How to Remove Your Old Stair Carpet

Has your stair carpet come to the end of its life? Before you rush to find your sharpest knife and start ripping it out, take a few moments to think about the best way to remove the carpet without causing any damage to the staircase. The odd scratch may not matter if you’re going to fully re-carpet the stairs afterwards, but could make life harder if you’re intending to install a runner down the centre, or leave the stairs uncovered.

Follow these tips for stress-free carpet removal:

Tool up

Make sure you have all the right tools to hand before you begin. Pliers, a utility knife and a right-angled pry bar (also known as a wonder bar) should suffice to lever up the carpet. If you don’t have a pry bar, you might be able to manage with a hammer and chisel. Thick work gloves to protect your hands from sharp tack strips, staples and nails are also essential. And as old carpets and underlay can generate a lot of dust, a face mask would be a good idea.

Laying out old newspapers at the bottom of the stairs will help to protect the floor. Better still, use a tarpaulin or sheet to contain the mess. You can fold it up around the debris afterwards and carry everything straight outside.

Make a start

Now you are ready to begin. From the top of the stairs, slide the pry bar under the carpet to work it free it from the tack strips securing it to the treads. If the carpet is very close-fitting and you can’t find a starting point, try pushing the blade of your utility knife along one of the edges to lift it up a little. Failing that, you may be able to use pliers to pull up a small section of carpet so you can wedge the pry bar underneath.

Gently does it

Carefully lever the carpet off the tack strips with the wonder bar until you can pull it free from the top tread, then work your way down the staircase.

Your carpet may consist of several short sections joined together, or it might be made up of one continuous length. A single long piece of carpet is best dealt with by slicing it into sections as you go along, for easy disposal. Always cut from the back rather than the front – it’s quicker and easier.

When you reach a transition strip – a connector which joins two sections of carpet together – cut the carpet at that point, leaving the strip in position so you can use it again (assuming you’re planning to re-carpet the stairs).

Prise time

Prise up any damaged tack strips with the wonder bar. Bent strips could prevent the new carpet fitting smoothly, while corroded ones may cause rust stains which can bleed through.

If you are going to fully carpet the treads from end to end, you will also need to take out any tack strips that are fitted less than 6mm from each side of the steps. This is the minimum gap required to tuck in the edge of the replacement carpet against the side of the stairway.

Off with underlay

Having removed the carpet, you will now have to tackle the underlay. This is usually secured with nails, which you should be able to extract using a claw hammer, pliers or specialist nail remover. Failing all else, just hammer the offending nails flat into the timber.

Roll up the underlay and cut into strips, ready to take to the tip. It’s best to wear your dust mask, particularly if the underlay is very old, as the rubber may have perished.

Smooth moves

Finally, vacuum the staircase thoroughly to remove all traces of dust and dirt. Sand down any uneven treads, and fill in holes and cracks with wood filler to create a smooth surface ready for the new stair covering – be it carpet, paint, varnish or wood stain.