Stained and painted staircase and landing

When refinishing wood surfaces, stairs often get overlooked or simply avoided because they are essential for moving throughout your home — it can be inconvenient to do without them for even a day or two. Because they’re so heavily trafficked, though, they see more wear and tear than other wood surfaces, so at some point, they need to be refinished. You can renew your stairs this weekend with a fresh coat of stain or paint. See the tips below to find out how.

Step 1: Prepare the Area

The first step in staining and painting stairs is removing items that are in the general vicinity of the staircase. This means furniture, rugs, decorative items, fixtures, etc. There will be a large amount of dust in the area after you’ve begun sanding away the old finish. Anything left nearby will be exposed to the dust and debris, and potentially paint or stain spills and splatters.

You will also want to seal off the area as much as possible so that dust doesn’t spread throughout your house. Cover adjacent doorways, vents and electrical outlets with plastic sheeting. Use masking tape to fasten the sheeting in place. Every opening should be closed or covered to avoid spreading dust throughout your home. Open nearby windows to ventilate and remove some of the dust and residue that will be in the air.

If your stairs have a carpet runner or are completely covered with carpet, you should remove it now. Loosen a corner of the carpet with pliers. Use a pry bar to pull up any stubborn pieces. Remove staples from the padding underneath with the pliers and discard both the carpet and the padding.

Safety Alert!

Wear heavy work gloves when removing carpet so that your hands are protected from tacks, staples and any other sharp objects that may have been used to secure the carpet.

Check each stair for any protruding nails, or if you pulled up carpet from the stairs, check for any carpet staples or tacks that you may have missed. Sharp objects such as these can destroy the sandpaper on a sander, forcing you to change it out. This will make the job longer than it needs to be. Using a hammer or nail setter, pound beneath the surface any nails you find. Thoroughly sweep and mop the stairs before starting any of the work.

Apply painter’s tape where the edges of each stair meet the wall or the riser.

Step 2: Strip the Stairs

The second step in staining and painting your stairs requires you to remove the existing finish on the stair treads by stripping it off, either by sanding or with a chemical stripper. The more thorough you are during the stripping process, the better your new application of stain will look and work. To remove light nicks, dents and the existing finish, start sanding slowly and evenly with the wood’s grain using medium-grit sandpaper or a sanding block. Sand the finish until the wood is bare. Sand the entire surface again with medium/fine-grit sandpaper or a sanding block and then lightly once more with fine-grit sandpaper. Ask an expert at your local True Value hardware store which sandpaper grit is best for your stair’s wood. If you don’t know the type of wood, it’s best to err on the side of caution and start off with fine grit so you don’t damage it. Test it first in an inconspicuous area on the stairs.

Clean up sanding dust with a shop vacuum and a tack cloth.

Helpful Tip

Be sure to remove as much dust and residue as possible from all surfaces in the room. Besides the floor, check walls, windowsills, etc. Dust is your enemy when you begin to add the new finish.

Using chemical strippers is an easier method. Most chemical strippers need to be mixed with water, so check the manufacturer’s directions before applying. Using a medium-sized paintbrush or clean rag, apply the solution evenly over the surface. Let it soak in for 20 to 30 minutes, then use a plastic paint scraper, rag or sponge to wipe off the old stain. Once you’ve removed the old finish from the surface, use a clean rag to wipe it down so that the wood is completely bare. Let it dry.

Helpful Tip

If you use a chemical stripper to remove the old finish, it’s a good idea to lightly sand the surface afterwards with fine-grit sandpaper. This will ensure a tighter bond between the wood and the new coats of stain and paint.

Safety Alerts!

Always follow manufacturer’s instructions and wear rubber gloves and safety glasses when using strong chemicals.

Never strip furniture near an open flame as stripping chemicals can ignite.

Use chemical strippers clearly marked “no cleanup” or “will wash away with water.” The “no cleanup” type of stripper may leave a residue, which must be sanded away. Heat guns can be used as a supplement to other methods to remove particularly stubborn finishes.

If your risers (the vertical surfaces in between each step) are painted, you can lightly sand them with fine-grit sandpaper and then prime and paint them later on. See Step 5.

Step 3: Apply Stain

Apply stain to the treads, as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions. Follow these directions carefully for the number of applications needed and how much time each coat needs to dry.

Step 4: Add Finish

Once you are done staining your stairs and the final coat of stain has dried, apply at least two coats of polyurethane varnish to protect the surface. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the polyurethane finish on how to prepare and apply it. Before application, lightly sand the surfaces again with fine-grit sandpaper or a sanding block. Remove sanding dust with a tack cloth or shop vac. Apply the first coat of varnish with a paintbrush, again working from the top stair down. Let it dry completely. Time may vary; this will usually take anywhere from three to eight hours but read the product label and follow the specified instructions for best results. Go over the surfaces again with fine-grit sandpaper and remove all sanding dust. Apply a second coat and let it dry completely, overnight or for 24 hours. After that, it should be ready to walk on.

Step 5: Prime and Paint Stair Risers

Painting stairs can be tricky enough, but it will be especially challenging when you are staining stairs at the same time. Before you begin painting, make sure the stair tread surfaces are dry. Use painter’s tape to mask the edges where risers meet the treads. Mask any other surface that you don’t want paint on. Prime the riser surfaces with True Value EasyCare® Ultra Premium Interior Primer/Sealer. Apply one coat, or two if necessary, using a small paintbrush. Let each coat dry thoroughly (overnight, if possible) before continuing. Next, apply a coat of True Value EasyCare® Ultra Premium Interior Paint in the color of your choice.

When priming and painting stairs, load your brush by covering 1/3 to 1/2 of the bristles and tap the brush on the side of the can to remove any excess paint. Apply from one side of the brush with one long stroke. Use the return trip to unload the other side, starting just where the first stroke ended. Complete each area with a long, light finishing stroke. Make sure to brush toward the paint that was just applied each time you begin a new stroke. Clean up any drips or splatters before they dry.

Helpful Tip

If you inadvertently get paint on the stair tread, wrap a cotton cloth over the end of a putty knife and use it to neatly remove the spill. You’ll get a nice sharp edge that removes the unwanted paint without scratching the surfaces.

Let the last coat dry for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer. Remember to also paint spindles, your banister and/or the baseboard along the staircase to match your risers, or as defined by your personal taste.

Step 6: Clean Up

Take down the plastic sheeting and remove all painter’s tape. Return items you may have removed to their regular places. Thoroughly rinse brushes with water until the solvent runs clear, then place them in a brush/roller spinner to remove excess liquid. Afterwards, store them in their protective sleeves or hang them on nails or hooks. Safely store away your paint, stain, varnish and stripping chemicals in a secure, locked cabinet.

Good job! Now your stairs look refreshed and revitalized.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.