and a too narrow looking runner.





SELECTING A PATTERN


Black and white striped stair runner

Striped flatweave carpet installed on stairs and halls.



Patterned stair runners add a decorative element to your home and, particularly in a front foyer, are an opportunity add interest to an otherwise bland space. How would you describe your design style? Elegant traditional, farmhouse modern, bold contemporary? With the myriad of popular patterns today, there is literally a style for every taste and budget, making it easier than ever to find one that will enhance your staircase.


Grey patterned carpet installed wall to wall on stairs.

Abstract carpet on winding stairs.


Carpeted stair treads take a lot of abuse, so choosing textured carpet or a carpet with at least a subtle pattern can be a smart idea for hiding wear and tear. If your flight of steps include pie or wedge shaped stairs (also referred to as winders), keep in mind that a patterned carpet may not match perfectly on these stairs. Choosing an abstract or organic design may be a better choice.




Argyle carpet with leather trim installed on stairs

Argyle patterned carpet with leather border.


All stair runners (those not installed wall to wall) will require some type of edge finish. Typically this is a cotton or polyester narrow binding in a color closest to the background color of the carpet. However, for a more decorative finish, a wide binding tape in a matching or contrasting color can be applied. Decorative bindings are available in cotton, linen, polyester, leather, and vinyl and are applied up to 3" on the face of your carpet, depending on the width of your runner.





Hollywood or New York Style Installation


Zebra patterned carpet installed as a stair runner.

Hollywood style stair runner




Transitional stair runner.

New York style stair runner





In a Hollywood style installation, the carpet is tacked under the nosing for a neat, tailored look. New York style, often referred to as waterfall, is not tacked under the nosing and has a softer appearance. Learn more about both of these styles in one of our previous blog posts.



Lastly, painting your risers prior to installing a stair carpet runner will make them pop and provide a clean background for your new carpeting.



Related Resources

Why Wool Carpet?


Stair Runner Gallery


Stair Runner Ideas


Carpet Gallery