A Creative Carpeted Staircase Makeover…A Redesign How To Guide

Hi All,
This week’s post has been a long time coming.  I began this project months ago and it progressed over time. It has been finished for quite some time too. I am ashamed to admit I have been sitting on these pictures for months. So, today is the day I am finally going to share with you my “simple” staircase transformation. Read on and you will see a carpeted staircase makeover that may or may not have you pulling up your own dingy carpeting. Trust me the “after” photo makes this project worth all the work!

When we were having our house built years ago we stopped by to see how things were coming along. They were installing the carpeting and on a whim we asked them not to do the stairs. I had always loved the look of a wooden staircase. We were told that they had to carpet the staircase as the wood was not the right quality to be left bare and the house would not pass inspection. Oh, DARN.  Needless to say, we got carpeted stairs.

After 7+ years this is what we had the pleasure of looking nightly at as we ventured upstairs to  go to bed. Dingy, sad looking carpeting that had been through the ringer with kids and dogs bounding up and down umpteen times a day. BLAH!
Grungy Staircase

It bugged me. I was disgusted with how it looked and all of the vacuuming and spot scrubbing (which is not a “back friendly” chore) I managed to do didn’t improve things. The staircase needed a redesign and I was up for the challenge. I figured it would be a simple, easy to do project. We’d rip up the carpeting, give it a quick sanding and slap on some paint and stain. Sounds simple enough, right? WRONG!
We began by pulling up all of the old carpeting. This was no easy task and if you have a bad back (like I do) I advise you to find some big strong hunk of a man and persuade him to help. (Like I did!) Little did we know there were about a gazillion staples holding down the carpet.

removing rug from stairs

After hours of pulling, tugging, yanking, moaning, groaning and swearing we were left with this….

Stairs Makeover.

There was a ton of leftover staples and bits of foam padding sticking up everywhere. I took the reins at this point. I spent the next few days plucking, picking and pulling out staples from the wood.  I found the easiest way to work out the little boogers was to wedge a small flat head screwdriver underneath the staple, gently lift up, then grab the staple with a pair of pliers and remove.

The next step:

Fill in all of the little holes, gashes and imperfections with stainable wood filler with a putty knife.

As you can see, there was ALOT of those.

staircase makeover

Once the wood filler is dry, sand the heck out of each step and riser until the wood is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. I used an orbital sander with medium to light grade sandpaper.  If you don’t have an orbital sander, do yourself a favor and buy, rent or borrow one. I cannot imagine doing this project by hand. This will kick up a lot of dust so if you can, hang some plastic drop cloths from the ceiling to keep it somewhat contained.

Once the stairs are sanded smooth it’s time to apply the first coat of stain to the steps. Although your local clerk at the hardware store will tell you to use oil based stain and sealer or paint when working on staircases I disagree. Honestly I try to avoid oil based paint like the plague. It takes forever to dry, clean up is a pain and it stinks. I chose to go with water based stain. I knew it was going to be a big project and not being able to go up the stairs was impractical. If the house is vacant and nobody will be walking on the staircase oil based paint or stain is fine.

Trying to find waterbased stain locally proved to be futile. Lowe’s Home Improvement didn’t have  what I was looking for either. I finally found this Water Based WoodSheen Wood Stain by Minwax on Amazon. I LOVE this stuff. It works great on furniture too.


I applied the stain with a brush but had to thin it down with a little bit of water to make it easier to work with. If you are working on a table or other piece of furniture I recommend applying straight from the bottle with a soft cloth or rag. The staircase took two coats of stain and I ended up needing two bottles.


Once the steps were thoroughly dry and cured  for a couple of days, I taped the edges and applied each riser with a coat of primer and then two coats of light aqua blue semi gloss, water-based paint.

When everything was completely dry I lightly distressed the edges of the steps with 120 grit sandpaper for a worn, aged look.

I could have stopped there with a coat of paste wax but I felt the staircase needed more. I had a vision. I wanted to give the staircase personality.

My solution? Custom stencils. I ordered three custom cut stencils of the words Dream, Believe and Wish in a decorative font online.

I used repositionable spray adhesive to adhere the stencil to the riser I wanted to paint. I also found a sweet birdie stencil at my local craft store and used that on alternating risers. I kept it simple. I didn’t want the staircase to look over done.

DIY Carpeted Staircase Makeover
You can easily customize your own staircase with paint and ready made stencils.

Amazon has a great selection of ready to use stencils. No need to run to your local craft store!

After the paint dried and cured over night I gave the entire staircase a rubbing of Minwax’s Finishing Paste Wax.

You could use a water based polyurethane clear coat sealer but I prefer the look and feel of the paste wax. It gives your project a smooth, soft, protective finish. I use this stuff on most of my furniture pieces as well.

And here is the finished result! Weeks of hard work and patience finally paid off. I love how my redesigned staircase turned out!

Before and After Staircase Makeover

This carpeted staircase makeover turned out to be more work than I originally anticipated. If I had to do it all over again I may think twice, but I am glad I took on the challenge. No more yucky, dingy carpeting! When you walk into my home, the staircase is the first thing you see and I have had quite a pleasant few comments on its new look from visitors. This total project was done with a little creativity, patience and alot of elbow grease, for less than $50! This was another budget friendly decorating project!

Thanks so much for visiting today!

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10 Responses

  1. Marisa

    That turned out beautiful! What a great idea. I just pinned it. Have a good weekend.

  2. dean

    Great job! Seriously , when is HGTV or MinWax going to give you a show??

  3. Kathleen

    Love the look. Would love to do this but worry about slipping on the steps, my son has ASD…did you find this to be a problem

    • Lisa Hogan

      Hi Kathleen,
      I have had a slight issue with slipping on the stairs when wearing particularly fuzzy socks. I have to be careful but the staircase has been finished for over a year and nobody has hurt themselves. I don’t find them to be any more slippery than other wooden staircases. You could do a carpet runner up the center of the stairs or apply a strip of carpeting on each step with adhesive.

  4. Cheryl Yeager

    Thank you for this wonderful idea! Your instructions were excellent! I did mine in lighter stain and am so thrilled with the outcome! Thank you again for helping me make my entrance look amazing!!!!

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