When Is It Time To Refinish Wood Stairs?

By Cezar

Have you ever walked up a flight of creaky, worn-out wooden stairs and wondered if it’s time for a makeover? Wood stairs add warmth and character to any home, but over time, they can start showing signs of wear and tear. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of wood stair refinishing, discussing when it’s the perfect time to give your stairs a much-needed facelift.

Signs of Wear and Tear on Wood Stairs

Over the years, your once-pristine stairs might start showing signs of wear and tear. Let’s take a closer look at some common indicators that it’s time to refinish those wood stairs.

Scratches and Dents

Have you noticed unsightly scratches and dents on your stairs? Perhaps they’ve accumulated from moving furniture, playful pets, or the countless pairs of shoes that have traversed them. These imperfections not only detract from the overall aesthetic but can also weaken the structural integrity of the stairs. Refinishing your wood stairs will help erase these battle scars and restore their original beauty.

Sandless Refinishing

Fading Color and Sun Damage

Wood is a natural material that can be susceptible to fading when exposed to sunlight. Over time, the once-rich color of your wood stairs may start to fade, losing its luster and becoming lackluster. Sun damage can also cause the wood to become dry and brittle. If your stairs have lost their vibrant hue and are looking dull, refinishing them will bring back that beautiful, warm tone and protect them from further damage.

Worn-out Finish

The finish on your wood stairs acts as a protective layer, shielding them from everyday wear and tear. However, this finish can deteriorate over time, especially in high-traffic areas. If you notice that the finish on your stairs is peeling, chipping, or has become uneven, it’s a clear sign that it’s time to refinish them. A fresh coat of finish will not only enhance the visual appeal but also provide a renewed layer of protection.

Squeaky Steps and Loose Parts

Do your stairs creak with every step you take? Are there loose or wobbly parts that make you feel like you’re on a rickety rollercoaster ride? These are signs of structural issues that require attention. Refinishing your wood stairs gives you the opportunity to address any squeaks, tighten loose parts, and ensure that your stairs are safe and sturdy for years to come.

Can Stairs be Refinished Without Sanding?

While sanding is a common method used to remove the top layer of wood during the refinishing process, there are alternative approaches available that don’t involve sanding.

One such technique is chemical stripping. Instead of using a mechanical sander, a chemical stripper is applied to the surface of the stairs. This stripper works to break down the existing finish or stain, allowing it to be easily removed. Once the old finish is stripped away, the stairs can be cleaned and prepared for the application of a new finish or stain.

Another method is known as screening or buffing. This technique involves using a floor buffer with a special abrasive screen or pad. The screen gently abrades the top layer of the stairs, removing the old finish or stain without the need for heavy sanding. After the screening process, the stairs can be treated with a new finish or stain to achieve the desired look.

It’s important to note that the suitability of these methods may depend on the condition of your stairs and the type of finish or stain that needs to be removed. It’s recommended to consult with a professional or an experienced contractor who can assess the specific requirements of your stairs and guide you on the most appropriate refinishing approach.

Understanding the Stairs Refinishing Process

Before we dive into the refinishing process, it’s essential to note that stairs refinishing shares similarities with refinishing hardwood floors. However, due to the smaller surface area and the tight space that stairs often present, the process can be more intricate and demanding. So, let’s get started on your journey to beautifully refinished stairs!

Step 1: Prepare the Stairs

The first step in any refinishing project is proper preparation. Begin by removing any carpeting, carpet rods, nails, or staples from the stairs. It’s crucial to ensure that the wood surfaces are free from any obstructions before you start working on them.

Step 2: Strip the Stain

To achieve a fresh start, you need to remove the existing stain from the stair treads. This can be done using a suitable stripping agent. Apply the stripping agent according to the manufacturer’s instructions and allow it to sit for the recommended amount of time. Once the stain has softened, use a scraper or a putty knife to gently remove it from the wood.

Step 3: Sand the Treads

Next, it’s time to sand the stair treads using an orbital sander. Begin with a coarse grit sandpaper, around 40-60 grit, to remove any remaining stain and smooth out the wood surface. Be sure to move the sander in the direction of the wood grain to avoid any unwanted scratches.

Step 4: Sand the Risers

Similarly, use the orbital sander to sand the risers of the stairs. This will help create an even surface and prepare them for the finishing process. Opt for a finer grit sandpaper, such as 80-120 grit, for this step to achieve a smoother finish.

Step 5: Sand the Banisters and Spindles

Unlike the flat surfaces of the treads and risers, the banisters and spindles require a different approach. Since an orbital sander may not reach all the nooks and crannies, sanding these areas by hand is the best option. Use a sanding block or sandpaper wrapped around a small piece of wood to carefully sand the banisters and spindles, ensuring all surfaces are smooth and free from imperfections.

Step 6: Clean the Stairs

Once you’ve completed the sanding process, it’s essential to thoroughly clean the stairs. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any dust and debris from all surfaces. Follow up with a damp cloth to wipe down the stairs, ensuring they are completely clean before moving on to the next steps.

Step 7: Stain the Wood

Now comes the exciting part – staining the wood to achieve the desired color and finish. Before applying the stain, carefully read and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Depending on the color you desire, you may need to apply multiple coats of stain. Allow each coat to dry fully before applying the next one, ensuring that you achieve an even and consistent color across all the treads and risers.

Step 8: Apply the Polyurethane Finish

To protect the wood and enhance its durability, it’s crucial to apply a polyurethane finish. This step is especially important for the stair treads, which endure heavy foot traffic. Multiple coats of polyurethane are required to ensure long-lasting protection. Use a brush or an applicator recommended by the manufacturer to apply the polyurethane.


Hardwood is an exceptional material known for its durability and longevity. With the ability to be refinished multiple times throughout its lifespan, hardwood allows you to maintain its pristine condition over the years. Refinishing your hardwood stairs offers a remarkable solution to address any signs of fading or wear and tear, restoring them to their former glory and ensuring they look as fresh and vibrant as the day they were installed.