How to Remove Carpet From Stairs {And Tools Needed}

February 09, 2010

How to remove carpet from wood stairs to prep for stain and paint.

If you've ever wanted to remove the old carpet off your stairs, this DIY tutorial is for you! 

It's not hard to take off the carpet, but it is time consuming. There are a few tools you'll need during the process. 

Years ago I took the carpet off our stairs in an effort to create my dream staircase.

Here are my step by step instructions and the tools I used to do it!

Check underneath first!

If you are planning to refinish the existing steps, the most important step is this first one. That’s checking to see what your stairs look like underneath. 

I knew ours had a curved edge to the front, but just to be safe, I pulled up an area on a riser first and pulled just a bit to peek.

The riser is the vertical front of the step, and stair treads are what you step on.

When I knew all was good, I used the large wrench to continue the process:

remove carpet with pliers

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You'll just need to grab the carpet in a corner with the wrench or pliers, and pull. (I hear these locking pliers work really well!)

You will think it will be insanely hard to pull the carpet, but it’s so easy, it’s just silly. Pulling up the carpet is hands down the easiest part of this whole process!

If you are just checking the step to see the condition, don’t be afraid to pull a bit of carpet up – you can either just lay it back down and tuck it in when you are done, or staple/hammer it back down. 

You won’t need to do much to secure that little bit of carpet if you decide not to move forward with the project.

I used a big wrench with long handles because it was easy to really get a grip on the carpet. 

Use a utility knife to cut the carpet up for easy removal. 

Remove the padding and tack strips

When you finish the carpet removal, you’ll be left with this:

how to remove carpet from stairs

Grab some work gloves, a face mask (it's GROSS) and safety goggles for the remaining steps. 

The carpet padding will be held on by staples but is easily pulled off: remove carpet and padding from stairs

It is about now that you will want to cover your entire house with hard flooring when you see the dust that flies out of the carpet and padding. 


To get the tack strips off the treads, you’ll need a large pry bar and a hammer. 

Stick the bar under the strip, and hammer it in until you get some leverage:

remove tack strips from stairs

Then rock the bar up and down and pry that baby off. BE CAREFUL. 

Some of these came right off, some came off in pieces. There are meeeellions of little tacks coming UP through the strip, and they are lethal little devils.

If you are finishing existing wood steps, be gentle during this process! 

Removing the (millions of) staples 

I cannot stress enough that this is not a project you want to attempt with small children around -- too many staples, tools and pointy things popping up everywhere.  

There will be so. many. staples. 

At first I was just grabbing them with the wrench and pulling:

how to remove tack strip nails from floor

But I soon found just using a flathead screwdriver and the hammer worked much better:

flat head to remove staples from floor

Tap the screwdriver under the staple then pop it off. 

You need to watch digging into the wood during this process but I didn’t have that happen much. And when it did, I didn’t mind. I don’t mind if the steps are a bit rugged. :)

Because the staple doesn’t always come all the way out, you will still need to grab them with the wrench or pliers:

removing staples from stairs

They really do come out easily. 

These staples do not cooperate as well:

tips for removing staples from floor

These little buggers were only in the risers and were a HUGE pain in the butt to remove. 

You can use either process with these to get them up – if you grab them with the wrench and pull they pop right out. If you can’t get a good hold on them, use the screwdriver and hammer to pop them out a bit.

Good thing is most of these little guys come out with the carpet as you pull it off. For some reason I had many of these to deal with on a few of the risers.

There are certain areas that are just infested with staples. 

Like “I am going to cry and never stop if I see one more staple” many. There were a ton at the corners of our lower steps:

removing carpet from corner of stairs

See? Cry.

Fill holes and sand the stairs

When you are done, the stairs will probably look like this:

how to take off old carpet on stairs

I still had some straggly carpet pieces to get off at this point. But I had to have a break from the staples. ;)

With just a quick sanding with my little detail electric sander, it helped clean them up a ton:

replacing wood with carpet on stairs 

Fill any large holes or divots with stainable wood filler using a putty knife. Give everything a good sanding one more time before finishing them up.

Stain and paint the prepped stairs

The last step is to determine the stain you'd like to use, and if you're adding a carpet runner back on, figuring the amount you'll need.

I primed some of the risers just to get and idea of how they would look. 

I also played around with some stains and I am THRILLED with the reddish tone on the upper step:

white risers stained treads on stairs

This is where it stalled for a bit. The sander my FIL has does wonders – as you can see on the bottom steps. It is taking the overspray paint right off. But the sander broke yesterday, so we will have to wait.

I am beyond thrilled with the landing though – it was the one area that had me stumped because it was just plywood. My father-in-law recommended installing pine boards so everything would stain the same. 

I checked the boards out at Lowe’s and they were all at least a half inch thick…which would create a major trip hazard at the top of the steps going to the landing.

So I walked around for a while trying to figure out what I was going to do. And then it hit me – I saw the beadboard. 

I was thinking of just laying the pieces out across the landing, but my FIL is brilliant and he staggered them like hardwood flooring:

beadboard wood floor

The edge where the landing and the stairs meet will be sanded down so there is an easy transition. The flooring is hammered down with finishing nails.

I hope it stains up well, because we are thrilled with how it looks so far! 

Each section of the stairs (upper and lower half) took about two hours, start to finish, to complete. That included pulling the carpet, tack strips and staples, as well as a bit of sanding and then clean up.

So, have I convinced you to peek under your carpet yet? ;)

The next step is finishing the stairs -- see this post for how to stain and paint your wood steps

And the final reveal of the stained and painted wood stairs here!

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  1. There is hardwood under my carpet and I'm so anxious to rip out all of the carpeting. But that project won't be for a while.. :( We did redo one of the bedrooms and OMG it is beautiful. :)

    I can't wait to see how your stairs turn out!

  2. I heart Ke$ha too! She will get your bootie moving!

  3. I am so stinkin' jealous right now that you got to touch the HCJr (or just Harry, as I like to call him.) LOVE him!! Almost as much as NKOTB. ;) The stairs are lookin' great! Good job!

  4. Oh, you are brave putting Harry in the first section, I almost didn't see the rest of the post, LOL.... BUT, I'm glad that I did - very, verrrrry instructional. Also, intimidating, inspirational, and scary. hehe, I'm not brave enough yet, but I'm bookmarking for the day that i AM! Thank youuuu!

  5. your stairs are going to look so pretty! I love the way the landing looks now!

  6. So I'm really excited about your stairs, but I can't get past the picture of you hugging Harry! You know how you feel about NKOTB? Well Harry's about the closest I have to that. I'm not sure I could have stood there so composed for a picture...but I would like to have tried!

    And I am looking forward to seeing the finished result of the stairs!

  7. They're going to look great - can't wait to see them finished! I'm so jealous of wood stairs. I don't think they'd work for us only because our pupdog wouldn't be able to climb them without carpet for traction. Poor think can't even sit our h/w floors without slipping. Her slipping and sliding keeps us entertained :).

    Will be checking back often to see your progress!

  8. i'm loving it! I so want to do this to my stairs. I know there is pine under there and the builders did a TERRIBLE job putting the carpet on the stairs, never mind the carpet itself is wearing out after only 3 years.

  9. We are planning on pulling ours up in the next couple weeks too! We just discovered that our entire upper floor is finished hardwood hidden beneath the carpet. We've got several projects going on now but ripping up carpet is next on the list!

  10. Hubby came home from work one day when we were living in Columbia, Maryland a few years back and I had all the living room carpet torn out. THAT'S when he knew I was serious about remodeling. LOL.. and you are so right... TONS of staples.

    The Blue Ridge Gal

  11. ohh thats gonna look good! By the way, you look great in the pic with harry! Cant wait to see the stairs all finished!

  12. Looks great but I couldn't get past staring at the HC pic. He is a DOLL!!!! Lucky You!

  13. This project is such a great idea & is looking great already!

  14. You my heck ... I'm so going to peek!!

  15. First of all I'd like to say that I love your blog. Secondly, I'm so jealous that you actually got to meet Harry! I've loved him, his music & his acting for so long. Thirdly, your stairs are looking great. Those staples are evil I know. We've pulled up all the carpet in this house, including the stairs. Can't wait to see how they look when you're finished!

  16. It's looking great and it'll be so much cleaner than a carpet!

    I know you said there were a lot of staples but I wasn't prepared for the photo of the corner with so many! Eeek that would take forever, thanks for the warning if I ever decide to try this!

  17. Harry is HAWT!!!! I'm cracking up because you're all leaned into him and AnNicole's body language looks like she was scared to death of him. Too funny!!

    ...and I am checking under my carpet on the stairs right now....


  18. That looks great! We had planned to rip up the living room carpet, there is hard wood under it, but now have to wait. As we started looking in the other corners, we discovered hideous brown linoleum on half of the floor! We now have to rip up, remove flooring, and redo it all! So, it has to wait a bit!

  19. Can't wait for the final results! You are so lucky to have met Harry Connick Jr. *sigh*

  20. The stairs are lookin' great! We're going to start building soon and I've been trying to convince the hubby to do hardwood stairs. It's not going well - he's concerned they'll be too slippery for our baby and me, the giant klutz that I am. I guess I'll just have to drool over yours instead!

  21. We did just that in our last house...the carpet was beyond disgusting. Since our stair treads were in bad shape we bought treads at Lowes and stained them and then we tiled the risers with white tiles. We loved it so much that when we built this house we did the same thing. Except that my FIL helped us make our treads (starting from rough oak). They're stained a dark brown/mahogany color. I love the contrast with the white treads.

  22. Lol. Your post brought back memories of pulling up carpet. Last summer I pulled some off the stairs and entire living room. Talk about hand cramps from pulling up staples.

  23. That looks great and you are doing a good job. I believe we have the same thing under our carpet on the stairs and I know the landing is plywood. That is real beadboard on your landing. Never thought about that on the floor. What a good idean. Hmmmmm. May have to do mine sometime since I can't stand the carpet since getting hardwood floors on the first level.

    Your stairs (and you guys and Harry) looks INCREDIBLE!!!!
    Who would've thought of using beadboard planks!? Genius!


  25. Okay, even though it's just primer I am loving the white on the risers! Love it! I also like the dark stain for the treads. I think this is going to look gorgeous when it's done. We took our carpet off the stairs years ago, but just cleaned up the pine and sealed it. I would really like to paint them.

  26. What I don't "GET" is why people carpet gorgeous wood stairs in the first place. We had mahogany stairs in our house in California and would never have thought of covering up such wood with carpet that squishes down and gets dirty, sweet chick! Good job.

  27. Yes, pulling the carpet is the easy part. I tackled this job myself a couple of yrs ago. Have fun.

  28. We have matching projects! I pulled up the carpet last week. But I'm STILL pulling up staples. Our carpet was cheap and way too many staples. Everywhere!

    I may just take that photo of you and Harry and photoshop me into him.

  29. Ditto on the reddish tone on the upper riser!

  30. I can't wait to see them finished and what a good idea to use beadboard on the floor. So clever!

  31. Our home was built in 1890 so we've got all hardwood. Some previous owner decided to put WHITE carpet over the floors in the dining room! But first they covered the entire room in plywood and then laid the carpet...crazy right? So, I'm a bit nervous about the undertaking of that project and what the floor will look like once the plywood is pulled up. You've inspired me none the less! Can't wait to see how your steps turn out.

  32. I am loving your blog! Can't wait to see the finished stairs! I had to comment, as a caution to you, the pine boards you put at the top of the very careful with them. We have 3/4" thick pine flooring throughout our house. It was gorgeous when we first installed it, but because it is soft wood, will take on a "rustic, aged look" really fast. Great if you are going for that look, but I really wasn't and now our floors look beat up. I don't know if there is a product you could put on the wood to "harden" it, but you might do some research. Love your blog, you have given me so much inspiration!

  33. Sarah,
    Those stairs are going to look GREAT! I know what a pain those staples can be. It's like they multiply right there in front on your eyes! And those little boogers can leave you with sore arms and hands. At least they did for me. :)
    Can't wait to see the stairs when they are all their glory!

  34. You always have such good idea and not afraid to try any new project, really inspired me, AMAZING!!

  35. We pulled our carpet up and painted the entire thing white because of the ucky wood beneath and the fact that the landing was plywood. Your beadboard idea is brilliant. I am ready to take a sander to the steps and stain them. How long will it take to sand off the 5 coats of porch paint and primer I applied? My hubs will think I've lost it, but then he's used to that. Hee hee.

  36. Oh, girl. I'd rather have the worst-looking hardwood stairs than any carpeted stairs. There's nothing like being able to use a broom and dustpan to get the stairs clean. Really clean, that is. I had carpeted stairs when my boys were babies, but that's it. I'll never go back.

    Looking forward to seeing what you do with yours!

  37. Sorry but I wouldn't use Pine. High heels will dent it. Toys will scratch it. If you LOOK at it too hard, you will scuff it.

    In a high traffic area (like a stairway) hard wood is a must! Plus at least it's a small area, it shouldn't cost too much. You'll be happy you did. Saving a few dollars now won't help when it needs to be refinished over and over and'll end up spending more in the long run if you use pine.

    I speak from experience!

  38. I have ripped out carpet in two houses I have lived in. The first house was in the living room and dining room. That was fun crawling around the floor popping out the millions of staples. Yeah. Not. ;) I used a flat head screwdriver, hammer and pliers. The house I'm living in now, I have already ripped out the carpet on the stairs and removed the millions of staples. I haven't done anything else yet. It's a really old house so my stairs don't quite look like yours. They were actually finished before, just need to be cleaned up and maybe re-stained. The risers need painting. But anyway, I understand exactly what you've been through. :) And yeah, I was thoroughly DISGUSTED at what was under the carpet. So glad I decided to rip it out.

  39. Ok, so I love your blog and while I already have hardwood in my entire house and this post doesn't really offer me great advice like most of your posts, I just couldn't help but to comment. The "wrench" in this post and the perfectionist in me just aren't getting along today because, in fact, the "wrench" is not really a wrench at all in my world but rather a pair of adjustable pliers. I just couldn't bear the thought of some dear wife asking her husband so sweetly for a wrench from his toolbox to pull up her carpet and he come back with a wrench and the sweet couple gets in a terrible fight over the fact he brought her exactly what she asked for but not what is pictured in her pretty little head. Oh the travesty!!!! Haha! Also, the idea of someone trying to pull up carpet with an actual wrench is just too much for me to handle on a Wednesday.

  40. Thanks for your thoughts Raemi -- I did consider all those things. We never wear shoes in our house, so heels are not an issue. I realize pine is a soft wood, but the whole stairway is pine so I wouldn't have even started this project of I was worried about the wear and tear. It's gonna happen! :) I can't use a different hardwood because I want the stain to match as much as possible -- hoping these two pines will work well together!
    Plus the darker stain will help to hide a bit of the imperfections, but I'm not worried about it -- nothing in this house is perfect. :)

  41. Love it!! You give me hope of what I might find under our carpet on our stairway when we pull it up. The beadboard looks so good like planked wood flooring! Can't wait to see it all finished!!

    Hugs and love,

  42. I simply love hard wood floors. Your finished project will be fabulous darling! The reddish color will pick up that accent on the wall of your landing.

    You guys are too cute with Harry:)

  43. Wow, what a big project! It's going to look fantastic when done.

  44. First of all, can I just you are a lucky, lucky girl! I've been in love with Harry since I was 14!(shh- Don't tell my hubby! Actually, go ahead- not like he doesn't already know!)

    Your stairs are looking so fabulous! Thanks for being the guinea pig. I have wood floors throughout my house, everywhere except the stairs. The carpet on the stairs is starting to look worn out, so I'm really considering this option.

  45. They will be gorgous! I am so jealous! We have aweful stairs and I would even be to scared to look under them! Good luck! I can wait for pictures.

  46. Love it when the solution arrives in the brain! These are going to look great.

  47. Just rereading...about the pine...a friend of mine has pine floors in her entry, living room and hall. They were recycled from an older building and are gorgeous. Yes, they are dinged up, but look the better for it.

  48. Looking good! Love the surprise element of this project! We love our hardwood living room floors!

  49. Nice! I'd love to tear up our carpet, too bad there is only cement under there! Can't wait to see the big reveal.

    And yes, music makes everything more fun! : )

  50. your stairs project has given me the courage to pull off the carpet under my dining table. yuck. i can't believe someone actually put wall-to-wall carpet in the room where someone would eat! i swear we could boil the carpet and feed our family in a famine. gross.
    so even if it's just a subfloor, anything is better than our gross carpet.

  51. this is so awesome!! Would you please tell me the paint color that is on your walls? The two colors look amazing and we're looking to re-paint our house!! Please share!!

  52. I only scrolled down far enough to tell you I'd much RATHER STARE LONGER AT HARRY THE HUNK!!!! Is that you with him?????? Did you go to blissdom too? HUMPHHHHHHHHH

  53. Beautiful! I cannot wait to see the finished project and I can only imagine how excited you are to finish it!!!

    The landing looks amazing!!

  54. Wow, the stairs are gonna be gorgeous.

    I don't have that silly patience thing either. It's not like anyone says it's a virtue. ;)

  55. Me and my husband uncovered a chair so I can recover it. The staples were flush and hard to get under so my husband took one of our screwdrivers and filed it down to make the edge thinner. He used a flat head screw driver that narrowed towards the tip so that the bigger part of the head could help make the staple come up all at once. It did a great job removing the staples. Worth making one if you have to remove lots of staples.

  56. First of all.. Love me some Harry. I have been obsessed since I was a kid & saw him in "The Memphis Belle." He's gorgeous & can sing. Yum!
    Second of all, was the pine on your stairs when you removed the carpet? We're getting hardwood put in the downstairs this Spring & would love to just rip up the carpet on the stairs. I'm afraid of what I will find though.

  57. I have been wanting to do that forever and now I will be doing it for sure!!! As long as I can get my husband on board...

    I just found your blog, and I think he is going to block it soon from our computer!!!

  58. I am still trying to talk hubby into doing this.. a friend of mine told me that when she did it she made sure to stain every other stair one day and then the opposite the next so they could actually go up the stairs at night.. I thought it was good advice..

  59. Hun, you could live in a cardboard box, a wet one at that...and wear nothing but a burlap sack and have dry straw for hair and I'd STILL be jealous of you for getting so close to Harry...Connick...Jr... *jaw drop*

    I wonder what kind of cologne he wears?

  60. Wowzers. This is my first visit to your blog, and it's a new fave! definitely added to my frequently visited. You have such great ideas! I have recently decided to attack our apartment with love and decor...but I didn't know where to start. Thank goodness for all these blogs I've been finding. Your is by far my favorite, and I will be trying out many of your tips in the very near future. :o) I'm so excited!

  61. Girl, YOU IS CRAZY!! I can't believe the things you tackle. The stairs look amazing and I can't wait to see the final product. I have carpeted stairs too--which I do not heart-- but never in a million years would I think this was a diy project!!!!YOU IS CRAZY!!!

  62. Looks great. Hey, do you wanna come help me re-do mine? LOL.

    Just saying hi :))

  63. Harry is even dreamier than he was in the 80's (: But your project is even dreamier than he is. I CAN'T wait to see your next installment. We have an offer in on a house with gnarly carpet on stairs - I hope we get it, but we're waiting on the second mortgage bank to answer which may never happen in our lifetime (: Great project. Thanks!

  64. When we flip houses, one of the first things we do is start pulling up carpet. I really kind of love it! Removing all the staples is one of my favorite jobs.

    Speaking of, did you see that we bought a new house the other day? A farm! I'm so excited!! There are a few pictures on my blog. Fortunately, the main living areas are all hard wood so no carpet stripping... YAY!!

    Maybe I could pay you to come decorate it for me... Hmmm...

  65. I have so enjoyed all of your projects. I am a new blogger and enjoy seeing what you come up with next. I love the way you have painted your stairwell. Love the dark color next to the trim on the floor. The new landing looks great. Look forward to seeing the finished project.

  66. I know what lies beneath...the carpet, that is.

    And it is concrete. Lots of it (slab foundations are great for noise minimizing when you've got lots of little feet. Not so good when you don't really want carpet anymore :-( ).

    It has been snowing here since mid-morning, so I kwym about not being able to get things done the way that you want.

    I can hardly wait to see the rest of the project, as it goes! That reddish tone on the upper stair does look great, and I am SO looking forward to seeing the rest of the stairs done the same, as well as the landing!

  67. It's going to be beautiful! Yes, it's very hard work. About two years ago my hubby and I ripped up the carpet in our 2000sf house to get ready for our hardwood floors to be installed. It was a nightmare of staples. And dirt. And cat hair. yuk. Love my wood floors!

  68. Stairs? Who cares about friggin' stairs?!? I can't believe you got a pic with Harry! Aaaaaagh!!!! OMG!!!! Sorry...I was overcome for a minute there, uh,yeah...the stairs look very nice. Good job.

  69. My friend has a multi million dollar house and her steps are finished similar. Hers are the second color from the bottom and the backs are white. they are BEAUTIFUL. They (of course) had a super hard sealer put on the walnut. She says they are easy to clean. Good job!!!

  70. Love your blog! I recently tore the carpeting off my stairs to my basement, it wasn't nearly as nice as yours tho! Take a peek:


  71. I am SO glad I saw this! I actually pulled off a corner on on e of the stairs a while back, but chickened out and stuck it back on there.

    This project is definitely on the agenda though, so I CANNOT wait to see what you do.

    Although, we need to move the newel posts up on to the second stair to gain some room in our cramped entry and if we do that I want to widen the bottom step to make them look a little more "grand"... plans plans. The point is thanks for inspiring us all!

  72. Yes, you did convince me to remove the carpet from my son's bedroom. It took four hours and cost me less than $5.00 and that was for the carpet knife. I have to say the absolute worst part of the project is removing the tack strips. Mine came off mostly in pieces. You mentioned the stuff that flies out of the carpet and padding? I actually gagged and had to leave the room for a minute!

  73. I Have been putting this exact project off for months.. but you gave me a bit of a push... my floor under the carpet is exact as yours... so after my sister go's home in April.. I'm doing it.. thank you.. such a great job you did!

  74. just showed your stair transformation to my hub. he's on board to take on our stairs this summer. thank you, thank you for your inspiration.

  75. I just came across this post. This morning I decided to rip up my carpet and wasn't sure how to handle the overspray I found underneath. You're stairs are an inspiration. To decide to paint or stain??? Thanks for sharing yours.

  76. I have done this same reno twice now, in 2 different townhouses. It turned out great both times. I am now looking at a third time in a third townhouse (sucker for punishment me...). The only thing that has kept me from starting is the mess from sanding. All that dust everywhere. I use palm sanders; is there a better way that won't make so much dust?

  77. About how old was the carpet and padding that was removed?

  78. im house sitting for my parents and they have THE ugliest red shag carpet on their stairs and hallway.. so i just googled how to rip up carpet and clicked on your page... and was so happy to read it because its in my language! :) totally easy to understand and i am about to start! hope i can pull it off as well as you did because i only have a couple days before they get home! :) woohoo!!!

  79. I am tackling this project RIGHT NOW because of YOU. Your pictures of before and after are so amazing. I was immediately inspired to do this to our stairs. We have awful dirty carpet that I couldn't wait to tear up but I didnt know what I was going to do after that! This is the GREATEST idea! Now I am checking out your steps on how to stain and paint! thank you thank you thank you!!!

  80. I just saw your post and I am bummed because last week I just got this idea to pull the edge of the carpet up and look at my stairs. The guys who installed the stairs(pre us)did not build them all the way to the edge so there is a gap. What to do? Any ideas? I would die to have wooden stairs without the ugly carpet!!!!!

  81. Love your blog! Thanks so much for sharing.
    Just bought a home last year and there is beautiful hardwood through out the home, except the stairs. It has this great white carpet and with one 9yr old, two dogs and a cat, well you can imagine the ugliness. (and why do pets feel the urge to always eliminate on carpet?)So, I took a piece of carpet up, and there are glue spots. Any idea how to get rid of the glue? Keep posting. You might have to buy a new/old house to continue to keep us entertained with your creativeness. You rock! Thanks, Aileen

  82. Thanks for this article! I've been waiting for my hubby to rip up the carpet on our stairs but he hasn't gotten around to it yet. But, after reading this, I figured I could do it myself. And I DID! Yay - Girl Power! He's going to be so surprised when he gets home from work today! Now, all he has to do is sand and stain! LOL


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