Skip to Content

How Long Does It Take To Refinish Stairs?

The look of hardwood stairs is classic and timeless. However, stairs are a high-traffic area and will show wear and tear. Fading paint, blotchy or uneven finish, scratches or paint cracks are all eyesores. These are signs that it is a good time to refinish. But how long will it take to do this? We did some digging and we have the answer for you.

Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

It will take a couple of days to refinish the stairs. The length of time will depend on the method of removing old varnish or paint. It will require time and effort but there are effective ways to make your stairs look great again.

  • Stripping is easier but takes more time
  • Sanding will have a smoother finish quicker than stripping

But what is the difference between stripping and sanding? Read on further so you can have more insights into how to do your refinishing project. 

Minimalist stairs with wooden steps and metal brackets and guide lights on the side, How Long Does It Take To Refinish Stairs?

Refinishing Stairs

Most stairs are painted with paint or wood stain. This is done to protect the wood as well as lend an aesthetic value to the stairs.  But frequent use will cause paint to fade. This can be resolved with a fresh coat of pain. However, old paint has to be removed first if stain or color preference has changed.

When paint starts to thin off, it will start to peel or show some cracks. Painting over to hide these imperfections is not recommendable. The surface will have an uneven and messy look. Also, the paint will not stick to the wood. What is needed is to strip it down to its original nature and paint it over again. 

Wooden steps on the staircase and white painted walls

It will take more than a day to complete the refinishing project.  The first thing to do is to remove the paint off the wooden stairs. One option is stripping which is an easier task but has a long wait time. The other option is sanding. This will entail more work but paint removal is quicker. 

Stripping Method

To strip wood with chemical strippers is an easier option to remove paint on the stairs. It involves less work but requires a little bit of patience.

The chemical stripper is applied liberally even in the nook and crannies of the stairs. It can take up to 24 hours to dissolve on the surface. Consult the instructions of the product you are using on the length of wait time before scraping.

Removing putty on the wall using a putty knife

Stairs with more than one layer of paint might need more than one coating of the solvent. But there are stripping products that can do the work in one step. 

Check this paint and varnish stripping gel on Amazon

Different tools can be used to remove the paint once the paint removal takes effect. A common tool is a painter's scraper. A putty knife can also be used not just for scraping but also for wood filler. 

Check this putty knife set on Amazon 

Is paint remover toxic?

The use of paint or varnish strippers can be hazardous because of the chemicals used. It is advisable to use appropriate protection. Before use, always read the instructions and safety precautions on the product label. This guide will also indicate how to properly dispose of their product.

It is important to protect your skin as it can easily absorb harmful chemicals. This can cause skin irritation or other adverse effects. Use gloves that are chemical resistant. Wear clothes that will cover most parts of your body. Also, protect your eye by wearing goggles. Hardwood staircase and white painted walls with lights on the walls

When using a stripping product, the area has to be well ventilated. Open the doors and windows near the stairs so air will circulate.  This will help not to inhale chemicals from the stripper. A fan can also help blow away the strong chemical smell. 

Avoid also having any source of flame or heat near the area. The chemical can catch fire from open gas stoves, heaters, and furnaces. Make sure to turn this off when doing stripping work. Do not light a cigarette or use lighters and matchsticks as well. 

Sanding Method

Sanding on the other hand is a faster method if you have power tools. Using a power sander can cover the area quicker. But be careful not to over sand as it will be hard to absorb the stain. Also, follow the grain of the wood when sanding.

Carpenter sanding wood using a sander

The success of this method also relies on the use of the right sandpaper grit. Use medium sanding paper with grit #100 to remove layers of the paint. As you progress change it to a finer one with grit#220. This will have a smooth finish and make the wood ready for staining.  As you use the sanding tool, the sanding paper thins out and won't be effective to remove the paint. Check the sanding paper as you work on the stairs and change when needed.

A narrow wooden staircase with metal railings

However, sanding can make the area dusty. Some sanding tools have a vacuum with them but this does not guarantee that dust will be contained. It will still make the area dusty and make the area messy.

One more thing to consider is the noise level.  Sanding tools are noisy when in use. But at least the noise will not be for long as the sanding tool gets the job done fast.

Check out the multi-function detail sander with micro-filter dust on Amazon

Of course, you can still go the manual sanding route with sandpaper. This will take more time and is labor intensive. Doing it manually will be advantageous for the areas that are hard to reach by sanding tools.

Whether using the sanding tool or manual sanding, you should wear a protective covering, goggles, and a mask.  This is to prevent dust from entering your eyes or inhaling it.  

Can a heat gun be used to remove paint?

It is possible to use a heat gun to remove paint or stain on the wood. As it heats up, the paint will bubble when the heat gun is pointed at the wood. This will then make it easier to scrape off the paint. 

The heat gun's temperature can be adjusted so the paint will bubble after a few seconds. But be careful as heat can also cause damage to the wood. 

However, the cost of buying one will add up to the project cost. A heat gun can come in handy though in winters. It can help thaw pipes that are frozen. This device can also be used to remove wallpaper, shrink plastic wrapping, and dry damp wood. 

Check this heat gun 1800W on Amazon

How to Finish Stairs

Knowing now the options will help you decide which direction to go with refinishing your stairs. Here are  the next steps to a new and better-looking staircase:

1. Fill holes and gaps

There might be nail holes or gaps on the wood after stripping off paint. Use wood filler to cover these imperfections. 

Apply the wood filler and allow it to harden. What is great about this filling material is it can be sanded and stained once dry.

There are two types of wood filler to choose from. You may choose a solvent-based wood filler that can fill bigger gaps. However, it needs acetone or turpentine to clean up.  The more popular product is water-based. This is a better option as it does not contain harmful chemicals. It also needs just water for clean-up. 

Check this water-based wood and grain filler on Amazon

To get more details on the use of wood filler, we have an article on How Long Does It Take For Wood Filler To Dry?.

2. Clean Up

Remove the dust on the stairs before wood staining or painting. Use a rag or soft-bristled brush, especially in the crevices. A vacuum or blower can also be used for a quicker clean-up.

However, the surface can be sticky or greasy, especially with the use of a chemical stripper and solvent-based wood filler. Mineral spirit is a good way to remove oil and grease on the wood. It also helps the wood to absorb finish better. 

3. To stain or paint?

The final step in refinishing stairs is to cover the wood with a stain or paint. Which way should you go?

To achieve a more natural look for your wooden stairs you can stain them. Wood stains come in different wood colors. It usually requires just one coat but will need re-coating more often. 

Painting gives you more flexibility in adding color to the stairs. You can be more creative but it will hide the grain and beauty of the hardwood floors. Paint requires priming of the wood and several coats of paint, adding more work. 

For more information on different finishes for wooden steps, read What Is The Best Finish For Wood Stairs? [3 Options]

In Conclusion

Minimalist stairs with wooden steps and metal brackets and guide lights on the side

Whether you will strip or sand the stairs is a matter of determining how much time and effort you want to spend. We hope that what we have presented here will help you have excellent results in refinishing your stairs.