How to Refinish Stair Treads

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Stair treads showing signs of use over the years of need refinishing. By refinishing your own stair treads, you'll save money over calling in a professional to do the job. The job takes some time and a little more work than refinishing a floor, but it's a job that homeowners can do themselves. Before you begin to sand, it's a good idea to cover furniture and items with a plastic sheet or drop cloths to protect them from sawdust.

Things You'll Need

  • Respirator
  • Drop cloths
  • Electric sander
  • 60-, 80- and 110-grit sandpaper
  • Shop vacuum
  • Tack cloth
  • Mineral spirits
  • Container
  • Clean cotton cloth rags
  • Paint brush
  • Stain
  • Varnish
  • Floor wax
  • Clean the stair treads. Remove any carpeting or covering. Sweep or vacuum the stair treads to remove dirt, sand or other debris.

  • Sand the stair tread with 60-grit sandpaper on a handheld sander. You need to remove the old finish and expose the wood. Sand the corners with a folded piece of sandpaper or use a paint scraper to scrape the varnish away. Vacuum the surface thoroughly to remove the dust.

  • Sand the stair treads a second time using 80-grit sandpaper. When you're finished, vacuum dust off the steps.

  • Sand the stair treads for a third time using 110-grit sandpaper. Vacuum thoroughly when you have finished. Also, vacuum the entire area. You don't want a wind to blow sawdust onto a wet finish.

  • Take a tack cloth and wipe down the entire staircase. This will ensure that there's no sawdust in the area.

  • Find an old bowl and put a clean cotton cloth at the bottom. Pour mineral spirits into a bowl, soaking the cloth. Wring out the excess mineral spirits.

  • Wipe the stairs with the cloth soaked in mineral spirits. Let the stairs dry.

  • Apply stain with a paintbrush or clean dry rags, going with the grain of the wood. Begin on the top step and work your way down. Leave the stain on from 30 seconds to 15 minutes. The longer you leave the stain on, the darker the wood will be. Use a piece of wood that's the same as the stairs to test how dark you want the wood to be. Use a timer to keep track of the time that the stain stays on the wood as a guide for the steps.

  • Allow the stairs to dry 24 hours before proceeding.

  • Mix equal amounts of varnish and mineral spirits in a container. With a paintbrush, apply this mixture to the wood. Let the steps dry for 24 hours.

  • Mix 75 percent varnish to 25 percent mineral spirits. Brush this on the stair treads and allow drying for 24 hours.

  • Brush on varnish not diluted with mineral spirits. Allow this to dry for 24 hours.

  • Sand the stair treads lightly with 110-grit sandpaper. Remove the dust by vacuuming, then using a tack cloth.

  • Apply a light layer of floor wax onto the stair treads. Allow 15 minutes to dry, before applying a second layer of floor wax.

  • Buff the stair treads with clean dry rags to bring out the shine.

Tips & Warnings

  • Wear goggles and a respirator to protect your eyes and lungs. Work in a well-ventilated area.

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