How to fix creaking stairs

Unless your squeaky stairs are acting as a handy warning system for teenagers coming home in the early hours, there’s a fair chance those squeaks and creaks will be driving you mad. You don’t need to call in a carpenter to sort out the problem, this is something most DIYers can comfortably tackle.

For more stairway inspiration see:
How to lay a stair runner
How to fit a stair handrail
Welcoming hallway design ideas

How to fix creaking stairs

How to fix creaking stairs

With all the many wooden parts of a hardwood staircase, the continual traffic they endure plus the effects of seasonal expansion and contraction, it’s inevitable that components may work loose and then move. And it’s this movement that’s causing the noise.

The most common causes are the tread (the part you stand on) rubbing against the riser board (the vertical bit) or the tread working its way loose from the stringer (the sloped boards at the side of the stairs supporting the other components).

If you have access to the underside of the stairs, repairs are much more effective. If the underside is inaccessible or plasterboarded you can also tackle the problem from above. This article looks at both options.

The first thing you need to do is identify which step is causing the noise. If you have underside access, get a friend to walk slowly up and down the staircase while you, from below, mark the offending elements.

Time to complete job: One step will take a couple of hours.
Approximate budget: Timber mouldings and glue blocks will cost a few pounds.

Fixing from the underside
You have two options here:

1. Use glue blocks
Glue blocks are an effective way of strengthening staircase joints and eliminating creaks. Glue blocks are small shaped pieces of wood with a triangular profile.

They sit snugly in the right angle between the back of the tread and the riser and are made by sawing an (approximately) 25mm square batten in half along its length, across one of its diagonals.

You can make these yourself, or get your DIY outlet or a friendly joiner to make some for you. You may even be able to buy large enough pre-shaped mouldings which will do the job nicely.

Apply a generous amount of PVA glue to the faces of your blocks that are at right angles to each other before pushing the block into the angle and gently agitating it to eliminate air bubbles from the glue, and ensure good adhesion.

You can now either screw or tack the blocks to the stairs, but make sure these fixings don’t break out the other side of the tread or riser. And make sure you have drilled pilot holes in the blocks first, if you are going to screw them in place.

Alternatively, just used a rubbed joint - that is, after agitating the block into position as above, you will find it will stay there all by itself - just leave the glue to set. You can also just tape the blocks in place with masking tape until the glue dries.

2. Replace worn or missing wedges
With a classic housed, stringer staircase - where the treads and risers are set into recesses (housings) in the solid boards (stringers) on either side of the stairs, wedges of wood are used to secure the risers and treads.

They work by pushing the risers and treads against the front edges of the housing so that no gaps are visible from the walking side of the stairs. If you can see gaps along the edges here, this probably means the wedge has slipped.

Loose wedges that are still intact can be reused. Alternatively, you can make new ones to the same size, or buy replacement wedges from a stair specialist such as Pear Stairs.

Behind the loose treads or risers, chip out any remaining wedges with a chisel and coat the new ones with PVA glue before using a mallet to gently drive into place. These need no fixings, as the pressure created tapping them home keeps them in place.

Fixing from above
Again there are two ways of tackling this:

1. Screw through the tread into the riser edge
If a tread has come loose from the riser it will creak whenever pressure is applied to it. To remedy this you need to firmly screw the tread to the riser.

Do this by pre-drilling holes through the tread down into the edge of the riser, making sure the screws are sunk well below the surface of the tread. You will need a wide hole in the tread, to let the screw go through easily, and a narrower pilot hole in the riser, to allow the screw to grip the riser, and pull the tread down onto it.

If the tread isn’t covered with carpeting or a runner you can conceal the screw with matching wood filler.

This can be a tricky operation to get right, as it is very easy to drill offline, leaving the hole through the tread out of alignment with the riser edge, so use a tri-square to help you line the drill bit up so it is vertical.

2. Use a moulding
A slightly easier solution, and one that gives a more aesthetically pleasing finish to uncarpeted stairs, is applying a moulding to the angles between risers and treads. This works in a similar way to glue blocks on the underside of the stairs, but is done on the front of the stairs, and the moulding goes right across the width of the steps.

They are glued either at the top or bottom of the riser, or indeed both, and again tacked in place or just held with tape until the glue dries. For a uniform finish, we recommend applying the mouldings to all the steps.

You can buy a selection of mouldings from DIY outlets, so choose one which suits the overall stair design.

Tip: The moulding has to be smaller than the distance the tread overhangs the riser.