A step-by-step DIY tutorial on how to remodel stairs from carpet to wood, give your staircase a makeover by refinishing them.
Our dingy, avocado green carpet was threadbare and had a smell that was hard to ignore.
One day, we decided it was time to put this worn-out carpet where it belonged – in the trash!
Once we ripped out the old carpet and saw what we had to work with, we realized we could easily refinish the stairs.
This is our process on how to remodel stairs from carpet to wood and apply a gorgeous stain finish.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO REFINISH STAIRS FROM CARPET TO WOOD?
The cost of removing the carpet and refinishing the stairs will be about $130 for all the materials.
Now, this cost is if you have wood treads underneath. If you do not, you will either have to factor in the price of stair treads or you can paint what’s already there.
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STAIRS MAKEOVER: FROM CARPET TO WOOD
- varnish stripping remover (I used Citristrip)
- plastic gloves
- paintbrush (cheap one that can be thrown away)
- sanding and painting mask
- mineral spirits
- clear plastic wrap (optional)
- #60 grit sandpaper
- #80 grit sandpaper
- #120 grit sandpaper
- medium sanding block
- fine sanding block
- stainable wood filler
- brush (like a toothbrush)
- microfiber cloth (optional)
- wood stain
- 2″ foam brush
- paint (I used Olympic One in True White)
- 3″ paint roller
- painters tape
- long nose pliers
- flathead screwdriver
- painter’s tool
- razor blade
- orbital sander
- safety glasses
- face mask (for dust)
- ear protection
You can print the material list and instructions below.
STEP 1: REMOVE CARPET FROM STAIRS
Before anything can change, you need to remove the old carpet. Starting at a corner, pull the carpet up. It is easier if you use long nose pliers, flat head screwdriver, and/or painter’s tool.
If you are having a hard time pulling a corner of the carpet, use a razor blade to cut the carpet. Remember, it’s all going into the trash anyway.
Once the carpet is completely ripped up, repeat the process for the pad underneath. The only difference is the pad will probably have staples holding it in place.
Once you have removed both the carpet and pad, it’s time to dig out the staples and tack strip. Use the flathead screwdriver (or painter’s tool), long nose pliers, and hammer for this task. Whoever put the carpet in on our stairs did not want it to come up; there were so many staples!
You will probably see how dirty the stairs are under the carpet.
After everything is removed, clean up the stairs with a Shop-vac.
The step of the project took us about 2 hours but it looked and smelled so much better!
STEP 2: REMOVE VARNISH FROM WOOD STAIRS
Now that the carpet is finally gone, it’s time to sand the threads down and make them beautiful again.
But first, you have to strip the varnish from the wood.
SIDE NOTE: Please learn from my mistakes and remove the varnish first; otherwise, you will go through tons of sandpaper.
To begin, put on a pair of plastic gloves and a mask. Then, start applying your varnish remover on the stairs with the paint brush.
TIP: Make sure you apply a generous amount. I did not use enough and had to add another layer of the remover.
The type of varnish remover I am using is Citristrip -it’s better for indoor use because it smells like oranges but you still have to wear a painting mask.
Only let it sit for about an hour; then, using the painter’s tool scrape off the varnish.
SIDE NOTE: I found that after about 1 hour, the remover started to dry out and did not come off as easily.
If you want an even easier way to remove the varnish from the wood, use this tip on using plastic wrap to cover the wood after the remover is applied.
Next, take the Mineral Spirits (with gloves on) and clean the stairs according to the instructions on the bottle (I used a sponge). This step will save you time later by removing all residue from the stairs.
STEP 3: FILL IN ANY HOLES IN THE WOOD
Next, you need to apply wood filler before any sanding. Use the painter’s tool to apply the stainable wood filler to any holes in the wood.
Let the filler completely dry.
SIDE NOTE to why you should apply filler first (another mistake by me): I sanded the stairs, then used the filler and sanded that down until it was smooth. I then cleaned the stairs (I will explain how to do this) and applied my stain, but my stairs were blotchy wherever I used the wood filler. It looked terrible. So, always apply the filler before sanding.
STEP 4: SANDING THE STAIRS
Finally, it’s time to sand the stairs!
The trick to getting a smooth finish is to use different grits of sandpaper. Look at the difference between the sandpapers.
Left to Right: 60, 80, 120
When sanding stairs or anything that has a previous finish, you want to start with rough sandpaper in our case #60 grit sandpaper, then work your way to a smoother finish with the #120 grit or #220.
To begin, you need to put on your sanding mask. After, attach the #60 grit sandpaper to your orbital sander (makes sanding so much easier) and go to town on sanding the wood.
SIDE NOTE: Make sure you buy the right sandpaper for your sander and follow your sanders directions on how to use it.
After you have sanded all the wood, move to the #80 grit sandpaper, then the #120 grit sandpaper. Just work your way up from the course to the fine sandpaper.
Please save yourself some time and start with the #60, it makes all the difference because you will maybe still have a little bit of varnish on the stairs.
After you have sanded with the sander, move to the block sanders. Start with the medium block and sand all the corners that your electric sander could not get. Then move to the fine block and do the same thing. The stairs should now be very smooth and ready to be cleaned.
Here is a pile of all the sandpaper I went through for this project. It would have been a lot less if I had waited to sand after using the varnish remover.
Next, you will use your Shop-Vac and little brush (toothbrush would work) to vacuum the stairs. Use the brush to clean the corners.
Once everything is vacuumed, wipe the stairs with a cloth (a microfiber cloth is excellent for this).
STEP 5: STAIN THE STAIRS
Before applying any stain, make sure you read the instructions on the can and apply it according to the instructions. The stain we used was Kona by Rust-Oleum and Polyurethane by Rust-Oleum.
Mix the stain using a stir stick, then apply the stain to the stairs. I used a foam brush to apply the stain because it did not waste as much stain and could get into the corners. I also like to use a rag to apply a stain, but a foam brush was helpful in the corners.
With my stain, I would apply a coat and let sit for 5-10 minutes then wipe off with a cloth.
TIP: Make sure you wipe off all extra stain with a rag.
Always apply stain on one stair, skip one, then do another stair, so while you’re working, you will have somewhere to sit.
I decided to do two coats of stains.
Once you are finished staining the treads, let your stairs sit for at least 24 hours. That means no walking on the stained stairs for at least 24 hours.
After the stain is dry, you are ready to apply the Polyurethane. Again, follow the directions on your Polyurethane can.
TIP: Apply Polyurethane just like the stain, applying to one stair, skip one, then do another stair.
I stirred the Polyurethane, then used a paintbrush to apply a coat. I let that coat dry for 2 hours, then applied another coat. I applied three coats in all.
Here is a picture with three coats against no coats; see the difference?
After finishing all the coats, you need to let it dry for at least 24 hours before walking on the stairs. But again, make sure you read your container’s directions. Here are my stairs all stained:
STEP 6: PAINT STAIR RISERS
Now that the stain is applied, you can paint the stair risers. Before you start, tape off all areas of the stained stairs. You can also cover the stairs with paper.
Take your primer and paint the risers, making sure you paint where stain might have rubbed off (including the walls).
After the primer dries, you can apply your first coat of paint. Take your paintbrush and cut in around the edges of the riser. Then, take the roller and apply paint to the other areas.
TIP: You will want to apply multiple coats of paint. I applied three coats of white paint on my stair risers.
Also, touch up the paint on the wall if needed.
And that is how to remodel stairs from carpet to wood. This staircase makeover makes a huge difference – remember the old carpet?
And now, there are no more smells coming from the old carpet.
If you want more inspiration on remodeling your outdated home, be sure to visit these projects:
- See how to update your kitchen cabinets without replacing them by adding trim.
- Increase your home decor by DIY window casing.