Staircase Reno

I will start this How-To by mentioning that this project is not easy.  If you have kids or pets that may go up and down the steps frequently, I would probably back away from the project until you have the house free for a few days.  I will be honest, I really wanted to stain my stairs dark, but became reluctant after reading a few blogs and saw what the process entailed.  Instead, I initially went to the store to check out the cost of just adding a new, updated runner.  When the salesman quoted me at $1700, I laughed!  However, the more I looked at the unattractive blue runner  had on my stairs, the more I just wanted to fix it.  Off to Home Depot I went!

What you will need: (assuming you have oak stair treads similar to mine…if you don’t…welp, see ya later!)

  • Belt Sander. I purchased the one below from Home Depot for right about $100.  Worth the money.  I bought this, went home and opened it, and was confused how the actual “sanding” takes place.  Turns out you need to buy special sandpaper to fit around the belt- Duh.
  • 80 grit sandpaper to fit on belt- any brand will do the trick.


  • Hand Sander- this is used for those hard to reach spots, or any spot where the Belt Sander is just too big.  (Railings, corners of stairs, etc).  I bought this at Home Depot for about $10.


  • 80 grit regular sheets of sandpaper (to use for your hand sander).


  • Polyshades “Espresso” Stain – this stain already has polyurethane in it so it cuts out the last step, which is a plus in my book.


  • Brush for stain- any wide paint brush will do- I went through about 7 of these to complete the project because trying to get stain out of a paint bush might be the most annoying/messy task ever.


  • Frog Tape- the wider the better always.  I would buy 2 packages.


  • Steel Wool 0000- one package will do.


  • Behr Ultra Semi Gloss Ultra White Paint


  • Goof Off Wipes – Saved my life!  These are for any drips and drops that WILL happen along the way!  This product works like magic- good for taking it off your hands too.


  • Last but not least, gloves- get a multiple pair package…stain is hard to remove from skin!


OK- now that you’ve got your supplies, it’s time to get started on the actual work.  

Step 1: Remove Carpet

If you have a runner on your steps, like I did, remove it.  Sounds easy enough right? Wrong.  I would strongly recommend getting a man for this job (no offense ladies).  I just pulled at the carpet from the corners until it came loose.  Removing all the nails afterward is quite the task- use pliers and take some advil- your back will be hurting.

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Step 2: Sanding

Once you are left with bare stair treads, they’re ready to start sanding.  Take your belt sander and sand away going with the grain of the wood.  This process takes a while.  Some things I would recommend:

**Start at the TOP of your stairs when sanding.  The dust sprinkles downwards, so if you stain at the bottom first, the dust will stick to your finished product. I did about 3 steps every few days since I was working.  If you have a few days off, sand them all at the same time.  You want to get this over with, trust me.  For the railings and corners of treads, use your hand sander.  The goal here is getting the shiny glaze off of the steps so the stain penetrates deeply.

**Stain EVERY OTHER STEP!  You need to get upstairs still right?  This leaves you every other step to climb up! 🙂

Step 3: Taping

Tape along the the border of each stair tread, blocking the stain from hitting the risers and walls.  Also, if they are white, tape around each base of the spindles.

Step 4: Sample your Stain!

You may not like the color of the stain in your own home.  I tested mine out on my first step below-You can test it anywhere- probably best on a separate piece of wood similar to the type you will be staining.  I loved it, so I continued.

*You can also see where I taped below*

stain one step

Step 5: Get Staining

Put on your gloves and get ready to begin staining.  Again, start at the top and work your way down, every other step. STIR THE STAIN FOR A FEW MINUTES FIRST.  The stain develops chunks at the bottom and needs to be stirred for a while prior to using.  Lay the stain on pretty thick with your brush- going with the grain again.  No need to be perfect here- we still have a second coat!  Let it dry for at least 6 hours before walking on it.

Step 6: Steel Wool

In between the first and second coats, rub the steel wool over each tread.  It doesn’t seem like it’s doing much, but it smoothes the tread nicely.

Step 7: Second coat

Apply another generous amount of stain for your second coat.  This is the final coat, so make sure get all of the spots you missed the first time around.

Step 8: Paint the Risers

When your stair treads are completely stained and dry, it’s time to paint those risers a nice bright white. If you already have white risers that are in good shape and you’re happy with them, you can skip this step.  I wanted to brighten mine a bit, so I painted them.  One coat did the trick.

Step 9: Apply trim (optional)

Although I used tape along the borders of my treads, the stain still appeared jagged along the edges.  I bought some trim, painted it white, and had my dad come over to apply it.  We’re still in that process now, so only the first step has the completed look with trim.  I think it gives it a finished look.

Step 10: Step back and enjoy your hard work!

stairs after

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