How to Remove Carpeting & Finish Stair Treads


Carpet on high-traffic stair treads can wear out quickly, leaving your stairs looking worn and dirty. Removing the old carpet and finishing the treads is a less expensive option than new carpet, and it lets you clean the stairs more thoroughly. If the treads are painted, chemical stripper will remove it. If they are stained or covered in a clear finish, sanding is usually the best way to prepare the treads to accept new finish. Apply wood stain to match other wood in your home and seal it with polyurethane, or use polyurethane alone for a natural look.

Things You'll Need

  • Pliers
  • Small pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Paint scraper
  • Painter’s tape
  • Chemical paint stripper
  • Wide paintbrush
  • Small paintbrush
  • 3-inch putty knife
  • Paper towels
  • Coarse, medium, fine and ultra-fine sandpaper
  • Handheld sander
  • Vacuum cleaner with hose attachment
  • Tack cloth
  • Paint stirring stick
  • Rags
  • Wood stain
  • Polyurethane
  • Fine-bristle paintbrush
  • Lambswool applicator pad (optional)

Remove Carpet

  • Grasp the bottom edge of the carpet at the bottom of the first stair with pliers. Pull the carpet off the tack strips that are fastened to the stairs. Continue pulling the carpet off the tack strips up the stairs until you reach the top.

  • Pry up the tack strips using the flat edge of a small pry bar. This style of pry bar is sometimes referred to as a cat’s paw, and it is approximately 6 inches long. Tap the edge of the bar under the strips with a hammer, if necessary.

  • Pull up the padding. If the pad is stuck, scrape it off with a paint scraper.

Remove Old Paint

  • Apply painter’s tape to protect any areas of the stairs that you do not wish to strip.

  • Brush a heavy coat of paint stripper on the stair treads with a wide paintbrush. Use a smaller paintbrush for more precision in areas that are closest to the tape. Avoid brushing stripper onto the tape, as it can dissolve or weaken it.

  • Let the stripper sit for as long as the manufacturer recommends.

  • Scrape off the softened paint with a 3-inch putty knife or paint scraper. Wipe off the tool with a paper towel frequently to remove paint buildup.

  • Peel off the painter’s tape.

  • If any paint remains, sand it off by hand with fine-grit sandpaper.

Remove Old, Clear Finish

  • Sand the stair treads in the direction of the wood grain using a handheld power sander with coarse sandpaper. Do not apply enough pressure to cut through to the bare wood; coarse sandpaper can scratch it. Repeat the sanding process using progressively finer sandpaper until all finish is removed and the wood is smooth.

  • Sand tight corners and edges by hand with a sheet of folded sandpaper.

  • Remove the sanding dust using a vacuum with a hose attachment.

  • Wipe the stairs with a tack cloth to remove the last particles of sanding dust.

Stain the Treads

  • Apply painter’s tape to protect the areas that you do not wish to stain.

  • Shake the wood stain, or mix it with a paint-stirring stick, until no sediment remains at the bottom of the can.

  • Dip a rag into the stain. Wipe the stain into the bare wood using a circular motion to help it penetrate. Wipe off the stain immediately with a clean rag, following the grain of the wood.

  • Let the stain dry according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.

  • Peel off the painter's tape.

Seal and Finish the Treads

  • Tape off the areas that you do not wish to seal.

  • Mix the polyurethane carefully and slowly with a paint-stirring stick. Do not agitate the material vigorously or use a mechanical mixing tool, which cause air bubbles to form.

  • Apply a coat of polyurethane on the stair treads with a fine-bristle brush or lambswool applicator pad, following the grain of the wood, and let it dry.

  • Apply up to three more coats of polyurethane to the treads, letting each one dry before applying the next.

  • Peel off the painter's tape.

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