Carpet Stretching – All You Need to Know (To Not Do It Yourself)

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Why Carpet Stretching is necessary:

Carpet stretching is, generally, done in two different situations: During the initial installation and for a carpet repair. The initial stretch, during installation, ensures that the carpet is taught, secure, and even across the entire floor covering. Taught carpet will stay in place and stay smooth and flat to the floor where it belongs.

What causes carpets to ripple or buckle:

  • Poor installation: The carpet may have been improperly installed. In most cases of a bad installation the installer didn’t use a power stretcher properly or at all.
  • Excessive wear due to traffic: Sometimes a carpet will need to be re-stretched because of wheelchairs, walkers, tricycles, etc. Even when installed to perfection it can become loose from excessive wear.
  • Sliding heavy furniture: Carpet is made of layers of fabric. When heavy furniture slides across the carpet it’s likely that it will cause rippling.
  • Latex: if the latex holding the backing together deteriorates it’s called delamination, the carpet essentially loses its grip on itself, resulting in buckling and loss of fiber.
  • Improper padding for carpet type. Certain pile types require specific padding types; if these are paired improperly, the right amount of grip and support may not be present, resulting in carpet buckles. Make sure you consult a trained professional or manufacturer’s guide when purchasing carpet so you get the right padding to accompany it.

If your Carpet is Rippling:

(to stretch or not to stretch)

If you have carpet that looks more like the ocean than a flat carpet, you may have a problem. As soon as it begins to loosen up and become rippled, it wears faster. The bigger the ripples, the faster the ripples grow. This is because carpet is designed to lay flat and not move at all. When you walk on carpet ripples it causes the carpet to move up and down, further loosening it.

If your carpet is loose it’s time to take action. In most cases, carpet stretching can fix the ripples and buckles, and there’s no need to waste money replacing the carpet because of how it lays.

Carpet stretching is a common type of carpet repair that essentially involves pulling the carpet up from around one or more edges of the room, re-stretching it to proper tightness, cutting the carpet to the proper length, tacking back down into place and finally tucking it in along the edge.

Like any type of carpet repair, stretching carpet is more involved than it seems to be. Stretching carpet isn’t just a matter of smoothing out ripples and re-securing, or pulling at the edges by hand as you would a bed sheet. Carpet stretching comes with its own tools and techniques that help you do the job right.

Essential Carpet Stretching Tools

A professional who repairs carpet for a living will have all of these tools on hand. If you decide to try and stretch carpet yourself, most or all of these tools should be available for rental or purchase at a relatively reasonable price. Even contracting out your carpet stretching is far more cost-effective than replacing the carpet, so either way, these tools, in your hands or someone else’s, save you quite a bit of money.

Partial list

  • Knee stretcher. A knee stretcher, also known as a kicker, is a special tool that has a grip on one end, to attach to the carpet, and a pad on the other end, for you to ‘kick’ with your quadriceps, (do not kick with your knee!
  • Power carpet stretcher. In the trade we usually call this too our stretcher. The stretcher is the most important tool for stretching carpet. It’s specially designed to adjust to any size room and help stretch carpet much more effectively than anyone could do by hand (or by knee). A power carpet stretcher features a very long pole with a carpet grip on one end, a wall brace on the other, and a handle lever in the middle. Don’t even try to stretch a carpet without one. This is the most expensive tool most of us carpet people have.
  • Carpet or slotted blade knife. Involved in almost every carpet repair task you can imagine, a good carpet knife will never let you down. In the case of carpet stretching, the knife is used to trim excess carpet from the edge after it’s been pulled tight.
  • Staple gun. An industrial carpet staple gun isn’t a regular staple gun. The staples are far narrower so that they fit between the nap. Carpet staple guns aren’t always necessary for carpet stretching, but it’s good to have on hand just to make sure. Because a properly stretched carpet is pretty tight, the tack strip alone may not hold it down satisfactorily, in which case the staple gun eliminates any doubt.
  • Stair tool. A chisel like tool used for tucking carpet in after cutting it to the right size.
  • Awl. Looks like an ice pick, used to dis-attach carpet from the tack strip
  • Hammer.

Carpet Stretching: Do Your Homework First

It’s important to keep a few other things in mind when your carpet repair task is to stretch carpet.

Just as carpet manufacturers specify the appropriate padding type for individual carpet types, so they also specify appropriate carpet stretching methods and amounts. What’s right for some types may not be appropriate for others. For example, tufted carpet with a jute fiber backing needs to be a bit tighter than tufted fiber with a synthetic fiber backing. And some woven carpets will stretch in one direction but not the other. Consult manufacturer instructions or a carpet repair specialist so you have all the facts before you get started. After all, knowing what you’re working with is just as important as knowing what you’re doing.

The following is an over-simplified tutorial. If you don’t already know what you’re doing then you will be better off just hiring a pro. If you decide that you want to tackle stretching your own carpet I suggest that you take your time, use your head, keep your blades sharp, don’t try to just kick it tight with a knee kicker and most of all be careful.

Carpet Stretching Technique

The first step is to empty the room of furniture. If you really know what you’re doing then you can probably work around some furniture but if you’re a novice I suggest that you do yourself a favor and empty the room.

Determine which direction the carpet needs to be pulled. In most cases the carpet only needs to be pulled one direction.

Remove any metal strips that will be in the way. Some flat metal strips need to have nails removed. Another type of metal strip is called a clamp down metal. To free the carpet from the clamp down metal, pry it open (just a little bit) with a flat chisel or a stair tool. There are too many different types of metal strips to describe here so you’ll just have to figure it out.

Use an awl to lift the edge of the carpet. Go to a corner of the room and poke the awl right through the carpet about 6″ from the wall. From here you will be able to pull the carpet up. If you don’t have an awl you can probably use a pair of pliers.

Now it’s time to unpack the carpet stretcher. Set it up so that the foot end is up against the baseboard and the head is a few inches from the wall that you are stretching towards. The power stretcher is more than strong enough to rip carpet so be careful to only stretch the carpet just enough to remove the wrinkles (and maybe just a little bit more). Over stretching carpet isn’t a good idea because you will create ripples going the other direction. So again, only stretch the carpet as much as you need to in order to remover the ripples.

Use the kicker to make small adjustments.

Start at the center of the room and stretch the carpet at a slight angle towards the corners. Each time you push on the handle of the power stretcher you will pull the carpet.

Cut the carpet from the back using the slotted blade knife. You should cut it so that it is still going to belong enough to tuck into the groove between the tack strip and the wall. If you cut the carpet a little bit too short, you can probably stretch it a little bit more. If you cut it too long to tuck it in properly, then just cut some more.

Before moving on to the next area, push the carpet into the nails that stick out of the tack strip. If the carpet is hard to get it to stick to the tack strip then use the carpet staple gun.

If you use the staple gun, be sure to get the point of the gun down between the nap so that you are only stapling the backing to the tack strip and not stapling the nap down. Continue across the room stretching, cutting, tacking and tucking. Replace any metal transitions and viola!


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