How to Prep Your Staircase

If you are planning to refurbish your staircase you’ll find that good preparation pays dividends. Whether you are going to lay a new carpet, paint or stain the stairs or replace the balustrade, you will achieve a more professional-looking finish if you take the time to thoroughly prep all the wooden surfaces beforehand. This may include, among other things, stripping off old varnish, wood stain or paint, extracting nails and staples, sanding down the staircase and getting rid of the old stair carpet.

Removing stair carpet

Starting from the top step, lever up the carpet using a pry bar and divide into manageable sections with a sharp utility knife, cutting from the back. If you are going to lay new stair carpet, you can leave the tack strips in place – just prise up any damaged or rusty ones. Remove protruding nails and staples with a claw hammer, pliers or nail extractor. If you can’t pull them all out, just hammer them right into the wood and cover up any marks afterwards with wood filler.

Sanding down stairs

Removing old paint or varnish and getting all the surfaces smooth is particularly important if you are planning to stain or paint your stairs rather than lay new carpet. Sand everything down, starting with coarse 40 or 60 grit sandpaper and working your way up to fine 120 or 240 grit paper for a smooth finish.

If your budget allows it, a power tool could save considerable time and effort. Use a random orbital or belt sanding machine for the larger surfaces such as treads and risers, and a detail (also known as mouse) sanding machine for corners and small stair parts.

The spindles, or balusters, will need to be tackled manually. Just wrap a strip of sandpaper around a spindle and pull it to and fro as if you were shining shoes. Work your way up and down the spindle until the surface is smooth. Ornate stair designs may also require the use of a chemical stripper to get into all the nooks and crannies.

Cleaning up

When you have finished sanding, vacuum the stairs from end to end to remove all dust and debris. Use a large sponge to wipe everything down with water and a mild detergent – liquid floor cleaner is ideal, as long as it doesn’t contain bleach. Rinse thoroughly and leave to dry for at least a day.

Filling in cracks

You may well find various nail holes, cracks and dents in your staircase. To conceal them, apply wood filler (also known as wood putty) in as close a shade as possible to the colour of your stairs. The compound will probably lighten as it dries out, so test it on an unobtrusive area first. Because filler tends to shrink as it hardens, you will need to compensate by slightly over-filling the holes. Sand lightly when dry to level the surface, and wipe with a damp cloth. Your stairs are now ready for new paint, wood stain or carpet.