How to Lay Fabric-Backed Carpet

Fabric-backed carpet with a separate underlay takes much longer to lay than foam-backed carpet. There are two methods for securing this carpet turn and tack and gripper strip. With the turn-and tack method, the carpet overlaps the underlay by around 50 mm (2 in). The carpet is then turned back on itself and tacks are driven through the double thickness of carpet into the floor underneath. This method is not suitable for laying carpet on solid floors (unless masonry nails are used). It also has its disadvantages when used on wooden floors as each tack will produce an indentation in the carpet which not only collects dirt but also looks unsightly.

The gripper method takes longer and costs more, but gives a much more satisfactory result. Here, wooden gripper strips are nailed all around the edge of the floor, with a gap of around 10 mm (% in) between the gripper strip and the skirting board (baseboard) or wall. The carpet is then stretched on to the angled spikes in the gripper strip and the end tucked over into the gap. On solid floors, gripper strips can be glued into place.

Backed Carpet

Laying fabric-backed carpet can take a lot of skill to get the stretching absolutely right and with a new carpet you might think it not worth the effort – especially if the carpet retailer offers free fitting or fitting at low cost. However, if you are fitting second-hand carpet or carpet you have brought with you from a previous home (both of which will already have been stretched at least once), it is certainly worth attempting it yourself.


When your room has been measured up, the overall width and length (plus the dimensions of any alcoves) will tell you the total length of gripper strip needed. Gripper strip generally comes in 760 mm (3 ft) lengths, but can be cut easily with a tenon saw (backsaw) or tinsnips. Take care when handling gripper strips as the angled spikes are very sharp; use leather gloves when cutting gripper strips to length.

The gripper strips are put down with the angled spikes pointing towards the wall, with a gap of 10 mm between the strip and the wall. Some gripper strips come pre-nailed; with others, you may have to add your own 25 mm (1 in) nails. Hammer the nails down using a narrow pin hammer (or carpet layer’s hammer) to avoid damaging the angled spikes – if you only have a large hammer, use a nail punch to drive the nails home. Cut the strips when you reach a corner and take small lengths of strip into alcoves, continuing along the back of the alcove with full-length strips. With curved bays, cut short lengths of strip, so you can roughly follow the shape of the bay. Where pipes pass through the floor, cut small lengths of strip to fit around the pipe and cut a hole in the carpet as described for foam-backed carpet.

At doorways, you will need to fit a threshold strip exactly at the carpet’s edge. Single thresholds are used where carpet does not continue into the next room; double threshold strips are used where the same (or another) carpet goes on beyond the doorway.


If you have not needed to put down hardboard to levei a timber floor, it is worth putting down a paper underlay to prevent dirt and dust blowing up between the floorboards. Felt or foam-rubber underlay comes in rolls and you should start laying it in one corner of the room, so that it fits into the corner between two gripper strips. On a timber floor, secure the underlay with a staple gun or with carpet tacks; on a solid floor, use double-sided adhesive tape. Cut the underlay to length so that it fits neatly at the other end of the room and cut smaller pieces to line alcoves. Adjacent pieces of underlay are butt-jointed together: it does not need to be stretched, but using a knee-kicker can make it easier to position the underlay correctly. The last piece of underlay will have to be cut down in width to fit the gap available.


Unbacked carpet needs to be cut leaving a larger trim allowance than for foam-backed carpet – allow 100 mm (4 in) on each edge, more if the carpet has a pronounced pattern. It will be difficult to cut the carpet in the room in which it is to be laid, so do this in a larger room or, if it is fine, in the garden. Always remember the old do-it-yourself adage: measure twice, cut once.

Position the carpet roughly in the room where it is to be laid and if it has a pattern, line this up so that it looks right when viewed from the doorway. When you are happy with the position, trim it to length all the way round, so that it is about 10 mm larger than the room size. Shape the carpet to fit alcoves as you go.

Start fixing the carpet in one corner of the room by pushing it on to the gripper strip. Now work up the longest wall, using the knee-kicker to tension the carpet and hooking the carpet on to the gripper strip at regular intervals. When you reach the corner, go about 300 mm (12 in) along the next wall and hook the carpet on to the gripper strip once again. Work back down the gripper strip on the long wall, pushing the carpet on to the strip with a thin piece of wood or a bolster (wide) chisel.

Now go back to the original corner and use the knee-kicker to stretch the carpet along the gripper strip on the shorter wall until you reach the corner, again going round the corner for 300 mm (12 in) and hooking on. Work back to the first corner, hooking the carpet on to the gripper strip.

Now you can start stretching in earnest. Commencing at the original corner, work across the room in strips towards the near wall, hooking on to the gripper strip when you reach the other side. Go back to the first corner again and this time work along the length of the room, stretching the carpet to the far gripper strip and hooking on (be prepared to adjust the fixings on the other side of the wall).

Finally go round the edges of the room making sure the carpet is firmly held by the gripper strip and the loose ends are pushed down between the gripper strip and under the skirting board (baseboard), using a bolster chisel to push it home. Cut excess carpet with a trimming knife for a snug fit.

Where threshold strip is used in a doorway, the carpet should be stretched into this in the same way, after which the top of the threshold strip is hammered down, using a piece of wood to prevent the metal strip being damaged.


If you have had to cut the carpet at any point to aid fitting, use a non-adhesive carpet jointing tape to repair the joint after first smearing it with latex carpet adhesive. Use a wallpaper seam roller to press the two pieces of carpet down into the adhesive. Making large joins – between two pieces of carpet -requires skilled sewing and is not something you would tackle yourself.

Filed Under: Home & Maintenance


About the Author: Jason Prickett loves to write about home maintenance and stuff you can do yourself instead of hiring any professional. His step by step guides will assist you in completing your home maintenance tasks.

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