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How to Stain Wood Stairs Treads without Sanding

Learn how to stain wood stairs in just a few easy steps. Staining wood stair treads is a simple DIY project, let me show you!

Have I ever mentioned that we have a “back house?” It’s a completely separate home with a full kitchen, two bathrooms and a bedroom upstairs. We’ve had a friend living there who recently moved out. Needless to say the carpet that was on the stairs and bedroom floor had to go! We hired someone to lay the stairs but I decided I would stain the stair treads.

Have you ever stained or painted stair treads after they’d been installed? It’s not as ideal as refinishing them before installation but the way the schedule worked out with the installers, I did not have time to stain them before.

Bummer, but I could work around it.

Let me show you what the stairs looked like after installation.

unfinished oak stair treads
Oak stairs before the stain
oak stair treads installed

For those that are wondering that is painted tile at the bottom of the stairs. I wrote a instructional post with a video on how to successfully paint outdated tile with Rust-Oleum Home Floor coating.

You’ve also probably noticed that there are a handful of different floors in a very tight area. I’ve got the painted tile floor, Oak wood treads and the luxury vinyl at the top of the stairs.

Because of this, I needed to pick a color that would blend all three or go with all three surface colors.

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When picking a stain color, make sure to choose one that blends or compliments the other floors colors. It’s virtually impossible to match a stain color to another floor unless it’s the same type of material.

Best Stain for Wood Stairs

When choosing a stain product, you want one that will ensure durability and have anti-slip capabilities.

Penetrating Stains


  • Does a good job of penetrating the pores of the wood to prevent wear and tear to the stain color
  • Enhances the natural look of the wood and highlights the wood grain
  • long lasting
  • Quick drying


  • Darkens the wood with every application
  • Wood will have to be sanded to remove stain


Varathane Wood Stains

Minwax Penetrating Stain

General Finishes Penetrating Wood Stains

Stain mixed with an anti skid additive

If you want to use a stain that sits on top of the surface, like a gel stain, but want more skid resistance, mixing an anti skid additive, like Homax, will help.


  • Does a good job at preventing slips on the stairs
  • Allows more variety when choosing a stain


  • Steps can feel “gritty”
  • Takes away from a smooth finish

I know this post is about wood stains for stairs, but I have to mention that you could even use a wood dye followed by a good sealer.

Can you use a stain plus sealer in one for stairs?

This is more of a personal preference, but I would not recommend it. If you are looking for a long lasting stain and sealer finish, use a stain first and then a good sealer on top.

I discussed this more in depth on my post about sealers for wood stairs. Even Minwax clearly states NOT to use their Polyshades line (stain plus sealer) on stairs.

That being said, Minwax has a product called 1 Step Floor Finish where you can choose a handful of colors already mixed in with the sealer.

Best Sealer for stained wood stairs

The age old debate has always been; Oil based vs. Water based sealer? Water based sealers have come a long way in durability. Most of them actually perform if not as well, almost as well as what an oil based sealer does.

As a matter of fact, there are sealers made specifically today for floors.

That being said I’ve used a regular old polyurethane sealer for our step down to our sunken living room and we’ve been using it daily for 3 years and it looks the same as it did the day I stained and sealed it.

Before you choose a sealer for your stairs, you need to make sure it’s compatible with the stain you used. Normally the directions will tell you what type of sealer needs to be used with the stain product.

I outlined in depth on this post about oil based vs water based and how to choose the right sealer for it.

Sealers for Wood Stairs

Here are a few examples of good sealers made specifically for wood stair treads.

For my wood stair project, I chose to use a mix of Varathane’s oil based in the color Weathered Gray and Varathane in the color Kona. I then used an oil based Polyurethane sealer in semi-gloss for the top coat. I applied one coat of the stain and two coats of the sealer.

Should I have used a dedicated floor sealer instead of a regular old polyurethane sealer?

I wanted to stick with an oil based product due to durability because I read a few reviews that said that the water based floor finish just doesn’t hold up like the old oil based sealers (even NON floor sealers) do. The other thing….Varathane’s oil based floor finish is very potent and very strong. As someone who suffers migraines, I really detest the lingering (like days on days) smell of VOCs.

Hindsight, what I should have done is finish the floor treads BEFORE installation. If I had done this, I would have used the same Varathane stains WITH Varathane floor finish in an oil based product.

How to stain wood stairs without sanding

how to stain wood stairs without sanding

Learn how to stain wood stairs in just a few easy steps. Staining wood stair treads is a simple DIY project, let me show you!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Active Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Difficulty Easy
Estimated Cost 100


  • Lint free cloths
  • cleaner solution (ammonia free preferred)
  • wood stain
  • wood sealer
  • painters tape
  • Synthetic paint brush
  • Wood conditioner (optional)
  • Painters tape


  • No tools needed


  1. Use a lint free cloth (and cleaning solution if needed) to wipe down floor treads and let dryWood stains and polyurethane for stairs
  2. Apply wood conditioner according to instructions (optional)
  3. Prep the area by laying painters tape around the stairs if desired.
  4. Apply the first coat of stain IN THE DIRECTION of the wood grain according to the instructions. Use a lint free cloth or brush to apply it making sure to wipe up excess liquid as you go.stain on stairs
  5. Apply second coat of stain if the first coat isn't the desired color and let fully dry
  6. Apply sealer according to the directions from the manufacturer. Let first coat dry and apply second coat of sealer.refinishing stairs with stain


Wood conditioner allows the stain to penetrate the wood evenly. I chose NOT to use wood conditioner because I wanted to highlight the different wood tones and imperfections in the wood.

I only applied one coat of stain and two coats of sealer. Make sure to apply multiple coats of sealer for a durable finish.

Use a hard cardboard edge to apply stain with rather than using painters tape. This works if you are not a messy painter.

Stained oak wood stair treads

how to stain wood stairs without sanding

I love how the stair treads look now.

refinishing stairs with stain

I hope you’ve learned some good tips on how to stain wood and seal stair treads WITHOUT sanding! Yay for not sanding.

Dan T

Sunday 26th of February 2023

So you didn't sand between polyurethane coats


Tuesday 3rd of October 2023

@[email protected], I called Varathane and they said you do not need to sand in between coats starting at eight hours. So if you left the first coat on for eight hours you do not have to sand if you go as far as 12 hours you should sand because the product is more cured. The point between 8 to 12 hours is that it is not completely hard, and acts as kind of a bond which is what sanding does. I also learned from customer service that I should not be using the product in this video that I should only be using their dedicated floor foot traffic product.

[email protected]

Monday 27th of February 2023

I did not

Richard Delgado

Monday 24th of October 2022

Did you buy those stairs from Lowes?

[email protected]

Tuesday 25th of October 2022

It was either Lowes or Home Depot!


Thursday 14th of July 2022

I’m so happy I came across this article. I have been thinking of mixing the gray with the Kobe because I want the classic wood stain look but also to add a little gray. Yours doesn’t appear that you used much gray. What was your ratio?

[email protected]

Friday 15th of July 2022

Hey Jessica! I mixed about 3:1 ratio of Kobe vs. gray. I just realized the video didn't get uploaded into the post. I just added it so go back and watch the video, it might be helpful! Thanks for stopping by!


Saturday 9th of July 2022

I have the same oak stair treads! After staining how long did you wait apply first coat of poly? Thanks!

[email protected]

Tuesday 12th of July 2022

A few hours

Caye Cooper

Monday 7th of March 2022

Maybe I need to re-read this article for the 3rd time, but I'm confused. Why did you use two colors--Kona and Weathered Grey? Did you do every other step and wait for them to dry?

[email protected]

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

Sorry if I confused you. I mixed two colors to create a custom color.

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