How to Stain Stair Treads

Stairs treads withstand some of the heaviest foot traffic in the home, but many homeowners are choosing to stain their stair treads rather than cover them with carpeting or runners. The look is more sleek, contemporary, and the surface is easier to clean and resistant to stains. Proper preparation, however, is the key to a professional finished look.

Step 1

Vacuum the stair treads to remove dirt, dust, and anything that may scratch the surface of the treads as you sand. Using medium-grit sandpaper, sand each tread to raise the grain; this will allow the stain to penetrate. After sanding, vacuum away all dust, then use a tack cloth dipped in mineral spirits to remove any remaining dust. Even if you can't see it, it's there.

Step 2

Tape off and protect any surrounding surfaces before staining, such as walls, balusters, risers, and skirtboards. Stain is difficult to remove from painted surfaces.

Step 3

Apply stain according to manufacturer's directions for application, number of applications and drying time. Work from the top stair down. Use long, even strokes, staining in the direction of the wood grain. Use a fine-grit sandpaper to sand between coats after drying. Sanding eliminates any air bubbles and also prepares the surface to better receive the next coat of stain and polyurethane. After sanding, use a tack cloth dipped in mineral spirits to remove any dust, even if you can't see it.

Step 4

Apply at least two coats of a polyurethane varnish to protect the surface, and follow the manufacturer's drying guidelines. Make sure the surface has been sanded lightly with a fine-grit sandpaper before applying each coat and that you've used a tack cloth dipped in mineral spirits to remove the fine dust. Work from the top step down to apply the varnish in long, even strokes in the direction of the wood grain. Be sure not to overapply. Brush over any air bubbles as they occur. Any you don't catch can be removed when sanding.

Things You Will Need

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Medium- and fine-grit sand paper
  • Tack cloth
  • Painting tape
  • Stain
  • Polyurethane
  • Paint brushes appropriate for stain and varnish
  • Rags
  • Mineral spirits


  • For a professional look, take the time to properly prep the surfaces by following the recommended sanding procedures.

About the Author

Annie Mulligan is an editor, author, and developer of education materials for children in grades K-8 as well as for adult learners. She has published more than 100 books in reading, mathematics, test prep and language arts.