How to Sand, Stain & Paint Stairs Treads [A Complete Guide]

Despite their use as a focus of attention grabbers, stairs become weathered and scratched. People forget to refinish the staircase because it’s vital to their movement in your house. After a long period of decline, it may be time for you to take your stairs in the correct direction.

They’re also inconvenient to have around for a day or two, sometimes. Alternatively, because the wood’s density increases with moisture, it’s possible you might want to sand, paint, and refinish your wooden stairs on the weekend to ensure that they look fresh and new. A new coat of stain will give the wooden stairs a beautifying effect. This guide will come in handy. If you want to paint, sanding and staining wood stairs, keep reading this content. By reading this, you’ll learn how to sand stairs before painting and to stain it.

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Table of Contents

  • Required PPEs for Sanding Stairs
  • What Is Needed for Sanding Stairs?
  • Sanding Stairs (8 Steps to Follow)
  • Sander for Stair Treads
  • Do You Have to Sand Stairs before Staining?
  • What Grit Sandpaper for Stair Treads?
  • Cost of Sanding Stairs
  • Sanding Stairs Tips

Required PPEs for Sanding Stairs

  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Face shield or Mask
  • Respiratory protector
  • Ear-buds
  • Fall Protector

What Is Needed for Sanding Stairs?

  • Sander
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Masking tape
  • Pliers
  • Pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Nail setter
  • Mop
  • Painter’s tape
  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Fine-grit or medium-grit sandpaper
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Vacuum
  • Tack cloth
  • Chemical paint stripper
  • Medium-sized paintbrush or rag
  • Plastic paint scraper
  • Stain
  • Polyurethane sealant
  • Primer

Sanding Stairs (8 Steps to Follow)

Step-1: Removing the existing paint

Remove all the old paint from the treads to prepare for sanding hardwood stairs. The stripping becomes simple if the amount of the paint layer is minor. If you have low numbers of existing paint layers, a heat gun will scrape away all the paint already on the stairs. Never use a heat gun on lead-based paint since it can take a long time to detoxify.

If the number of layers is more significant, you will need to use the stripper to do the job. Methyl chloride strippers are available on the market in many varieties. If you apply the stripper, it will usually take off one layer of paint.

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If you find this daunting, you can use a lye peel. The oil must be applied to the stairs as if you are painting, and then the wax should be used, or else it won’t come off. For that to happen, you have to wait. It could take from one to two days, depending on the project. After that, you can take the wax paper away, and the existing paint would come off with it.

Step-2: Cleaning the stair treads

If the paint is removed, the remaining dirt on the stair will need to be wiped away with a damp rag. Commercially available wood polishes can be used in this instance. For better results, rub the wood thoroughly with the wood cleaner using a wet sponge in a circular motion from the top to the bottom to remove the dust and dirt.

You must never use an excessive amount of sanding lubricant as it can lead to dampness. After cleaning with water, you can wipe it dry with a clean cloth.

Step-3: Checking for pop up nails

They may seem to have protruded in some instances. Pay close attention to ensure that you’re not leaving anything out. If you use another nail on top of the first one, you should be able to hammer them down more.

Not paying attention to this step will cause the orbital sander to hit you or your hand while sanding the steps.

Step-4: Sanding the treads

You should put on your safety goggles and respirator before you start sanding wood stairs. Secure the eyes and respiratory system to help avoid dust while sanding the wood. Follow this advice and stick 100-grit sandpaper to the stairs.

To reduce dust output:

  1.   Go for a sander with vacuum portability.
  2.   Make sure you protect your eyes and face.
  3.   If the orbital sander doesn’t have that, handle it with caution

Sander for Stair Treads


Woodworking Expert

Are you excited to know what power sander to buy for sanding stair treads?

Well, Nathan, a great technician and expert in woodworking, highly recommends using a random orbital sander fitted with a dust extractor while power sanding. He uses the random orbital sander first to cover as much of the surface as it can reach and then finishes the sanding process with a sanding block and sandpaper.

When sanding hardwood stairs by hand, be sure to sand with the grain. Nathan recommends scraping the edges if old paints don’t scuff off.

Step-5: Clean again

Before you embark on some additional jobs, you have to clean the stairs. At first, it is recommended to have the dust removed. Rinse the stair’s treads just as you did the last time before. Then you should have to remove any excess water residue remaining on the surface using a dry cloth.

Step-6: Masking the surface with masking tape

After the surface has been sanded, you can put masking tape on edge to keep it covered up. Finally, be sure to cover the risers with masking tape so that only the treads are stained.

Step-7: Applying Stains

It is preferable to begin at the top of the stairs, to avoid unwanted footsteps. The topmost stairs would need a thin coat of stain to appear glossy. After you’ve spread it around evenly with a brush, let it dry completely before buffing with a finishing pad. When you’ve finished with the uppermost parts, ease into the lower ones.

For stains, wait for at least two hours after you apply them. Then continue the process again by applying a second or third coat of finish applied until they get a smooth and shiny surface. Let it dry for an extended period after applying the last coat.

Remove all the masking tape from all the stairs to end the job. Polyurethane can also serve as a tread-curing coating. Remember that the polyurethane can take anywhere from at least 6 to 10 hours to dry thoroughly. If it is still wet, avoid using stairs.

Related: How to Get Wood Stain off Skin?


Conduct this procedure at night to dry properly because it is difficult to carry this procedure during the daytime.

Step-8: Paint the Stair Treads

You may choose to apply either paint or stain to your stairs, whichever fits your personal style best. The even good news is that when they are done right, they both look great.

Whether you want to paint the risers or paint the treads or paint down both of them too is entirely up to you. The specialists strongly advise against applying stain before painting your stairs, as it could obscure the look of the wood’s natural grain. You could still paint-stained stairs, but it takes more time and effort to execute them. You should paint raw wood stairs just after sanding rather than stain them off.


Consider using masking tape to secure the stairs before painting so that paint does not smudge on the wall. Apply an even coat from side to side by using a proper painting brush. Continue working your way up the entire stairway. Then continue to the next portion.

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Do You Have to Sand Stairs before Staining?

The old finish must be removed off entirely before staining the stair treads. To remove old paintings, dirt, and debris, you need to sand off the stairways properly before starting staining. Before applying a new finish, make sure to patch, sand, and then stain your stairs first.

You can use fine-grit sandpaper while sanding stairs for staining. To produce the smoothest result, gently sand between the first and second coats of paint.

Related: 44 Creative Sanding Tips You Need to Know

What Grit Sandpaper for Stair Treads?

In the first phase, sand with 60-grit sandpaper to get a smooth stair finish. Don’t accidentally hit the handrails or walls with the sander; pass it across the middle of it. This is a practical tip that takes away all the roughness and grain from the risers. Take 60-grit sandpaper along with an orbital sander and go over the outer portions of the stairs to remove the dust and grit.

Use the orbit sander for the center of stairways, then make an additional pass in the radial direction using a 120 grit sandpaper. You would have removed the previous finish with the final 120-grit sandpaper, creating a slick, reflective surface.

Related: What Grit Sandpaper for Deck Sanding?

Cost of Sanding Stairs

You may pay $4.50 to $8 to a contractor to sand down the stairs and the cost of supplies. Depending on the number of stairs and location, stair renovation can be more expensive. With a $160 estimate of materials and labor, the total project cost is $90 to $160 for a ten-step refinishing job.

Sanding Stairs Tips

  1. 1

    To remove an old finish, secure the spindle with strips of sandpaper wrapped around the posts and then transfer the sandpaper around the posts using your hand. Don’t sand with a mechanical sander.

  2. 2

    If you’re doing a renovation, take the time to prepare the stairs beforehand fully. A new carpet can offer better and long-lasting results if you plan to stain or paint the stairs.

  3. 3

    With a powered orbital sander, the operation can greatly be sped up, as it is the best sander for sanding stairs. We advise using either a belt sander or random orbit sander for sanding treads and risers and detail sanders for their congested locations.

  4. 4

    If you use a sanding machine, you should have to wear a dust mask and safety glasses. If a dust extractor or a vacuum attachment, particularly one of them connected to your sander, it would substantially reduce airborne dust.

  5. 5

    You should not use mechanical sanders while sanding stair handrails. You’ll also have to scrape the old finish with sandpaper by winding the sheets around the posts, rubbing them in the opposite direction, and going back and forth.

  6. 6

    If you’re removing all the paint, you should consider the alternative rather than replacing the spindles. Don’t believe the retail price. It can be somehow less than the total cost of certain other materials and may even be less if you hire anyone to do it.

  7. 7

    You should sand with light to medium-grit sandpaper if you use a chemical stripper on an old finish. Incorporating the wood with the new stains and paints will ensure a tight bond with the wood.

  8. 8

    Be sure to remove all of the dirt, then extract all of the dirt from the vacuum’s various small nooks and crannies. Wash off with water and an unscented household cleaner, then dry thoroughly with a large decorator’s sponge. Make sure you wash well and let them dry completely.

Final Words

You should think of your staircase before decorating your house because it gives a clear and distinct first impression of your home. It is possible to polish away any rust by sanding it with sandpaper, even on old and ugly wooden stairs. Refinishing wooden stairs is also a lengthy process.

Sanding wooden stairs is necessary regardless of whether you want to paint, varnish, or expose the final result. You can easily start it, but it takes time and careful attention to execute it properly. Make sure you put the right effort into doing it the first time. You should conduct repainting, sanding and staining stairs so they can last longer and wear better.

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