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A Guide To Finishing Your Basement Stairs

Basements typically have high moisture levels; therefore, different parts of this room, especially the stairs, wear out at a very high rate. And this has forced many homeowners to look for better ways to finish their basement stairs that would help preserve the structure while enhancing the room’s interior decor. So here’s a guide to finishing your basement stairs to help upgrade your basement.

Finishing your basement stairs means improving their overall appearance by covering all the deformities on their surface. It also increases traction on the stairs, thereby lowering the risk of accidental falls. There are several ways to finish basement stairs depending on their condition.

You can finish the basement stairs using a wide range of materials, but this will depend on its build. So in this article, we will show you the different materials you can use to finish your basements, and how to go about doing a good job of it.

Finishing Your Basement Stairs

In the United States, there are over 133 million housing units, and this includes the unoccupied ones. And about two-thirds of these housings are standalone buildings. 42% of the standalone units have basements either partially finished (9.8%) or fully finished (32%).

It means that about 37 million homes in the U.S. have a stairway going down their basement. Therefore, all these homes need a finished basement stair; in fact, the importance of finishing your basement stairs cannot be overstated. The U.S. records an average of about 1,917 deaths from falling down the stairs every year.

It is an extreme example, but it does confirm that a poorly finished basement stair is a significant hazard. Plus, basement stairs have a higher likelihood of falling into disrepute than others since they are out of sight. So if your stairs are in a poor state, then replacement should be the only option, but if individual steps are rotten or broken, you should repair them first.

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Repair or Replace the Stairs?

The same condition that enhances mold growth in your basement also invites decay fungi that affect numerous organic materials like wood. So before finishing the stairs, you should confirm if they are in good shape or need some repair. If the structure is intact, but some steps are in a state of despair, you should start by replacing them. 

But if there are numerous extensive patches of rotten steps, it’s safer to replace the entire structure. Repairing a set of stairs with a compromised structure can put your family in danger. So you can either hire a contractor to rebuild the stairway or do it yourself.

Since the safety of your family comes first, then you should be ready to spend between $1,000 and $2,000 to replace the entire set of stairs. And this includes the cost of labor and materials needed. This price range doesn’t include finishing or any other additions like railings.

Another option is purchasing pre-made staircases and installing them yourself. But this does require some level of expertise for safety reasons.

Finishing Basement Stairs 

Once you have confirmed that everything is in good shape and you’ve completed all repairs, you may start thinking of how you can finish them. Unfortunately, many basement stairways are rudimentary, consisting of unpolished bare wood. And the only way you can improve the basement is by finishing the stairs making sure that it matches the entire room or the house.

So here are some of the most common options for finishing any basement stairs:


Carpeting your basement stairs is one of the best ways to finish them. Carpets are inviting and make the steps feel warmer; therefore, they are the best option for our basement stairs. But with the many options available, selecting the best choice for your stairs can be pretty challenging, so here are a few things to consider when buying stair carpets.

Factors to consider when selecting the best carpet for your basement stairs

  1. Stain Resistance: 

In order to appeal to numerous scenarios in your house, carpets are available in a wide range of materials, including synthetic carpets (olefin, triexta, polyester, and nylon) and natural (sisal and wool). But when it comes to basement stairs, the best option is synthetic nylon carpets. And that is because synthetic nylon carpets are strong, stain-resistant, and increase traction on the stairs.     

Luckily, there are two types of nylon carpets — nylon 6 (easy to recycle) and nylon 6.6. You can also consider a mix carpet made up of 20% nylon and 80% wool for resilience and warmth.

  1. Durability 

The make of the carpet plays a crucial role in its durability. And when it comes to stair carpets construction, you have two options: staple and BCF (bulked continuous filament). Used in the loop and cut pile carpets, bulked continuous filament means that the carpet comes from a single long section. 

On the other hand, staple uses numerous short fiber lengths woven together. Most synthetic carpet manufacturers favor BCF because it offers versatility and sheds less. Therefore, it’s strong and the best option for a home with allergy sufferers. 

  1. Color 

Even though they don’t have high traffic like the other stairways in the house, you still need to get a high quality, stain-resistant, and a great color that hides dirt. Therefore, you need to look for carpets with deeper neutral colors like coffee or taupe. Some producers have heathered shades made up of complementary colors and can camouflage dirt. 

  1. Thickness 

The right stair carpet shouldn’t feel bouncy, but it should have a thin cushioning to provide a stable surface. The best option should be about 3/8 inch thick. Get a high-grade pad that will extend your carpeting’s lifespan. 

How to Carpet Basement Stairs

  1. Prepare the Stairs

A nicely prepared surface will ensure that the surface will look great after carpeting. So if you have just removed the old carpeting, you should remove the tack strips and any form of adhesive remaining on the surface. Remove the adhesive using a putty knife and then hammer or remove the protruding nails before sweeping the stairs to get rid of the dirt and debris.

  1. Measure the Stairs Before Cutting the Carpet

To get the exact length of the carpet, you must measure the height of the riser and the depth of the stair’s tread. Add these measurements and then multiply the outcome by the number of steps. Add one foot to allow for any error in measurements and repairs.

If your basement stairs have half-landings, you can measure the landings and add the length to your total measurement. For spiral staircases, make sure you measure the widest points of the treads. Use the above measurements to cut your carpet.

  1. Select a Carpeting Technique

There are two techniques contractors use to install carpets; waterfall and cap-and-band. (5) The cap-and-band technique includes installing your carpeting down your stair’s riser across its tread before wrapping it around the nosing of every tread. You can finally tack the carpet using a stapler on every step.

The waterfall technique is more accessible and less time-consuming than the cap-the-band method. Instead of fastening it below the nosing, you can tack it where the riser meets the tread. The waterfall technique provides a unique look that works with smaller patterns.

  1. Install the Vapor Barrier

If your basement has high moisture levels, then you should install a vapor barrier. Luckily, the procedure for carpeting your basement stair is similar to the other stair, but the only difference is that you have to place a vapor barrier. A vapor barrier will help keep the basement stairs mold-free and dry, just like it would the basement floor. 

After all, any kind of moisture will promote the growth of moisture, and this will ruin the wooden stair and the carpet. 

  1. Installation Tips 

Once you have selected your installation method, you can cut your carpet and then start from either the top of the base of the stairs, making sure that it’s centered. Staple the edges of your carpet at the starting point about four staples, making sure they are spaced equally across the stair’s width. An inch back from the upper step, the back edge of the top thread, the base of your stairway’s bottom riser, or the top edge of the riser can all be great starting points.

You can install the carpet using a heavy-duty stapler (like this one on Amazon), and staple your carpet under the nosing of each tread or the back edge of the treads, unrolling a small part of the carpet every time. Try and stretch the carpet as tightly as possible before moving to the next step to avoid ripples or bumps. If your stairway has a landing halfway, then it’s easier to treat both halves as separate sets of stairs.

Start by installing one flight and then run it across the back wall before cutting the carpet. Butt the other roll of carpet under the edge of the first flight’s carpeting at a right angle and then continue with the other half. 

Cap Stair

If the stairs are opened on one side, you must cut the carpet around all the posts of the railing posts and re-join on the other side. To achieve this, you must slit directly in line with the posts and then wrap the carpet around each post. If your stairway has massive posts, then you will have to trim excess carpet around every post.

How Do You Carpet Different Types of Basement Stairs?

Pie Step

Builders usually install a pie step in a stairway instead of a landing step to help change the direction of your stairs. For this type of stairs, you can staple your carpet as mentioned above, but the only difference is that there will be a lot of trimming.

But you should install the carpet on the pie step straight off the tread’s nose, or it will seem crooked when viewed from the base of the stairs.


Stairs with curved outside edges are known as bullnose. Most commonly situated at the bottom of the staircase, the bullnose typically resides in this locale. For this step, you can slit the carpet as you did for the cap stair and then flex it around the bend.

Depending on the stair’s depth, you might have to make up to 3 slits for proper coverage. It means that you will have to install the bullnose’s riser separately from its tread to help make the work easier.

Hollywood Stairs

Hollywood stairs have no riser, and carpeting this type of stair is relatively easy. All you have to do is install carpet the standard way, wrap it around its tread, and fasten it underneath the tread.

Advantages of Carpeting Your Basement Stairs

  • Quieter to walk on
  • Easier and softer on your feet
  • Less costly, particularly if you’re also carpeting the other parts of the basement
  • Ideal for pets, particularly dogs
  • It camouflages several issues the steps may have (it can cover uneven steps and the ones with gaps at the edge)

Disadvantages Carpeting Your Basement Stairs

  • It wears down faster
  • It gets dirty faster

Carpet Runners 

Homeowners working with a tight budget can opt for carpet runners. It is a roll of carpet that doesn’t cover the stair’s entire width. And in most cases, it only covers the tiled or hardwood stairs.

Carpet runners are available in a wide range of patterns, width, and colors. These runners play a crucial role in increasing safety on your slippery stairs. And that is because it provides a safe place for your kids and pets to walk, not to mention the comfort added by the soft carpet. (8)

Factor to Consider When Choosing Carpet Runners

  1. Runners’ Width 

When planning on carpeting your stair, the first thing that comes to mind is how wide the carpet should be? Fortunately, most stairs have a width of about 3 feet, so you should get a 27-inch runner. This width can cover your stairs and ensure that you never feel like you’re walking on a narrow strip. 

  1. Pattern

Patterned carpets are pretty beautiful, and they come in a wide range of designs and colors. But before you settle on a particular pattern, you should ensure that it fits on your basement stairs. After all, some patterns are designed for flat surfaces like a hallway and don’t look good when folded. 

Unless you have straight stairs, we recommend that you stay away from some patterns like square, diamond, or any other geometric design. Remember, if the pattern seems off, it will stand out and affect the overall design of the basement. 

Non-geometric designs like floral or abstracts are great for basement stairs. But make sure they have small patterns which will make your stairs seem wider.

  1. Underpad 

Even though carpet runners are small, they still need some cushioning. And the best cushioning solution for a runner should be very thin not to raise the runner’s height. It must also be dense enough to support the carpet, ensuring that the runner doesn’t flex the carpet a lot when walking on it. 

A quarter-inch thick rubber pad can be quite helpful.

How to Install Carpet Runner 

  1. Lay the Tackless Strip for the Runner

Start by subtracting the width of the runner from the width of the basement stairs and then divide the results by two. Mark the distance on each tread from the balusters and the skirt-board, ensuring that you center the runner. Place some pieces of the tackless strips against each riser and center them between the layouts.

  1. Add the Carpet Pad

Cut the pads into the same size as the tackless strips and then butt them on the front edge of the strip and then staple them in place. Pull it around the step’s nosing, making sure that you staple after every 3 inches. And then cut the pad where the upper part of the riser meets the nosing. 

Repeat this procedure on every step until you reach the base of the stairs. (8)

  1. Install the Carpet Runner

Confirm if all the ends of the runner with a framing square. If not, you should cut along its backing to create the square edges and then dub it with carpet glue to prevent it from fraying. Once the glue dries, you can unroll the runner over four treads making sure that it is between the layout markings.

Push the end on the top part of the stairs against the floor at the base of the first riser and staple it every 3 inches. To attach the carpet to the tread, you can use a knee kicker. Simply place your tool at the center of the carpet, approximately 2 inches from the riser. 

Use one hand to keep the knee kicker’s shaft leveled while holding the knob with the other hand. Hit the kicker using your knee, and the carpet will engage the tackless strip and become strong. Repeat the above process with every step until you finish. 

Advantages of Carpet Runners

  • Carpet runners add can improve the basement’s decor
  • It’s easy to install
  • Compared to carpet, the runner is less expensive
  • It’s easy to replace 

Disadvantages of Carpet Runners

  • It doesn’t cover the entire stair


Wooden stairs need extra protection from pests and dampness; therefore, covering them with vinyl can help seal out these elements. Vinyl can also enhance the looks of the stairs while providing traction. It is also the best solution for covering dents on a wooden stairway. 

How to Install Vinyl on Your Basement Stairs

  1. Create a dry and warm environment before you start installing your vinyl flooring.

During winter or fall, you can open the house’s vents and warm the basement. Allow it to warm for a few days with the doors open for proper ventilation. Wipe the accumulated moisture and make sure it’s dry before you start the project.

  1. Measure the Stairs

Measure all the steps on the stair using a measuring tape and write the dimensions on your notepad. And if any step has any inconsistency in terms of size, make sure you note it.

  1. Smoothen the Stairs

Fill the dents, crack, and uneven patches using wood putty for concrete stairs. Pry out any stray nails or hammer them in place. Cover the extensively damaged parts of the stair with one-quarter-inch plywood.

Cut the plywood to size with your power saw, and then install it in the affected area before sanding the surface until it becomes level.

  1. Clean the Stairs

Sweep the debris and dust of the stairs using a broom. And then scrub the surfaces of the stair with water and soap. Rinse them, and then let them dry.

  1. Cut the Vinyl Flooring to Size

Using the measurements taken, you can cut the vinyl flooring to size with your utility knife, making sure each piece fits the corresponding step. Use a straightedge to prepare the vinyl to install on the tread, risers, and the edge of the stairs. When dealing with concrete stairs, you should prepare separate pieces for the horizontal and vertical surfaces.

  1. Confirm if the Pieces of Vinyl Fit Perfectly

Place the vinyl pieces in place without the adhesive and see if they fit perfectly. Make sure you check for cracks and gaps as moisture can seep through them. Trim the overlay using a utility knife and replace the pieces of vinyl that leave spaces.

  1. Secure the Vinyl Flooring in Place

With self-adhesive vinyl, you can remove the protection, place the vinyl on the stairs, and press them firmly. Using adhesive, you should apply a thin layer of glue on the stairs and let it cure for about two minutes before placing the vinyl on the surface.  

Allow the adhesive to dry, and then examine the stairs for gaps and cracks. Cover the gaps with a seam covering kit to prevent future damages. Let the surface dry before applying the sealer. 

Advantages of Vinyl Flooring

  • Its moisture resistant
  • It’s easy to clean
  • It’s pretty simple to replace
  • It’s affordable 

Disadvantages of Vinyl Flooring

  • Depending on your preference, this might not look appealing 

Painting or Staining the Stairs

If you love your basement’s decor, you don’t have to cover the stairs. Instead, you should try painting or staining it and give it a new look. But make sure you pick light-colored paint if your basement has poor lighting.

You can easily create a multi-colored pattern or a stenciled design. Decorate your stair with confidence making sure that it matches the basement’s décor. Make sure you use products that meet the EPA standards for low volatile compounds and odor.

How to Paint Your Basement Stairs

  1. Sand the Steps 

Prepare the steps by first sanding them lightly following the wood grain’s direction with medium-grit sandpaper. Make sure you have your dust mask on to protect yourself from inhaling the particles and protective eyewear. Finish the sanding process using your fine-grit sandpaper.

Wash the steps using a paint prep solution or household cleaner. Dry them thoroughly using a rug before allowing the stairway to air dry.

  1. Prepare the Paint

Stir the paint for the basement stair thoroughly after opening the lid. And if your basement has mildew and mold issues, you can mix the paint with a mildew preventive solution. Luckily, mildew protection is usually incorporated in some of the paint brands, so make sure you confirm when buying the paint.

  1. Apply the Paint

Start by painting the stringers of the stair using your brush before proceeding to the risers. Make sure you paint the treads last. If your basement has another exit, you can start painting from top to bottom.

If you have no other exit, you can paint alternating treads and let them dry overnight before proceeding to the other treads while stepping on the dried ones. For a lasting effect, you can apply two coats of paint.

Advantages of Painting the Basement Stairs

  • Durable 
  • It’s an inexpensive solution
  • Compared to the other finishing materials, paint is low maintenance
  • It’s pretty easy to reapply

Disadvantages of Painting the Basement Stairs

  • Some paints will cover the wood’s grain and prevent the steps from looking like wood.


What Can I Use to Cover My Basement Stairs?

Being in the basement means that the stair is exposed to a wide range of natural elements. Therefore, you must cover them with tiles, paint, vinyl, carpet, or in some cases, solid wood. These materials will help hide the stain left by mold and mildew.

Can I Install Luxury Vinyl on My Basement Stairs?

You can install luxury vinyl tiles on the basement stairway, and the outcome will be an excellent-looking house with matching tile floors. Luxury Vinyl tiles can create a cohesive design than most materials. Compared to carpets, Luxury Vinyl tiles are easier to clean. 

Are Carpeted Stairs Dangerous?

Even though they increase traction, carpets can also be hazardous. Carpets can create a soft curved edge on the nose of the stair, which can be slippery, but this depends on the type of carpet used. Some carpet materials like polyester and olefin are slippery, so make sure you get the right option for your stairs.

Final Thoughts 

Finishing your basement stairs has numerous advantages; other than beautifying your basement, it can also increase traction. Stairs tend to be very slippery, and finishing with the suitable material can lower the risk of people or pets falling down the stairs. The suitable material can also cover the stain left by mold and mildew.