Hardwood floors are very popular these days—and for good reasons. They are easy to clean and they add warmth and beauty to your home.
One of the few downsides of hardwoods is that their smooth polished surface can be slippery, especially on stairs.
So the question is, how can you make your hardwood stairs safer and less slippery?
The best way to make your hardwood stairs less slippery is to add traction by installing carpet, anti-slip adhesive stair treads, or applying a coat of anti-slip floor finish to the surface of each stair. All three of these methods make the surface of each stair rougher, add traction, and significantly reduce the risk of slipping.
In addition to using one of these methods to add traction, I recommend making sure that your stairway and handrail(s) meet today’s residential building code.
Each stair riser should be no more than 7 ¾ inches tall. Each stair should be a minimum of 10 inches deep and a minimum of 36 inches wide. Your handrail should be between 34 and 38 inches high and clear the wall by at least 1.5 inches but be no more than 4.5 inches. You are required to have at least one handrail for each staircase, but I highly recommend installing handrails both sides for additional support.
In this article, I dive into the ways you can make your stairs less slippery and explain the pros and cons of each method so you can decide which one is right for you. Let’s jump right in!
- Method 1: Install Carpet
- Method 2: Use Anti-Slip Adhesive Stair Treads
- Method 3: Apply an Anti-Slip Floor Finish
- Method 4: Make Sure Your Stairs Are Up to Code
One of the most common ways to make stairs less slippery is to install carpet. Carpet not only makes your stairs safer by providing traction to the surface, but it also can be a pleasant addition to the decor of your home.
When it comes to carpet, you have two options, stair runners or carpet stair treads.
Stair runners are pieces of carpet that run down your stairs but don’t cover the full width of each stair.
The advantages of stair runners are that they cover the full depth of each stair tread (not the width), protect the wood from damage, reduce noise, look great, and, most importantly, make your stairs less slippery.
The disadvantages of stair runners are that they are expensive, they can get dirty and become difficult to clean, they’re complicated to install correctly, and the carpet on the edge of each stair can wear down and become slick over time.
Carpet Stair Treads
If you choose to go the carpet route, your second option is to use carpet stair treads. Carpet stair treads are individual pieces of carpet that you can place separately on each stair.
Carpet stair tread’s significant advantage over stair runners is that they are easy to install.
Here are the basic steps:
- Clean each stair thoroughly
- Measure the stairs to ensure you are placing them in the center
- Place pieces of carpet tape (one for each side of the tread) on each tread or use non-skid rug pads to hold them in place
- Then place the treads down and press on them gently until they have completely adhered to each step
Carpet treads are less expensive than using a carpet running and are much easier to clean. You can remove them easily, wipe down the wood underneath, and scrub the treads or soak them in soap and water. Most importantly, if installed correctly, the fibers of carpet treads provide traction and reduce the risk of slipping.
The disadvantages of carpet stair treads are:
- They don’t provide as much protection as a carpet runner since they don’t wrap around each stair
- They can be difficult to vacuum
- They can slide and cause more harm than they prevent if you don’t install them properly
If you go the carpet route, whether you choose to install a stair runner or stair treads, be sure to use low-pile carpet and make sure to install it properly. High-pile carpet is easy to trip on and will likely do more harm than good. If you don’t install your carpet correctly, it can slide, bunch up, and create the exact consequences that you are trying to prevent.
Next time you’re in the stairwell of a commercial building, look down. You’ll likely see thick black grip tape on each stair to prevent slipping. Although it would undoubtedly make your stairs safer, I am not suggesting you use that type of adhesive tread in your home. Black tape on wood stairs would not be a good look, plus commercial treads have a rough sandpaper-like texture that would tear up your feet.
Fortunately, many companies make clear anti-slip adhesive treads for residential use that you can pick up for cheap on Amazon and install by simply rolling the sticky side of the treads across each step.
These anti-slip treads effectively prevent slips by adding a slight roughness to the surface of each stair. The texture provides enough friction to avoid slips but is comfortable on bare feet. They are transparent and difficult to notice unless you are actively seeking them out.
One of the best characteristics of anti-slip adhesive treads is the fact that they are simple and easy to install.
All you have to do is remove the paper on the back of the tread, places the treads about an inch away from the edge of each stair, and smooth out air bubbles with the included roller.
The treads that I use are pre-cut to 24”x 4” dimensions, come in a 15-pack, and include a small roller so you can smooth out any air bubbles that get trapped underneath. It’s an excellent product that I highly recommend, but don’t take my word for it alone, check it out on Amazon where it has thousands of mostly excellent reviews.
There are a few disadvantages of adhesive stair treads. First, they can be difficult to install perfectly straight. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you might get frustrated because you can’t plop them straight down in the exact spot you want. You have to roll them onto each stair from one side to the other which makes it difficult to maintain a straight line.
Secondly, wood stairs have natural bumps and cracks, so you can’t completely avoid air bubbles. Below is a look at my stairs after several attempts to smooth out the air bubbles using my hands and the roller. You can see that the top stair has a few bubbles that make the tread less transparent and more visible than the stair below it.
Lastly, removing them from your stairs can cause some minor damage. Some customers complain that they leave behind a slight residue that you’ll need to scrub off. Others complain that the paint on their stairs peeled off. If you have regular stained wood floors, you should be fine, but if your stairs are painted, I’d avoid this product.
Anti-slip floor finish is a liquid solution that you can apply directly to your wood stairs to make them less slippery. Using an anti-slip floor finish is an excellent option if you do not want to alter the appearance of your stairs by installing carpet or don’t want to deal with the minor issues that clear adhesive stair treads present.
Anti-slip floor finishes come in the form of paint or clear coating. Tiny particles are incorporated into the coating to add friction to the surface of the wood but are not noticeable to the naked eye.
The main advantage of this option is that you are achieving your goal of making your stairs less slippery without sacrificing the beauty of natural hardwoods.
There are a couple of disadvantages that come with using an anti-slip floor finish.
First, it won’t last forever. After a few years, the anti-slip elements of the finish will wear down and you’ll need to reapply a new coat.
Secondly, it doesn’t provide as much traction as carpet or anti-slip adhesive stair treads. The coating is meant to reduce the slipperiness of the floor, but the small particles in the finish don’t compare to the friction that a layer of carpet or specially designed adhesive stair treads create.
Accidents are more likely to happen on stairs that are old and no longer meet today’s building codes. If your stairs don’t have enough depth or the distance between each stair is too big, you’re putting yourself and people in your home at risk.
If you live in an older home or suspect something might be off, I highly recommend measuring each dimension and ensuring that your stairs meet today’s code. Below are the exact measurements required to meet today’s code.
Stairway width: Stand on a step and measure the distance between the left and right walls. It should be at least 36 inches wide.
Stair riser height: The riser height should be no more than 7 and ¾ inches tall. The riser is the distance between the surface of one stair to the surface of the next stair up. The greatest riser height cannot exceed the smallest by more than ⅜ of an inch (ideally, all risers will be the same height).
Tread depth: Tread depth is the distance between the front and back of each stair tread. The minimum tread depth is 10 inches, and the greatest tread depth cannot exceed the smallest by ⅜ of an inch.
Headroom: The minimum headroom throughout the entire staircase cannot be below 6 feet 8 inches.
Handrails: You must have at least one handrail installed in every staircase, but I’d recommend installing one on both sides for extra safety. Handrails should not stick out more than 4.5 inches from the wall. They should be no less than 34 inches and no more than 38 inches from the landing of each stair.
Understanding and keeping up with the current building code is complicated. If you have any doubts, I strongly recommend consulting with a licensed contractor. You can find local contractors in your area and get free, no-obligation quotes at HomeAdvisor.com.
If you’re curious to learn more about the residential stairway code, check out this document that has all the code requirements mapped out in great detail.
How Do You Make Your Stairs Less Slippery?
Have you tried any of these methods to make your stairs less slippery and your home safer? If yes, what have you tried, and would you recommend it to others? Leave us a comment below and help fellow homeowners keep their family and pets safe.