Solved! How to Select the Best Carpet for Stairs
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Q: I just moved into a two-story home, and the floors need some TLC. The stairs are carpeted, but the pile is worn down. I've slipped and nearly fallen several times. Do you have any tips for choosing durable, slip-free carpeting for stairs?
A: You're focused on the right areas: safety and durability. These busy zones need to be ready to withstand years of foot traffic as well as the cleaning that comes with keeping the color looking like new! Luckily, it's possible to find an affordable solution without skimping on quality. When shopping for a replacement, it's best to first understand industry standards and lingo so that you won't be caught off guard during the buying and installation process. Here's a cheat sheet with some of the main considerations-material, construction, density rating, and more-for finding the best carpet for stairs that balances safety needs and your ideas of style.
First, narrow your search to a carpet material that is as durable as it is stain resistant. In order to appeal to a number of scenarios throughout the home, carpets come in many materials, from natural fibers like wool and sisal to synthetics like nylon, polyester, triexta, and olefin. Of these, a synthetic nylon carpet may be your best bet for safety, stain-resistance, and strength on stairs. You'll see two common variations of nylon compositions out there-nylon 6 (which is easier to recycle) and nylon 6,6 (which has slightly higher resilience)-but both are good options. Or, consider a blended carpet for the stairs. These typically feature 80 percent wool and 20 percent synthetic to offer the best of both materials: warmth and resilience.
The make of your carpet's material also lends durability. There are two main types of carpet construction: bulked continuous filament (BCF) and staple. Used in both cut pile (plush) and loop carpets like Berber, BCF means that an entire section of carpeting is made from one long piece of fiber. Conversely, staple carpets use many short fiber lengths, which are then woven together. BCF tends to be favored by major manufacturers of synthetic carpets-it sheds less and offers more design versatility. Less shedding also means fewer allergens. (Don't be surprised if you don't see a blended carpet with BCF construction: You won't find BCF construction for natural fibers like wool.)
The best carpet for stairs has a low pile-¾-inch or less-to be both more stable underfoot and resilient to traffic. A synthetic plush style in twisted or cut pile is always a safe option, while a looped style like Berber is occasionally avoided (particularly if you have pets whose claws may catch in the carpet loops). To make the latter work, choose a high-quality brand and ensure proper installation. Berber should be installed lengthwise, with rows placed from top to bottom, not side to side.
More is more when it comes to the density of the pile. The height of carpet pile carpet density rating takes into account a combination of fiber thickness and how tightly the strands are woven.
• Face weight is the amount of fiber in ounces per square yard. Generally, a higher face weight signals a better quality carpet, assuming that carpet height doesn't change. Aim for a carpet with at least a 35 to 40 oz. face weight and a lower pile height.
• The number of tufted rows per inch indicates the compactness of the carpet pile.
These ratings range from three to 5,000 (correlating to the number of tufted rows per inch), and the higher the better for areas that receive a lot of wear, according to the Rug and Carpet Institute. While you're at it, note the tuft twist, or the number of fiber twists in a one-inch length of carpeting. Highly twisted fiber holds its shape longer, so aim to pick one with a tuft twist of five or higher.
To simplify your search and ensure a top-end purchase, inquire about industrial grade carpeting. Carpet grade is a shorthand system, numbered 1 through 12, for determining overall carpet quality, from low- to high-end. Each carpet manufacturer weighs all of the aforementioned quality factors individually to grade their own products, so there is no standard system for determining grades. Instead, to ensure maximum longevity, ask about stair-specific recommendations or even about “industrial grade,” which is the type of carpeting used in public spaces like theatres and restaurants.
Pick a carpet color that covers dirt and stains. You may love creams and ivories, but your stairs won't. High foot traffic increases the likelihood that your light carpeting will soon look dingy. Find a happy medium by selecting deeper neutrals, like taupe and coffee. Some manufacturers offer heathered shades-subtle blends of complementary colors-that will camouflage dirt more readily than monochrome carpets.
Back with a thin, firm carpet pad rather than a thick, spongy one. It won't feel as bouncy, but the thinner cushion (often made from foam, rubber, wool, felt, and synthetic fiber) will hold up better and provide a more stable surface. Experts at the Carpet and Rug Institute suggest selecting one with no more than 3/8 inch thickness and with 8 pounds density to back the low-profile carpet used on stairs. Choose a high-grade pad, which will extend the lifespan of your carpeting. Check with the carpet's manufacturer for any additional recommendations.
Not every warranty is the same. You may find carpets with 10- to 25-year warranties, even “stair specific” warranties. However, when comparing options, be careful and ask the tough questions. What does the manufacturer really cover? Sometimes only defects are replaced, not normal wear and tear, and other times certain aspects of the warranty won't apply to the carpet on stairs (see The Home Depot's warranty comparison for the carpeting it carries as an example). Those warranties may not be worth the extra money.
Weigh the pros and cons of going with a brand name. Branded carpeting can offer many advantages, including good customer service (on account of the reputation they have to uphold) and availability in major home improvement stores. That said, the hype may not be worth the extra money if the warranties do not provide the full protection guarantee you desire. On the other hand, branded nylon carpets are treated with certain stain-protection technologies while those more affordable generic options may not be. When considering your stairs, think longevity over instant savings.