Stairs take a beating because they are one of the highest traffic area in your home. If you plan to paint or clearcoat your wood stair treads, preparation and patience are the key. Start by protecting the risers, stringers and areas around the stairs with painters tape and plastic. Remove any old paint or varathane with a chemical stripper, and sand all of the treads with 80 grit, working your way up to 220 to smooth out the surface.
If you’re painting, choose a good solid primer, and apply 1 to 2 coats until the wood is completely sealed. Follow up with a high quality Latex or oil based floor paint, applying 2 to 3 coats, sanding with 220 grit or finer in between coats for a perfectly smooth finish. Clear coating stair treads is a similar process, although you’ll want to skip the primer! Apply the first coat using an appropriate brush or lamb’s wool applicator – you’ll want to apply 3 or more coats.
After each coat has dried according to the manufacturer’s instructions, sand lightly with 220 grit or higher to remove any small imperfections left in the surface from dust, and reapply the next coat. After each coat you’ll feel the small bumps in the finish by running your hand over the tread. Continue this process until you are satisfied with the finished surface. Keep in mind that the more coats of clear coat that are applied, the deeper and richer the finish will appear, and the more protected your treads are from wear and tear – which means more time until refinishing will be required.
You’ll want to pick a few days when the kids are at camp, or you can restrict access to the stairs – the last thing you want are footprints in the finish!