How to Finish Wood Stair Treads

How to Finish Wood Stair Treads

Master the art of finishing wood stair treads with this guide, covering finishes, application tips, and safety measures to enhance durability and beauty.

Finishing wood stair treads is not just a task—it's an art that enhances both the durability and the visual appeal of your staircase.

Whether you're updating an existing stairway or installing a new one, the right finish can make a significant difference.

Let’s dive into the best practices and products to ensure your wood stair treads are beautiful and durable.

How to finish wood stair treads effectively: start by sanding the surface to ensure smoothness, then apply your chosen finish, such as polyurethane, for a durable and protective layer that enhances the wood's natural beauty and increases slip resistance.

If adding carpet stair treads to your stairs, make sure to let finish dry completey first, or you risk damaging the flooring and the carpet.

Using Hardwood Flooring for Stair Treads   

Using hardwood flooring for stair treads brings a timeless elegance to any home.

Hardwoods like oak, maple, and walnut are not only aesthetically pleasing but offer the robustness needed for the heavy foot traffic typically seen on stairs.

Preparing these hardwoods for finishing is crucial.

Start with sanding down the treads to a smooth surface, which helps the finish adhere better and results in a sleek appearance.

What is the Best Finish for Stair Treads?   

The best finishes for wood stair treads protect the wood from wear, enhance its natural beauty, and improve slip resistance. Here are a few options:

  1. Polyurethane: Offers a hard, durable finish and is available in various sheens from matte to glossy. It’s resistant to both water and chemicals, making it an excellent choice for stair treads.

  2. Water-Based Finishes: These are less toxic and emit fewer odors than traditional polyurethane. They dry quickly and maintain the color of the wood without yellowing over time.

  3. Oil-Based Finishes: Penetrate deeply into the wood, enhancing its grain and giving it a rich finish. They take longer to dry but are highly durable once cured.

Each type of finish has its pros and cons, so consider your household’s needs and the specific characteristics of your hardwood when choosing the most appropriate one.

How Do You Finish Wood Stairs So They Are Not Slippery?   

Safety is paramount when finishing wood stair treads, as wood can become slippery, especially when polished. Here’s how to ensure your stairs remain safe:

  1. Add a Non-Slip Additive: Mixing a non-slip additive into your topcoat of finish can significantly enhance the grip of your stairs. These additives are barely noticeable and do not alter the color or texture of the finish.

  2. Apply Anti-Slip Tape: This is an alternative to mixing additives directly into the finish. Anti-slip tape comes in clear or decorative patterns, which can be applied directly to the tread surface after the finish has cured.

  3. Choose Matte Finishes: Higher gloss finishes can be slippery. Opting for a matte finish can naturally reduce slipperiness.

  4. Install Carpet Stair Treads: This is a great way to add style and safety to your staircase, and can easily be done as a diy project.

Do You Use Polyurethane on Stair Treads?   

Yes, polyurethane is a popular choice for finishing stair treads due to its durability and ease of maintenance. It provides a protective coating that resists scuffs, stains, and scratches. Here’s how to apply it:

  1. Prepare the Surface: Ensure the wood is clean, dry, and free of any dust or grease. Sand the wood to a smooth finish.

  2. Apply Multiple Coats: Use a high-quality brush or foam applicator to apply thin coats of polyurethane. Sand lightly between coats to ensure a smooth, high-quality finish.

  3. Cure Time: Allow adequate time for the polyurethane to cure, which can vary depending on the formula. This step is crucial for achieving a durable finish. 

Best Practices for Long-Lasting Results   

  1. Regular Maintenance: Regular cleaning and occasional touch-ups can extend the life of your finished stair treads. Avoid harsh cleaners that can strip the finish.

  2. Use the Right Tools: Invest in high-quality brushes or applicators. Poor quality tools can leave streaks or bristles in the finish.

  3. Environmental Considerations: Apply finishes in a well-ventilated area to ensure safe and effective drying. Be mindful of temperature and humidity, as these can impact the drying process and the final outcome. 


Finishing your wood stair treads properly is key to enhancing the longevity and beauty of your stairs. By selecting the right type of wood, preparing the surface adequately, choosing the best finish for your needs, and applying it with care, you can achieve a professional-looking result that stands up to the test of time. Whether you’re going for a glossy, sophisticated look or a more understated matte finish, the right approach will ensure your stairway is both stunning and safe.

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