Unfortunately not limited to the likes of haunted houses, squeaky stairs are an annoyance to anyone living in a house with more than one storey, no matter where in the world they are. Squeaky stairs can disrupt the peace of the household, wake sleeping babies, and give you away when you’re trying to sneak out, in, or past without being noticed. Worse, squeaky stairs can age a modern home, potentially even lending to its devaluation.
Plus, though it’s not common, sometimes squeaky stairs signal a bigger problem, like serious structural issues.
Hiring a handyman or a company to fix your squeaky stairs can be costly, and hey–it’s an easy job, so why not do it yourself? With minimal tools and experience, pretty much anyone can fix their own squeaky stairs.
In this article, we’ll cover how to silence your stairs with a few different approaches, giving you all the information you need to fix your squeaky stair problem simply and easily.
What causes stairs to squeak
Stairs are, by their very nature, prone to squeaking. Constant foot traffic causes the many different pieces of wood underneath to loosen, which creates the squeak. Luckily, it’s easily fixable with a few tools and simple steps.
Most people are unaware that staircases are actually quite complex contraptions. Stairs are made up of dozens of separate wood pieces slotting together. This means there are dozens of opportunities for different parts to loosen–whether by being walked on or as a result of changes in temperature that come with the seasons that cause the wood to expand and contract–causing that irritating squeak. This happens in both homes old and new, so learning how to fix your stairs is definitely an important life skill.
You’ll need to cordon off your stairs, or at least let your family members know that the stairs will be out of commission for a few hours.
Note: A lot of stair tutorials out there go into the anatomy of a staircase, giving you the definitions for the various parts. This is really unnecessary information. You can easily do the job without knowing what a stringer or riser is, so this tutorial will skip this part.
A quick analysis of your problem stairs
What is important to know, though, is how your stairs were built. This will help you decide how to approach the job of silencing them.
Is there carpet atop your stairs? If so, that adds another element to the job, as you may have to take up the carpet. That said, there is a way to repair your squeaky stairs without removing the carpet. I’ll get into that later on in this article.
💡Tip: Plan to set about the task of silencing your squeaky stairs in conjunction with when you replace your carpet, to avoid the extra hassle of carpet removal just for this job.
Have you done the job before? If so, this, too, adds another element to your task, as you’ll need to remove the supports and any glue that you used previously. This extra task will also require extra tools (noted below).
Do your stairs sit atop a ceiling on the underside? Are they finished on the underside with drywall or plaster? If so, you’ll need to do the repair job from above, naturally.
Next, you’ll need to determine where the squeak is coming from.
Step 1 – Identify where your squeak is
Your very first task is to count your stairs. Now, using your notebook, number down the page for as many stairs as you have.
Next, mark Left, Center, and Right at the top of the page.
|Your page will look something like this. You may need to use a few pages if you have a lot of stairs.|
Walk on your stairs, bouncing on the left, middle and right sides and marking a checkmark where there are squeaks.
|This is how you test your stairs for squeaks — by bouncing up and down on each stair on the left, center, and right sides. Keep your notepad in hand to mark a checkmark wherever you hear a squeak.|
💡Tip: Start at the top of your stairs, rather than at the bottom. The job will be easier and feel more natural.
Next, count the checkmarks. The number of checkmarks denotes how many supports you’ll need.
Now, you’re going to use this number to work out how many pieces of timber you’ll need.
If you’re using 4 X 2 pieces of timber, two triangles are 10cm. So, if you need 20 triangles (supports), you need a piece of timber that’s 1 meter in length. If you need 40 triangles, you need a piece of timber that’s 2 meters long — so on and so forth.
Mark down the number of wood lengths you’ll need on your materials list.
You’ll also want to make sure you have all the tools on your materials list, and if you’re missing anything, make a note to pick them up when you grab your timber.
💡Tip: Even if you already have a saw, consider buying a new one. A razor-sharp saw will make the job go much faster. A blunt saw will double your cutting time.
Step 2 – Source your material
Here is the list of materials you’ll need:
Some items below may be omitted, depending on the job. See materials photos below for your exact set of tools.
- Notebook – We like the Unruled Composition Notebook
- Wood: 4 X 2*
- Pilot drill bit 3 mm – We like the MOHOO Countersink drill bits
- Sharp chisel – We like the WORKPRO 3-piece Construction Set
- Hammer – We like the Fiberglass General Purpose Hammer
- Square – We like the Swanson 7-Inch Square
- Marker – We like the AmazonBasics Permanent Markers in Black
- Drill – We like the Black & Decker 20-Volt Cordless Drill
- Screws (50 mm)** – We like the iExcell Stainless Socket Screws
- Saw*** – We like the WilFiks 16” Pro Hand Saw
- Wood glue – We like the Titebond Ultimate Wood Glue
For carpeted stairs, get yourself a stair repair kit. We like the Squeak No More kit.
See the final section of this article for instructions on how to repair your squeaky stairs without removing the carpeting.
* The number of pieces will be determined by how many supports you need, which you’ll find out in step 1
**length can vary due to the design of stairs and thickness of wood — if you’re in doubt, take a photo of your stairs and consult your local DIY store shop assistant
***To expedite the job, and if you can get your hands on and feel comfortable using one, use a chop saw or a rip saw
Materials for repairing your stairs from underneath, if job has been done previously
|These are the materials you’ll need to repair your stairs from underneath, if you have done the job previously. The hammer will assist you to remove the previous supports, and you’ll use the chisel to scrape off old glue, leaving you with a smooth, clean surface on which to work.|
Materials for repairing your stairs from underneath, if job has never been done previously
|Here are the materials you’ll need to repair your stairs from underneath, if you’ve never done the job before (and therefore there is nothing to remove or scrape off). It’s just the same as what you need for under the stairs, minus the hammer and chisel.|
Materials for repairing your stairs from above
|Here are the materials you’ll need if you cannot access your stairs underneath, and are therefore repairing them from above. It’s the same as what you need for under the stairs, minus the square and marker.|
Head to your local DIY store with your materials list. When purchasing your timber, you’ll want a medium to soft wood.
You’ll also want to make sure that your timber isn’t warped. It’s much easier to cut and attach if it’s straight. To make sure it’s not warped, look down the piece of timber lengthwise, like you see pictured here. This is the best angle at which to catch a curve.
|Make sure your wood isn’t warped by looking down the length of it, from the top. This is the best angle at which to catch any kind of deviation.|
Speak to the shop assistant to ensure you get the right kind of wood for the job.
Step 3 – Prep your material
There are several steps to do before you begin the actual repair job. Taking your time with these steps to ensure they’re done correctly will make the next step go much smoother.
Mark your wood
Section your timber off in triangles using a square and your marker. It will look something like this.
|Using your square, section your timber off in triangles, so that you create a zigzag pattern that looks like this. Each triangle will be one support.|
|Once you’ve finished sectioning off your timber into triangles/ supports, it will look something like this.|
Cut your supports
Next, cut down your marks, using a chop saw or hand saw. Each triangle you cut will be used as a support piece.
Cut your diagonals first. This will avoid you having to cut a very small piece of wood, which is much trickier to do. If you cut diagonals and then straights, you’ll be left with a neat triangle of wood at the end. This is one support.
|Begin cutting along the lines, starting with the diagonals.|
💡Tip: if cutting inside, use a dust sheet. An old bed sheet or beach towel will do. Saw dust really does go everywhere, and this will catch most of it.
Try to cut vertically as straight as possible, following the lines as best you can, so that your supports will be flush with the stairs.
|Try to saw as vertically, and as close to the lines as possible. This will create right angles in your supports, making them sit flush with the stairs, which is what you’re after.|
|This is what one support will look like.|
Pilot your supports
To avoid splitting your support pieces, pilot where you intend to place your screws. Piloting simply means drilling a hole where you’ll be putting your screw, before you insert the screw.
You’ll pilot two holes on the longest side of the triangle, making a hole about 1 inch from the end on either side.
Step 3 – Under the stairs
If you’ve done this job before, you’ll need to remove the supports and chisel off any glue to provide yourself with a blank canvas to start again. You may want to do each stair as you go, or do this task all at once — it’s up to you.
|If you’ve done a stair repair job before, you’ll need to go in with a chisel and hammer to remove the glue and supports from your last job, to leave yourself with a blank canvas on which to add your new supports.|
Refer to your numbered sheet to see where you’ll need to put the supports. Remember that left will be right and right will be left once you’re under the stairs.
|Once you total up your checkmarks, your list will look something like this.|
Start with your first step. Remove any supports and chisel off any glue if you haven’t done so already.
Next, place your screw just inside the pilotted holes, then glue the other two sides.
|This shows you how to pilot and prepare your supports. First, you drill two holes on either end of the longest side of the support. Then, you insert both your screws into the holes, and generously add wood glue onto either of the other two sides.|
Your support will look like this:
|Your support, once piloted and prepped with screws and glue, will look like this (there is glue on the far side of the triangle as well).|
Now place the support with the freshly glued sides flush to the stair, and drill in the screws.
⚠️ Important: Be careful not to drill through your step. A nail sticking out on the upside of the stair could cause a nasty injury. If in doubt, screw in a couple, and then go around and check. If you have accidentally screwed too far and you see it protruding out the other side, head back around and unscrew it, and screw it back in at less depth, or at a different angle.
OK, that’s one done! Now repeat this process, working your way down your list, until all your supports are in place.
💡Tip: Wood glue is your friend. Wherever you see a crack or a crevice, glue them together and then screw (or nail) the wood boards together.
⚠️ Important: Don’t expect results straight away. You need to wait for the glue to set, which takes at least 24 hours. When my husband did this job four years ago at his parents’ house he was incredibly thorough, yet when he went up the stairs after the job, they were just as squeaky as before he started. He left disappointed and unsatisfied. But the next day, his mom called to tell him the stairs were fixed! There wasn’t a squeak to be heard. The glue had just needed to set.
Repairing Squeaky Stairs from Above
If you have a ceiling underneath your stairs, or don’t have access to the underside for another reason, fear not — you can still repair your stairs. Here is how to do the job from above.
Refer to your materials list above and ensure you have everything you need to complete the job.
Use a ruler to draw lines up the side of your timber, so just a sliver of the corners is cut, like this:
|Mark off your wedges using a marker and a ruler. You want to draw a wedge that tapers in from the corners for about 3 inches.|
Saw off the wedges.
💡Tip: Saw with the grain, rather than against it. If you saw against the grain, your wedge will just snap.
|Saw off your wedge pieces along the lines you have drawn. You’ll use these wedges to fill the gaps in your stairs that cause the squeaks.|
Remove the carpeting on the stairs, if there is any. You should be able to find the break in the carpet somewhere along the stairs to pull it up. Obviously, if you can do this job when you are replacing your carpet, it will make your life much easier. But of course, that’s not always possible.
|Look for a break in your carpet that looks like this. Pull it up here to expose the hardwood underneath.|
|Underneath the carpeting, your exposed stair will look something like this.|
If you don’t have any carpeting on your stairs, jump in here. Your stairs will look something like the exposed hardwood stairs pictured above.
Have your wedge, hammer, and chisel ready. Look closely at the flat part of your stairs, and see if you can find any gaps. Wherever you find a gap, insert your wedge and hammer it in as far as possible without splitting it. Once it’s wedged in deeply, use the chisel and hammer to break off the wedge so that what you leave is only what’s flush with the stair. Seal it with wood glue for a longer lasting finish.
|To repair your squeaky stairs from above, you’ll need a wedge, hammer, and chisel. First, find the gaps in the hardwood. You’ll insert the wedge into the gap, and hammer it in as deep as possible without splitting the wood. Once it’s wedged in as far as it’ll go, you’ll chisel it off, so that only the wedge is flush with the stair.|
Repeat this step until you’ve filled all the visible gaps in your stairs, and your stairs will be squeak-free by tomorrow!
Repairing Squeaky Stairs from Above without Removing Carpet
To repair your stairs from above without removing your carpet, you’ll need to order a stairs repair kit. You can easily grab one from Amazon.
Here’s a good one:
Using this kit, you’ll be able to drive the screws straight through the carpet.
Start on the bottom of your stairs, working your way up.
Remove the packaging, and set up the screw with the tripod fixture and driver bit. You’ll notice that the screws are coated with a special wax that allows them to pass safely through the carpet without leaving any marks.
|Your Squeak No More kit will look like this, with 50 screws all coated in a special wax that allows them to pass easily through carpeting. The driver and tripod bits are used to help you insert the screw into the squeaky part of your stair, and break off the screw underneath the carpeting. The end result is a squeak-free stair, without any screws sticking out that could look ugly, or worse, potentially injure someone.|
Find your squeak, and then drive the large screw into the flat part of the stair, where you think it joins up with the hardwood vertical part underneath. Now, try backing the screw out. If it won’t back out, you haven’t hit the adjoining wood, and you’ll need to pull it back out using the washer provided, and try again.
Once you’ve hit the adjoining wood, remove the screw entirely. Place the tripod directly over your mark. Drive the special screw provided in your kit down through the center of the tripod. It’s specially designed to stop the screw at exactly the right depth.
Remove the guide, and turn it on its side. Use one of its specially designed legs (look for the wording “screw gripper”) to grip and snap off the screw. The screw will then easily break off underneath the carpet, staying in place without leaving any pointy bits sticking up for someone to hurt themselves on.
💡Tip: If the screw doesn’t go far enough into the wood, try removing the alignment/depth fixture, and, using your drill, drive the screw in a bit more.