How to Refinish Worn Out Stair Treads | Ask This Old House

12February 2020


Hand sander []
Scraper []
Vacuum []
Paintbrush []

Shopping List:
80 grit sandpaper []
120 grit sandpaper []
Polyurethane []

1. Start by sanding down the treads to bare wood with the 80 grit sandpaper. This will require a combination of power sanding and hand sanding to get in the tight corners and around balusters. Nathan suggests using a scraper in the corners if the old finish won’t come off.
2. Vacuum off any dust from sanding between passes. Wipe down the treads with a tack cloth to ensure all the dust was removed.
3. Do a second pass of sanding using 120 grit sandpaper.
4. Vacuum and tack cloth the treads again.
5. Apply a coat of polyurethane to the treads using a paintbrush. If desired, a stain can also be applied to the tread before the polyurethane.
6. Allow the polyurethane to dry for a few hours. Lightly sand the tread and get rid of all the dust.
7. Repeat this process two more times. Do not sand after the third coat of polyurethane.

To refinish stair treads, the old finish will need to be completely sanded off. To do this, Nathan used a variety of tools, including a Rotex 150 multi-mode sander [] for the majority of the tread (, a scraper for the corner of the stairs, and a Sanding Mouse Hook and Loop Sanding Block [] for around the balusters and the nosing of the tread. The sanding block can be found online.  

To remove the dust, Nathan used a HEPA Dust Extractor [] with a brush attachment by Festool ( and a tack cloth [], which can be found at home centers.

To apply a new finish, Nathan used a regular paintbrush and a water based polyurethane [] by Rust-Oleum (

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