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Are Carpeted Stairs Safer?

If you happen to live in a multi level home (as I do) and you plan to age in place in that home, then it’s inevitable that you will have to deal with how to manage the stairs as you grow older.  Of course, you can install a stair lift or a residential elevator to fix the problem but these can be expensive.

But honestly, most of us will not be doing either of those expensive options so as we age in our multi level homes we will have to work to make the staircases in our homes as safe as possible.

So, you may be be wondering if carpeted stairs are safer – especially for seniors? – Yes, generally speaking carpeted stairs can be safer for older adults than solid wood or stone or any other slippery type of material.  But this does depend on the type of carpeting that is on the staircase and it also depends on the physical condition of the senior person in question. 

Generally speaking, fully carpeted stairs are better because the padding installed under the carpeting can help to cushion a fall, if it happens.  But, this depends on the type of carpeting.  If it’s a plush type of carpeting then it could help to cause someone to trip.  If it’s low pile type of carpeting, like Berber, then it may be safer.  Also, if the carpeting is old and worn and/or if it has bunched up then all of these could cause someone to trip as well.

You will read further down in this article the pros and cons to carpeting on stairs and although the list of “cons” that I have written down is longer than the “pros” I do want you to consider the person(s) who will be using those stairs.  Their physical and/or cognitive condition does play a part in the decision as to whether carpeting on the staircase is safer or not for your home.

Should Stairs Be Carpeted?

If you have a staircase in your home with wooden steps (or some other material) and you’re considering carpeting those steps – know that there are pros and cons to this.

Yes, generally speaking carpeting on stairs is safer for seniors but again, if the wrong type of carpeting is used or if the carpeting is old and worn then those factors can actually make the steps more dangerous than if there was no carpeting used at all.

The Pros To Carpeted Stairs Include…

  • As I said earlier – IF you do happen to fall while going up or down the stairs, falling onto carpet can help to reduce an injury especially cuts and scrapes on the skin.  In other words, falling onto a carpeted surface may help to cushion the blow.
  • Carpeted stairs can make going up and down the steps less noisy – if that’s an issue for you.
  • Aesthetically speaking, some people simply prefer the look of carpeted stairs.

The Cons To Carpeted Stairs Include…

  • Carpeting can make the steps more slippery for some individuals and especially if the carpeting is old and worn and/or if it’s a material that can be slippery.
  • Carpeted stairs are more difficult and time consuming to clean – so as you age in place it may become more and more difficult to keep that staircase clean.
  • Runner types of carpeting on stairs can cause problems for many older adults simply because the edge of the runner may become loose and for some elderly persons, if their footing is not flat on the floor, this can cause an imbalance and help to cause the person to fall.  So, stepping with a foot half on the carpeted runner and half on the bare step – could cause them to lose their balance.
  • Solid color carpeting can make it difficult for an older adult to visually distinguish between the step and the edge of the step.
  • Patterened carpeting can also make it very difficult to distinguish between the edge of the step and the platform of the step.
  • If the treads of the steps (the depth of the steps) are short then adding carpeting will only make them shorter and less safe.
  • If the carpeting comes loose and begins to bunch up it could contribute to someone tripping and falling.

Whether or not your staircase should be carpeted is an individual choice for everyone.  The one recommendation that I can make is that if you do decide to use carpeting, to make sure to carpet the entire step (vs using runners) and to make sure to keep the carpet in good condition.

Obviously, after several years the carpet will start wearing out – when that happens – get some new carpeting installed.  The price for this is much less than the price of any injury you may sustain from falling while using your staircase.

What Is The Safest Covering For Stairs?

The “safest” covering for stairs really depends on the people who are using those stairs.  Here are some scenarios and examples of what I mean.

  • If the older adult living in the home uses a cane – it may be easier for them to maneuver on those steps with that cane if they are wooden instead of carpeted.  This will depend on how the individual is able to use their cane.
  • If the senior person has problems raising their foot then wooden steps may be easier simply because it decreases how high they have to raise their foot (I know it’s a small amount but when you have problems raising your foot, every quarter inch counts).
  • If the steps are slippery for the older adult (if they are wood or tile or vinyl) then some types of carpeting or stair treads might work to make them less slippery.

At the end of the day – the best solution for your staircase will depend on the residents in that home who will be using those stairs.

Just an FYI here – if you are interested – cork flooring is a very popular type of flooring for steps because it has a non-slip surface (whereas traditional hardwood, laminate and bamboo tend to have a more slippery surface).

However, if you are wanting to avoid the cost of reconstructing your staircase with a new type of wood – I can recommend other options for you.  Read our article on Anti Slip Floor Products – one of those options may be optimal for your particular situation.

What Kind Of Carpet Is Good For Stairs?

If you have decided that you want to go (or stay) with carpeted stairs – I would make the very same recommendation that I do for carpeting for seniors – and that is a short cut pile carpet that is no thicker than 1/4 inch pile height.

A loop pile carpet is very good because it’s durable (this is what is most often used in commercial places).  You’ll often find this in Berber carpeting.

What is a loop pile carpet? This is a very durable type of carpeting made with loops that are all the same height. This ends up creating a smooth and flat type of flooring material.

The other benefits of low pile carpets are:

  • They tend to trap fewer allergens so they tend to be a better choice for anyone who suffers from allergies.
  • They also trap less dirt and stains so they are easier to keep clean.
  • These types of carpets are easier to maintain.
  • They generally are not as expensive as high pile carpeting.
  • Low pile carpeting tend to be very durable and therefore last longer than other types of carpeting.

Plush carpets are often not recommended for stairs because they don’t generally hold up well to the traffic and if the homeowner uses some type of mobility device such as a cane, it’s often too plush and not a secure surface to hold up to those types of items.

How Can I Make My Stairs Safer?

There are basically 4 main things that you can do to make stairs easier for the elderly.

  • Anti-slip products for steps – You may think that making steps less slippery would entail a lot of money and/or a lot of time. The truth is, it’s neither. There are many different solutions to this problem. They include stair treads which these days come in the form of tape, carpet and rubber. You can also use non-skid floor coating paint.There are many different varieties and brands of each of these so take a moment a look through the ones that I recommend.
  • Handrails – It seems logical that stairs would have handrails but this is not necessarily always the case. So, if your stairway happens to have no handrails, please install them for the safety of your senior loved one. Also, handrails on both sides of the stairs would be optimal if you can possibly do it.
  • Lighting – If your parent is aging in place, it’s most likely that they are living in an older home. It’s very common for stairways in these homes to have little to no lighting. There are many different types of lighting you could add to your staircase, it just depends on how much you can spend.
  • Adaptive Equipment – Don’t be afraid to introduce adaptive equipment to make stairs safer and easier for older adults.
    • Stair Lifts (aka chair lifts) can be expensive but oftentimes are the best solution for getting up and down the stairs.
    • Half steps or blocks – these are best used with someone who does not have any problems with dementia or Alzheimer’s or any other cognitive decline.
    • Stair walkers and bars – these are newer products that have come onto the market recently and are becoming very popular.

There’s more information and details on how to make stairs safer in our article on Modifying Stairs For The Elderly.  You’ll also see a video on a different type of stair walker / bar that shows you how this type of product can be used.

The variety of types of products that are currently available to make stairs safer for seniors is truly wonderful and I do anticipate that they will keep on growing.

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