How to Install a Stair Runner: A Step-by-Step Guide

Last Updated on August 2, 2022

Installing a stair runner is an easy DIY project that most homeowners can complete easily with just a few tools. This complete step-by-step guide walks you through everything you need to know.

Hello friends! I'm very excited to share this tutorial with you because installing a stair runner ourselves was so much easier than I expected it to be. And it makes a HUGE impact in our formerly boring staircase.

If you missed it, we recently replaced our stair balusters to update our stair railing and painted pretty much everything, including the stair risers. We also installed the easiest DIY board and batten accent wall in our hallway and in the staircase. And this formerly SUPER dark space is now flooded with light because we had VELUX Sun Tunnels installed!

Tasha Agruso of Kaleidoscope Living sitting on basic staircase before makeover
Tasha Agruso of Kaleidoscope Living standing on staircase during makeover

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Those improvements alone made the staircase beautiful, but I was still craving some texture and color. That's where the stair runner came in! Yesterday I shared how we installed the stair runner in my Instagram stories. Y'all were as excited about it as we are, so I worked like crazy to get this tutorial written up quickly! Here's a peek of how it looks now–keep reading to learn how to install a stair runner yourself!

My Favorite Stair Runner Options

We were gifted these beautiful stair runners by Annie Selke. You can see some of my other favorite stair runner ideas below. Most stair runners come in standard widths, the most common being 2 1/2 feet (31 inches). FYI, Dash and Albert has the best selection of runners, in my opinion! But I've included some other sources below as well.

Scroll and click on any image for full product details.

Stair Runner Installation Tutorial

Materials needed

Video Overview

I recommend that you watch this short 60-second video for an overview of the project before you read the written instructions (they will make more sense if you watch the video first).

Step 1: Measure to determine your total runner length

To determine how many runners you need to order, measure the depth of the stair tread and the height of the riser. Add those two numbers together. Then multiply that number by the total number of stairs you need to cover with the runner. Then divide that number by 12 to determine the total number of feet you need for your stair runner.

Our treads measure 10.5 inches and our risers measure 9 inches. We have 17 stairs. So our formula was 19.5 inches x 17 stairs = 331.5 inches ÷ 12 = 27.625 feet (rounded up to 28 feet)

Note that if you need multiple runners to reach the total length you need, DO order consistent lengths. In other words, if you need 28 feet of coverage, you should order (4) 8-foot runners instead of (2) 12-foot runners and an 8-foot runner. This will ensure your pattern scale is consistent.

Step 2: Cut out your carpet pads and tape them onto your stairs

You want your carpet pads to be completely covered by your stair runner. Our stair runner is 31″ wide, so we decided to make our rug pads 29″ wide. I made a 29″ x 9″ template out of cardboard which made it a lot easier to quickly cut out the rugs pads. As I cut them out using my template, Joe added two strips of carpet tape to them. We then taped them to the stair treads, making sure they were centered properly as we worked.

template of stair tread to cut rug pad
placing carpet tape on rug pad

installing rug pads on stairs before stair runner

Optional Step: Treat your runners with a fabric guard

This is totally optional, but since the runner we chose is cotton and has a lot of light areas and we have 2 kids and a dog, we used my favorite fabric guard to treat our stairs runners before we installed them. It's quick and easy. You don't need to saturate the rugs–you only need to make sure the entire area has been sprayed. Then you let it dry for 10 minutes. You can read about how we've used it to protect our sofa here.

treating cotton rugs with fabric guard

Step 3: Install your first runner

We chose to cover the “partial tread” at the top of our stairs that meets up with the carpet in our hallway because I felt this would look better than having 1 strip of uncovered tread. This is totally personal preference. I cut off the finished edge of the runner so that we could tuck it in to meet up with the carpet (the finished edge was too bulky to do this). If you prefer not to cover your top tread, you would simply align the top of the runner with the bottom edge of the first tread and you would leave the finished edge of the runner intact. Either way, you will want to use your staple gun to staple the runner in place approximately every 3 inches. Be sure to staple both outer edges.

cutting factory edge off of rug with scissors

DIY stair runner installation

Since our stair treads have bullnoses, we chose a “wrap-style” installation, meaning that we wrapped the runner taut around the bullnose and stapled it in place under each bullnose approximately every 3 inches (always being sure to staple both outer edges).

how to install a stair runner wrap style

We also stapled every 3 inches or so at the base of the riser. The bolster chisel really helps you keep the rug taut as you staple.

diy stair runner installation

Repeat this process until you reach the end of your first runner. We periodically measured to ensure that our runner remained perfectly centered on the stair treads as we worked.

Step 4: Join the next runner

I recommend joining your next runner at the back of the tread, though I suppose you could do it under a bullnose as well. We chose to join ours where the tread and riser meet because that made the most sense given where our pattern fell.

You will want to cut the end of your first runner off, leaving only about 2 inches for overlap. Cutting the factory edge off will help reduce bulk.

how to join 2 stair runners together

Overlap the 2-inch scrap of your first runner with your second runner and staple it into place. Be sure to align the outer edges of both runners as you do. What you are left with is the cut-off edge of the first runner being covered by the factory edge of your second runner, which gives it a nice, clean look.

how to join 2 stair runners together

Then keep stapling your second runner into place just as you did with your first runner.

Repeat this process until you get to the stair riser at the bottom of your stairs.

Step 5: Finish off the runner on your last stair riser

When you reach the treat of your bottom stair, pull the runner taut against the bottom riser with the bolster chisel and cut off the end of the runner leaving 2 extra inches. Then fold under the extra 2 inches of runner and staple the double layer of your runner against the bottom of your riser. This gives you a nice finished look at the bottom of your stairs.

how to install a stair runner
finished stair runner on final riser

Photos of the Finished Project

Tada! That's it. It took us about 4 hours to install the stair runner start to finish. Not bad at all, though my knees were sore, lol. All that's left to do is hang up artwork and patch the holes left by the old balusters around the newel post and our entire staircase renovation will be totally done. And I'm already in love. Quite a difference from where we started, huh?! I snapped the photo on the left the day we closed on the house. Our kitchen and dining room look really different now too! It's hard to believe we've lived here less than 2 years. What do you think?

Before- I took this photo the day we closed on our house
After
diy stair runner installed

You'll notice that you can see the staples a bit. I don't know if that's totally avoidable or not in a DIY stair runner installation. I suspect professional installers have a clever way to avoid that, but I don't know what it is, lol.

Some people install stair runners using only carpet tape, but I've used carpet tape enough to know that it eventually fails, in my experience. I'm not worried about the rug tape failing under the rug pad because the runner is on top of the rug pads and is secured with the staples. But I would definitely worry if we had secured the runner itself with rug tape.

So the trade-off is being able to spot some of the staples. I am wondering if they will become less visible as the rug “relaxes” over time. If not, I have an idea for something we can do if the staples bother us. But my guess is that it will be a non-issue. We'll see.

Looking down the stairs before

Looking down the stairs now :)
diy stair runner installed

Thanks for reading! I hope if you are planning on tackling this project for yourself you feel like you know exactly how to install a stair runner now. I promise you can do it! Be sure to save it to Pinterest so you can easily find it again later.

Other posts you may enjoy:

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4 Comments

  1. That is sooo pretty. I just love the colors. Totally unexpected and I can see why you are in love! They make fancy bars to go across the stairs that would hide the staples but I bet they are cost prohibitive. You could use a smaller quarter round with a brad nailer.

    Congratulations on getting that big project done.

  2. Looks awesome! I have to ask though, where did you get the green bib overalls you were wearing ? They look so comfortable for doing jobs like that!

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