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DIY: Carpet to Hardwood Staircase Makeover

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How to Remove Carpet from a Staircase and Refinish the Wood with Stain and Paint.

Re-doing my staircase is something I wanted to do the minute I moved into my house – that was 17 years ago. I have always yearned for hardwood steps and white painted risers.

Now I have them.  The carpet held up extremely well all that time, but after seeing so many successful stair makeovers on so many blogs, I decided it was worth a shot, plus it was actually a whole lot cheaper than having them cleaned!

Before Photo: Staircase Makeover

DIY Staircase Makeover Before Foyer Staircase with Carpet Before Makeover

If you decide to do rip the carpet off your staircase and stain the wood it isn’t that hard to do. I worked on it a few hours a day and completed the project in just a few days.

How to Makeover a Staircase

I always thought since my home was a builders spec house that the steps had no bull-nose.  But low and behold when I went to take a peek to see what was under the carpet I was surprised to find bull-nose steps – a big plus.

The downside: the steps were not hardwood, but soft pine boards with lots of rough knots and imperfections and overspray of paint. I didn’t let this stop me though.

Staircase Makeover in progress-going from carpet to stained hardwood

The hardest part of re-doing the stairs was the fact that they were opened on the outer edge.

Removing the carpet between the balusters was tough and the carpet was adhered with glue and 20 staples on each outer edge.

How to make over a staircase with carpet to a stain and painted hardwood

How To Remove Staples From Carpet on Staircase Steps

Once I got all the staples out with a paint of needle nose pliers and a lot of muscle, the edges were pretty chewed up.

My husband helped me sand them smooth to remove the paint and smooth the nail holes, but they were not perfect.

Each one had overspray on it from when the detail molding piece was installed by the builder.

Tutorial on how to remove carpet from a staircase

This overspray of paint was hard to remove as each edge was rounded bull-nose.

How to Sand Wood Steps Between Staircase Balusters

To sand in-between the balusters I used a little 3M manual sander called Sandblaster Pro Detail Sanding Tool.

Small Detail sander made by 3M called a Sandblaster Pro

It is hard to find in stores now, but you can still get one here: Sandblaster Pro Detail Sanding Tool

You can also use any detail sander with a pointed tip Ryobi makes one. Ryobi Detail Sander

The very hardest part (you may not have this problem) was keeping track of where Trax the cat was.

I didn’t want little cat paws in the stain, paint, and poly.  He of course was curious to see what I was up to every time I worked on the steps.  He thought he was my helper.  He did end up one day with a bit of white paint on his tail.

There were also some other places were the carpet was hard to remove, but it finally all came off.

How to remove carpet from a staircase

With the hard part removing the carpet and sanding the steps to remove the overspray of paint complete, it was now time to have fun with stain, poly, and paint.

If you have nail holes still on your steps after sanding, you can fill them with Minwax Stainable Wood Filler.   Do not use regular wood putty as it will not take the color of the stain and you will be left with light colored spots under the stain.

DIY staircase makeover

This photo is before the steps were sanded to remove the overspray of paint on each side of the steps.

Since the boards were soft pine. I used Minwax Pre-Stain Conditioner on each step before I stained them.  It prepares soft wood like pine to take the stain better.

Once the pre-conditioner coat was on I had up until 2 hours to then apply the stain. I used the traditional Minwax stain in the yellow can. I wanted a dark enough color to hide the knots, but not too dark as I wanted it to coordinate with the darkest part of the grain in the floor and the banister as well as the sideboard in my foyer.

I ended up mixing the colors Provincial with Early American and applied it with and old rag.

Should You Stain The Steps or Paint the Risers First?

I stained the steps first.  I took the advice of Sarah at Thrifty Decor Chick who recommended in her tutorial to do this first as she painted her risers first and then when she stained the steps the stain got on the painted risers and was hard to get off.

What is the Best Polyurethane for Steps on a Staircase?

I used Zinseer Bulls Eye Ultimate Polyurethane.

I applied 3 coats over a two day period, letting each coat dry thoroughly. I did every other step so we could still go up and down.

When those steps were complete, I did the others. I put post- it notes on the steps that could be stepped on, just  in case we forgot which steps were safe.

How to stain wood on a staircase and paint the risers

When I painted each riser and baluster I used Frogtape to mask out the areas I didn’t want the paint to touch.

It was a bit time consuming putting tape around each baluster, but when I removed it I had perfect edges. I love using this tape, I think it is much better than the blue tape I used to use when painting.

Step by step tutorial on how to remove carpet from a staircase and stain the wood underneath

Staircase Makeover After

Hello gorgeous!!!

Staircase Makeover After reveal

Why did I wait so long to reveal your hidden beauty?

DIY Staircase Makeover

I love my new stairs!  It was a very inexpensive project.  I already had the can of white paint (Sherwin Williams Alabaster) and the rest cost under $25.   Don’t they look so fresh and modern… and CLEAN?

DIY HOme Improvement -Removing carpet on a staircase and staining the wood

If your are considering re-doing a staircase in your home, all I can say is – Go Do It – now!  You will be sooo happy you did.

Staircase Makeover UPDATE:

I have moved from this house. The house I moved into had carpet on it like this one did. Click the link to see how I made it over.

It was slightly different—-> Second Foyer Staircase Makeover



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  1. Your stairs look beautiful, Diane! We have the same type of wood on our stairs and we pulled off our carpet several years ago. I would love to do this. I think it looks so good especially with the white risers, but as we hope to move this year I’m not taking on any major projects.

  2. Those stairs are beautiful! I know it was a job because I had a stair case in another home that I made over. Such a great transformation.

  3. Your stairway looks fabulous. You were so right when you said it looks crisp, that is the perfect way to describe the look. I love the dark stain against the white.
    Great job,

  4. Well – my mind is trying to absorb all of this. To these stairs were just waiting for the right set of hands to manipulate them into something gorgeous. You tutorial is marvelous, although I can’t figure out the purpose of the white spray paint. I can’t imagine that you used the spray paint on the balusters, yet, with your skills, I wouldn’t put anything past you. You’ve give me great inspiration and even better — a picture to show my husband so that he will be equally inspired. Congratulations on a beautiful staircase. It’s beautiful.

    1. HI Jan-
      The spray paint is what the builder did when he was building the house. They sprayed the balusters and the decorative trim pieces under the side of each step white. You can see it on the other side of the steps also against the wall. Then they put the carpet on. When I removed the carpet the white overspray was on the steps. I had to remove it with lots of sandpaper!