When Is It Time To Refinish Wood Stairs?

By Cezar

What is Refinishing?

Hardwood floors are renowned for their elegant good looks, classic charm, and fantastic longevity. Hardwood stairs give you all of the same benefits that make hardwood such a popular flooring material.

The longevity of hardwood doesn’t just come from its durability – it’s also because hardwood can be refinished as many as a dozen times over its lifespan. Refinishing wood involves sanding off the thin top layer using a mechanical sander. Once this layer has been removed, your hardwood floor will resemble fresh wood. Then, this new layer of raw wood is stained and finished. The final product will look like a brand-new hardwood floor – at a fraction of the cost!

Everything written above also applies to your hardwood stairs. However, because hardwood can only be refinished a limited number of times, it’s recommended you hold off until your wood truly needs it.

Let’s see why you might need to refinish your hardwood stairs!

Why Is It Necessary To Refinish Wood Stairs?

While hardwood is very durable, it’s still vulnerable to wear and tear – especially in a high-traffic area like a staircase. Over the years, your finish will wear down, and your stair treads may become scratched or scuffed. Once you begin to notice these telltale signs, you should prepare to finish to preserve the longevity of your wood, and to keep it protected from impact and moisture.

Of course, refinishing your hardwood staircase will also help it look its best. Refinishing also gives you the opportunity to choose a different colour of stain for the treads of your staircase – great if you want to refresh your look.

If you’re renovating an older home, you may have hardwood staircases in rough shape. If you’ve removed carpeting from a hardwood staircase, it’s also likely in need of a new finish. Refinished wood will give visitors to your home the appearance of brand new stairs!

Can You Refinish Stairs Without Sanding?

Refinishing hardwood normally requires the use of heavy-duty mechanical sanders and can be an intimidating prospect for many homeowners. While we always recommend leaving it to the pros, the truth is that your stairs can often be refinished without sanding.

Whether this is an option for you depends on the state of your stairs. If it’s just the finish on your wood that’s worn down, then your treads are a good candidate for a “screen and recoat”. For a screen and recoat, also called a screen and refinish, the old finish will be buffed off your stairs without affecting the wood. Then fresh coats of finish will be applied to ensure that your wood is protected and keeps its good looks. If your stairs haven’t encountered any other damage, a screen and recoat are advised every one to three years.

However, sometimes a screen and recoat won’t suffice. Here are some common reasons customers will need to opt for a full refinishing:

  • Layers of your wood have been worn down through the finish
  • Scratches or scuffs have penetrated the finish and affected the wood directly
  • Your stairs have been finished with a wax-based product
  • You want to update the colour of your stain

If any of these conditions are present in your stairs, you’ll need to complete a full refinish, which means you’ll have to sand down the top layer of wood.

Stairs Refinishing Process

Refinishing your stairs isn’t fundamentally different from refinishing hardwood floors. However, because of the small area of the surfaces involved and the fact that stairs are usually a tight space, finishing a set of stairs is a trickier and more intensive process than refinishing a floor of the same area.

While this will be one of the first things that a good professional will check for, if you’re doing the work yourself it’s important to make sure that any nails, staples, or anything else protruding from the wood are removed before starting to work!

The cost to refinish your stairs can range from $40–$75 per stair. This will vary a lot depending on the layout and size of your staircase.

Here are the basic tools needed for refinishing stairs:

  • Orbital sander (hand held)
  • Sand paper  (40-60 grit and 80-120 grit)
  • Clearcoat
  • Stain
  • Other: brushes, clothes, vacuum, etc.

However, a more involved job may call for more materials and tools (for example, if you have to fill serious gouges or holes in the wood). A good professional refinishing contractor will know what tools to use.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Prepare the stairs: remove any carpeting, carpet rods, nails and staples
  2. Strip the stain from the stair treads
  3. Sand the treads with an orbital sander
  4. Sand the risers with an orbital sander
  5. Sand the banisters and spindles by hand
  6. Vacuum and wipe with a damp cloth until all dust and debris have been removed.
  7. Stain the wood. Depending on the colour, this may take multiple coats of stain. Follow the instructions and ensure you’re giving the stain enough time to dry
  8. Apply the polyurethane finish. Multiple coats are required for the treads.


Hardwood is a fantastic material, and you can refinish it many times over its lifespan to keep it in top condition. If your stairs are looking a little faded and worse for wear and tear, refinishing them can be a great way to have them look as good as new again.

There is no “one size fits all” solution here! Each wood floor and its condition are unique. We will provide you with the best and most cost-efficient solution for your floors.

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As a general rule, professionally refinished hardwood floors last 5 times longer vs DIY.