I know I can’t possibly be alone in my detest for vacuuming carpeted stairs. Not to mention the never-ending uphill battle of trying to keep them looking halfway decent when you have a houseful of pets and/or kids. We had four dogs and two cats at the time I started brainstorming about solving this issue last year, and figuring out a way to get rid of the last remnant of carpet in our main living area was definitely a priority for me. I absolutely hate the idea of floors that can’t be really, truly cleaned….like you-could-actually-eat-off-of-them-if-you-really-needed-to cleaned (I’m looking at you, carpet!). And the type of carpet we had on our stairs essentially acted like velcro in the face of fur, so vacuuming these suckers was a seriously back-breaking chore for me.
About a month before I started this project, I had just left my miserable career…and apparently had a little extra time on my hands. However, whatever free time I had gained after leaving my demanding job, the fact that we were now down to one income meant that I was basically equally as low on the funds to solve my carpeted staircase dilemma. This is when I came to the conclusion that in order to kiss that carpet goodbye, this would definitely have to be a super budget-friendly DIY stair makeover.=\
So while Michael was at work one day, I randomly decided to see what was actually under that carpet. My way of thinking was that if there was just some type of particle board under there, I would just by some planks of wood, cut them down to the proper width, and then sand, stain, and slap a couple coats of poly on them. Too easy;)
Even if I didn’t have beautifully bull-nosed (meaning with a rounded front edge) solid wood stair treads, I figured the squared edged wood would still look a thousand times better than carpet once it was properly finished. Lowes and Home Depot sell stair treads (like these), but they were out of my practically non-existent budget at the time. Basically if Michael isn’t totally on board with a project, I need to find a way to do it cheap, and that’s the position I found myself in.
To my pleasant surprise, when I pulled back the carpet I discovered we actually had solid bull-nosed stair treads underneath all that ugly velcro-y carpet. Then I promptly started cursing the previous owners for letting the builder cover these beautiful solid wood stairs with carpet, but I digress….;)
The process of pulling the carpet up was a bit challenging, but also extremely satisfying. By about the third or fourth step I had sort of refined my ‘carpet removal technique’ by pulling the flap of torn up carpet taut toward me, and then I used a little rubber mallet to basically hammer away at the taut carpet, separating the still attached carpet from the staircase, if that makes sense (see above pic).
It probably took me two days (of not working very diligently at all) to get all the carpet, tack strips, staples and nails removed. The best tools for this part of the project were an old pair of needle-nose pliers (for pulling out stubborn staples and nails), a rubber mallet and chisel (for popping up the tack strips, and knocking the carpet loose), a small-ish flathead screwdriver (for some of the staple removal), and a small hammer (for pulling up some of the nails).
Next, I did a rough sanding by hand (sanding with the direction of the grain whenever possible) using 80 grit sandpaper to correct and smooth out any areas that were significantly damaged by the carpet installers when the house was built.
I’m a huge perfectionist, so next I decided to complete the tedious process of filling in allllll of the teeny tiny holes left behind from the nails that secured the tack-stripping and the staples that held down the carpet padding. I used the MinWax stainable wood filler, which is the same brand of stain and polyurethane that I’d purchased, so everything should have been compatible. I’m not sure if I did something wrong, but I reaallllyyyy wish I hadn’t done this step, and you’ll see why in the photos below. Even after two rounds of power sanding (with additional spot sanding) and using a degreaser to try to remove whatever waxy sort of residue that appeared around each nail hole I filled, the residue remained. As a result, the stain didn’t soak in around the patched holes consistent with the rest of the wood. It may have also been that the wood filler itself masked the natural grain, but either way, I wish I had just left the tiny holes as is, because it actually would have added great character once they were stained. Especially since the rest of our wood floors have a distressed, hand-scraped finish, so the nail holes would have fit in just fine with the theme.
Initially it drove me crazy that this happened, but since these stairs don’t get much traffic, and I’m told I’m the only one who notices the issue, I’m almost ‘over it’ now.
After filling in all the nail holes, I thoroughly sanded each step with 120 grit sandpaper using this relatively inexpensive electric sander (I’ve linked the new version, so it looks a bit different).
Then I went over them again with 220 grit sandpaper using the electric sander. The last round of sanding goes pretty quickly, and the wood will feel very smooth and ready for stain by the time this step is complete. If you’re tackling this project on your own, remember that it’s important to go with the grain to avoid unnatural looking sanding marks that may show through the stain (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this, but I’m not sure what the correct term is…sorry!).
After all my sanding, I made sure I vacuumed the stairs extremely well, and then wiped them down using a damp cloth to remove allll the dust (make sure your stairs are completely dry before the next step). I tried to keep the area as clean as possible all along by vacuuming frequently, as the sanding creates a ton of dust that will get all over your house.
Speaking of sanding dust, make sure you wear a mask to avoid getting it in your lungs. Safety glasses are also a good idea, but admittedly I skipped the glasses (oops).
Next, I was ready for stain. This is when the fun really started and I could start to see the vision come to life.
I applied two coats of this type of MinWax stain (waiting 24 hours between coats) using a random rag I had grabbed out of our garage ‘rag bin,’ which consists of socks or old t-shirts that are stained or have holes, old towels, etc. A little bit of stain goes a long way, so basically I just dipped a bit of the rag in the can of stain, and then worked it into the wood going with the grain.
It’s important to not use too much stain, as it won’t dry and just sort of sits on the wood. I only bought a quart of stain and had plenty leftover.
Be sure to dispose of your stain soaked rags properly, as they can spontaneously combust if they get too warm sitting in a trash can, or pile of other rags, etc. I’ve seen this happen to others who have almost lost their homes from the unexpected fire. I have my own method of disposal that involves a container of water, but please research the correct method to ensure the safety of your home.:)
The next step was also extremely satisfying, and that was the application of the polyurethane. I opted for this Satin Finish MinWax polyurethane, and I applied three coats of it to be sure I had a durable finish using with those cheap little paint sponges that are less than a dollar at home depot or lowes. This step goes by really quickly (each coat took maybe an hour at most to apply), but since I had to wait 24 hours before I could do a light sanding after the first and second coat, the three coats of course took three days to complete.
I used a fine grit sanding sponge (like this one) to complete the light sanding by hand. This also did not take very long, since you’re just going over the surface lightly to sort of create some teeth for the polyurethane to grab onto.
Of course I vacuumed and wiped down each step with a damp cloth to remove sanding dust and the occasional stray dog or cat hair, then let them dry completely before applying the next coat of polyurethane.
I decided to cover the old risers with this type of bead board for a more custom look, and to tie in with a few other bead board finishes that we’ve added to our home. This is when we, unsurprisingly, learned that our stairs are not built completely level or square, which unfortunately is pretty common in a lot of homes. This just made cutting our risers a little more interesting. We only had to purchase one sheet of bead board which is around $30, as we had some left over from a hallway shelving project. I can’t remember if we even needed the left over bead board, as I think maybe the one sheet was enough, but I’m not positive. =\
We would have loved to have a table saw handy to rip these bead board strips, but unfortunately we don’t own one, so we made due with our little circular saw. Michael just went extremely slowly and did a pretty solid job maintaining straight cuts.
It’s tempting to cut the risers all the same dimensions, but we found each step was a slightly different height, so we measured for each riser individually. I found it critical to number each step and wrote the corresponding number on the back of the newly cut bead board riser.
A few times my measurements would be slightly off (from trying to get the snuggest fit possible), but the good news was there was usually another spot where that particular strip of bead board would fit perfectly, so we could still use that piece without re-cutting it.
Something else to consider is making sure you cut from your main panel of bead board in a way that all of your beads (or grooves) will line up vertically when looking at your steps.
After all risers were cut and I was satisfied with the way they fit, I began gluing them to the existing risers with this paneling adhesive. I believe I used three tubes of adhesive to complete this step. I didn’t want to use any nails and potentially ruin the perfect bead board surface, and thankfully I found the adhesive was sufficient on its own…..those suckers ain’t moving!
Then came paint and a little caulk along the outer edges of the bead board and stair treads.
Prior to securing the bead board, I wasn’t sure if I would need to use some type of moulding along the bottom edge of the bead board. I wanted to avoid adding it, if possible, as I figured any caulking or extra groves along that surface would just be an invitation for dirt and fur to settle. Ultimately, I was satisfied with the fit of the bead board, so I opted not to add any additional moulding. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have painted each strip of bead board prior to gluing them on, as you can see the process of taping off the bead board was a little bit of a headache.
It took us about two weeks total working whenever we had free time, and approximately $70 in materials (we had to purchase stain, polyurethane, a few paint sponges, one sheet of bead board, and adhesive) and I am absolutely thrilled with the results! The only thing Michael helped me with was cutting the bead board risers, otherwise I did everything else myself. The carpet removal was a bit labor intensive, but it was obviously totally do-able for me (even though I shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing with my back issues…oops! =\).
I don’t routinely eat off of floors lol, but if I had to, I could totally eat off these stairs.;) Soooooo sooo happy that the nasty, dust-mite infested carpet is long gone!
Let me know what you all think of my DIY budget stair makeover! And if you think this is a helpful post, please feel free to pin it for your friends;)
If any of you decide to tackle this project, I would love to hear about it! Just comment below:)