DIY Carpet Removal and Refinishing Wood Stairs

Since the day we moved in I’ve been wanting to rip the carpet off the stairs. Almost 2 years later that was finally a reality! It was high time to get these stairs NAKED.

Here are the stairs in their carpeted glory before I got crazy with the box cutter!

I must share that I’ve been down this road before in our Florida house. Under the carpet was some pretty rough builder grade stairs. No bullnose stair edge and lots of adhesives was used. It was not a pretty hardwood so I painted the steps and added new risers.

If you rip off your carpet and that’s what you are dealing with head to the blog on that process.

To find out what you are working with you just have to bite the bullet and start stripping off the carpet.


  1. a crow bar to lift the carpet as well as to lift off the tack strips.
  2. a box cutter to cut carpet into strips (I worked in small sections).
  3. Assorted sizes of flathead screwdrivers
  4. Needle nose pliers

I removed a few steps worth of carpet, removed the tack strips and removed the padding. Last and most tedious step- remove ALL the staples with a flathead screwdriver and pliers. I found scissors could slide under the staples to pry them off too.

Once the carpet is ripped off you are committed to finishing that section because the exposed tack strip is literally a bed of nails! That’s the reason I worked in sections- I could start/stop safely and all parties could still get up and down the steps.

To my surprise under the carpet was pretty hardwood (except on the 2 steps that turn), a bullnose edge and zero adhesives were used. Yay!!!!

Removing the bulk of the carpet wasn’t so bad. I cut along the spindles to free it like a runner.

Unlike the Florida house the carpet extended beyond the spindles and wrapped around the side edge of the steps.

The wrapped edge was excessively stapled and took a lot of patience to extract from each step.

There was a small cap of wood that extends to round out the step that came off with the carpet in many cases. I sharpied the step number on it and tossed in a drawer to come back to.

I can’t tell you how many hours it took to strip every staple and carpet fiber off but it IS worth it!

I used stainable wood putty to fill all the staple and nail holes. I just used my finger to spread a thin layer then sanded the stairs well.

Next step was to tape off the steps and add a sheer layer of primer on the risers. Your primer is just meant to be a thin coat so just whisk it on and keep moving.

I painted one coat of white semi gloss on the risers and trim on the whole staircase.

Next I used Minwax Gel Stain in Black for the stair treads. I chose gel stain is because it’s as thick as pudding so it doesn’t run or drip. I painted it on the treads then used a wadded up paper towel in a circular motion to scrub it in and remove excess.

There are 2 stairs at the top that turn and they are a plywood base and not pretty wood. I patched and sanded them well. Gel stain is a more solid coverage than stain. Since I went with black I hoped those 2 steps would blend in with the rest of the stairs for the most part.

Guess what? The dark color covered the plywood well enough and it looks like the other steps. Hallelujah!!!

There is a slight gap on the bottom of the triangular steps so I will add a piece of quarter round to hide it. I painted an X on the risers involved in the turn to remind me that they need some extra attention as far as patch/prime/paint.

When painting or staining your stairs it’s best to do every other one to allow your people access up and down the stairs. Allow to dry 24 hours.

Another random tip is to use paper (or in my case wrapping paper) to protect the stairs while touching up the risers. Faster than taping and no risk of damaging the paint when you pull the tape off!

Move the painters tape onto the DRY step and paint the alternates. I even added bright post it notes to make it really visible.

*If you are lucky* and your people pay attention they will only use the steps with the painters tape/notes. Just in case I put a towel at the top and door mat at the bottom case there are any black foot prints.

To refinish the stairs I used one coat gel stain on steps, one coat primer on risers then 2 coats of semi glass white paint.

Circled back to finishing the end caps by using wood filler on them and sanding.

I was tempted to pull off the end caps that remained and skip this step but they serve a purpose covering a gap.

Wood stain really smells and I am migraine prone. I wore a respirator any time I was working with it.

Once all of the end caps were stained I used some wood glue, tape and then a nail gun to secure them on the end of the steps.

I saved the rounded edge for last mainly because our puppy, Barkley, chewed up my respirator.

Each riser needed taped along the top so I could swipe stain on the underside of the steps. Time consuming but necessary.

The final detail was to address one of the triangular stairs on the turn. One of the risers had nail pops and looked crappy. I used some scrap wood to create a new riser. Primed it and painted it twice with the semi gloss.

I also purchased quarter round for the 2 steps on the turn to disguise a small gap as well as for the tile and first step.

Viola! Here’s a close up of the smooth riser and quarter round.

I’m thrilled with the outcome. I love the crips black and white contrast. Cleaning is a breeze using a broom and simply sweeping from the top down!

Throw back to a “before” photo care of the MLS.

I painted all of the handrails and posts black, removed the carpeting and refinished the existing wood stairs.

So there you have it, y’all. Everything you could ever want or need to know if decide to rip the carpet off!

Here’s to blood, sweat, tears and patience~ Kristen

About Laurel Dane Designs, LLC

I am customizing our final house into a home one room at a time. This is our 11th and final home so every detail is curated to create our FOREVER home. I've worked on many homes of our own and client's home so there is plenty of inspirational for all home sizes and styles here. There are tutorial blogs for DIY projects to recipes- this blog is all things HOME. I hope you will join me and find inspiration here.

6 Responses

  1. Bii Sharp

    Great transformation. I suspect we have much lower quality wood under our stair carpet.

  2. Desperate Craft Wife

    We had a Morrison build in FL. When I pulled off the carpet in that house there was not quality wood underneath. Worst part was they used adhesive on the wood and carpet so there was a lot of scraping and sanding involved.

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for the paper tip! Painting the risers today and that is going to SAVE ME! Also wondering if you used polyurethane on the treads?

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