A step-by-step DIY tutorial on how to remodel stairs from carpet to wood, give your staircase a makeover by refinishing them.
The stairs in our home were ancient and had a smell to them. It was bad… We decided to rip out the old carpet and see what we had to work with underneath. Maybe we could refinish the stairs. So we got to work, and this is our process on how to remodel stairs from carpet to wood.
What does it cost to refinish stairs from carpet to wood?
Before I break down every step, I want to share what the cost will be. Now, this cost is if you happen to have wood treads underneath. If you do not, the cost will be different because you will have to factor in the price of stair treads or maybe you can paint what’s already there.
The cost of refinishing stairs that have wood treads under the carpet will be about $130 for all the materials.
Makeover Stairs from carpet to wood
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience, click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Step 1: Remove carpet from stairs
Before anything can change the old nasty carpet needs to be removed. Starting at a corner, begin pulling the carpet up. It helps to 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, you can use a razor blade to cut the carpet. Remember you don’t want it anyways.
Once the carpet is removed, you will need to remove the pad the same way. But the pad will probably have staples holding it in place.
When the carpet and pad have been removed, its time to remove the staples and tack strip. Use the flathead screwdriver (or painter’s tool), long nose pliers, and hammer. 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 were 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, plus it looks and smells better now!
Step 2: Remove varnish from wood stairs
Now that the carpet is removed, it’s time to sand the threads down and make them look beautiful. Well, not until the varnish is removed from the wood first.
SIDE NOTE: Please learn from my mistakes and remove the varnish first because you will go through tons of sandpaper if not.
So here is how to remove varnish from stairs treads. First, make sure you are wearing plastic gloves and a mask. Then start painting your varnish remover on the stairs with the paint brush.
TIP: Make sure you apply a generous amount. I did not and had to reapply the remover.
With the type of varnish remover I am using, Citristrip (better for indoor use because it smells like oranges but still wear a painting mask), only let it sit for about an hour then using the painter’s tool scrap off the varnish.
SIDE NOTE: I found that after about 1 hour, the remover started to dry out and did not come off as easy.
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. Please do not do what I did and go through more sandpaper then needed…
Step 3: Fill in any holes in the wood
Applying wood filler needs to happen 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 then 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 apply the filler before sanding…
Step 4: Sanding the stairs
It is finally time to sand the stairs!
The trick to get a smooth finish easily is by using different grits of sandpaper, and I want to show you 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 #120 grit or #220.
But first, you need to put on your sanding mask. After put the #60 grit sandpaper on 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.
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. I make a lot of mistakes.
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 accord 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.
MAKE sure you do one stair, skip one, then do another stair, this way 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. So that means no walking on the stained stairs for at least 24 hours.
After 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 apply 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 containers directions. Here are my stairs all stained.
Step 6: Paint stair risers
Now that the stain is applied you can paint the stair risers. But first you will need to tape off all areas of the stained stairs, you can also cover the stair with paper.
Take your primer and paint the risers, making sure you paint were stain might have gotten (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 all the difference plus now no more smells are 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.