Update Stairs with Gel Stain (so simple!!)
Update stairs with gel stain….it’s a no brainer really! So simple, so quick and not much prep to speak of.
As you know, we recently updated the flooring in our entire first floor living area.
If you missed that post, you can see all about our new floor here >>> Affordable Rustic Laminate Flooring
Our floors had previously been natural, unstained oak (in areas) so the stair treads went perfectly with it!
But not so much with our new flooring.
I knew I’d have to tackle them soon but managed to put it off for a little while. ;)
I thought maybe I’d paint them white and add a runner down the middle, either paint with a design or with carpet.
Mainly because I thought it’d be tough to match up real wood, oak treads with the rustic coloring of the laminate flooring we installed.
I started out by trying my tried and true favorites….General Finishes Gel Stains.
I adore this brand. It has never failed me.
But sadly I could not find a color that would work. Bummer.
I had conceded I may just go ahead and paint…but I figured I’d give Minwax Gel Stains a shot.
SO very glad I did! I tried a couple colors and found a true winner. Coffee.
I mean you are dealing with real wood and laminate so it’s not going to be an absolute perfect match.
But it doesn’t really have to be. Have you seen the flooring? It’s all kinds of browns so something in the mix there will work.
Update Stairs with Gel Stain
Okay, let’s recap where we started…
Very orangey oak wood treads…and handrail.
I began by cleaning and wiping down all the steps.
Next, I gave them all a very light sanding by hand with a fine grit sandpaper.
That’s it. That went very quickly because it was only meant to take a touch of shine off.
Then I taped everything up. (with blue tape because I was out of my favorite FrogTape…and that was a mistake!!!)
Use green FrogTape…listen to my advice here. :)
I shared this project as I was doing it on Instagram Stories. Want to see some of these projects in “live” time? Hop on over and follow along with me on INSTAGRAM. I’m always sharing in my stories as I’m doing projects, finding new furniture, fun finds….just all the day to day behind the scenes.
- Lint Free Rags (like t-shirt material)
- Minwax Gel Stain
- Minwax Top Coat
- Fine Grit Sandpaper
This was so easy, y’all. I’m not even exaggerating.
Just dip the rag in the gel stain and wipe onto the stair treads.
Then literally just work in into and onto the wood. (the color is off in these photos because I had the hall and stairway light on)
You don’t even really have to worry about swirl marks, applications marks, etc, as you are applying it.
Just get it all covered.
Then come back with a clean lint free rag and wipe away the excess in nice even strokes in the direction of the grain.
You don’t want to leave excess because it will be gummy and sticky.
If you want it darker, just come back after 8-10 hours and apply a second coat.
I did only one coat because I was happy with the color and then waited 24 hours to apply the top coat.
That was fun since all of our bedrooms are up. ;)
After the gel stain was somewhat dry…a few hours…I laid one sheet of printer paper on each step so we could go up and down.
Innovative, huh?? Haha…it worked well!
I used a Satin finish for the poly but was worried it was going to be too shiny when I applied it.
It came out a nice matte-ish look that goes perfectly with the rustic feel of the surrounding flooring.
I actually only did one coat of poly too for several reasons.
Less oil based poly coats, and hopefully, less yellowing. Plus I actually won’t mind if they get a little more “rustic” looking.
See those nice straight lines?? Um yea, I had to go back and repaint some of the white because of the blue tape. Boo.
I also gel stained the orangey handrail.
As simple as wiping it on…
Love this stuff! Makes these kinds of jobs so easy for the average homeowner.
This is definitely something anyone can do.
Perfect to update stairs or any wood in your home, like kitchen cabinets. etc.
Yippee!! No more orange, mismatched stairs.
Happy girl here. :)
And I didn’t have to end up painting that pretty wood grain with white paint.
Full view shot…
That ceiling light shade used to be darker, goldish/tan. I painted it and gave it a brand new look!
Get the details on how I did that, here>>> How To Paint Light Fixtures
So much better.
Details on the DIY deep look crown molding is here>>> DIY Crown Molding
I’m so happy with how I was so simply able to transform and update stairs with gel stain.
SO much easier than stripping them down and using regular stain.
That’s for sure.
I honestly think it was easier and quicker than painting them white would have been.
Now that is saying something.
PIN it to save it!
More home DIY tutorials we have shared here:
- DIY Faux Shiplap (get the look, without the expense!)
- DIY Faux Board & Batten (simple and quick!)
- How To Make a DIY Wood Countertop
- Build Your Own Kitchen Island With Big Box Store Cabinets
- How To Install Laminate Flooring (tips and tricks)
- DIY Crown Mold (easy way to get that wide custom look!)
- Build Your Own Built In Bookcase – Tutorial
- Chalk Painted Kitchen Cabinets
- How To Use Gel Stain On Your Stairs (you are here)
- How To Paint Light Fixtures Without Removing Them
- How To Build a Permanently Attached Wall Coat Rack
- DIY Floating Shelves Tutorial
- How To DIY a Tile Backsplash
I hope you all have a beautiful weekend!
they look so gorgious! wonderful job!
Thank you, Kimberly! :) xo
Looks great! I am going to look into this stain for our stairs which need refinishing. Another option when doing a flight of stairs is to do alternating steps one day and the unfinished ones a day or two later.
Thanks, Melissa! Oh yes, that’s actually how I thought I’d do it but we tried skipping a stair and it was okay going up…hard coming down! ;) So I did it first thing in the morning and left for the day. When I came back, it was “dry enough” that I could use the paper on it. The gel stain dries pretty quickly, thankfully! I did the same with the poly top coat. First thing, then gone for the day doing other errands. xo
Seriously? No worries about any poly coat on the wood either? I have been looking for a way to restain my dining room table – will this cover up water rings too do you think? Thanks Nancy!
Oh shoot!! That was confusing. Sorry, Anne! It was so dang easy and all I was thinking about was the gel stain I used when I created that pin. It was actually 2 products! ;) I updated it to reflect that. BUT not kidding when I say it was ridiculously simple. Wish I had done it sooner! Hmm, not sure about the water rings. Depends on how dark they are, but it will cover somewhat. Two coats might cover it fully. :)
No worries, my comment was confusing also – I was referring to an existing poly coat on the piece I was to use the gel stain on. Did you do anything other than a light sanding to rough up the existing poly coat?
Ohh, haha, okay! Only a light sanding. Did not remove the poly coat, just roughed it up ever so slightly. :)
Looks awesome! I need to paint my risers and spindles white also. Would you recommend using gel stain first, then going back and painting? Or pant first? I can’t decide which is easier and will cause least amount of mess ups.
I would probably stain first, then paint. You will need to let the stain get cured well so you don’t mess it up with taping, etc. But either way you go, you will have to be careful. I recommend FrogTape.
Nancy, your stairs look gorgeous, great job!! Love the tip about the printer paper. :) Did you do that with the poly as well? I agree about blue tape versus Frog Tape. Frog is so much better.
Have a great weekend!
Thanks so much, Christina! No, the poly dries quicker than the gel stain (about 2 hours to touch) and so I did it first thing in the morning and when we all came home, I said no shoes on the stairs for at least a day. No issues whatsoever! It was a pretty simple project and now wish I hadn’t waited so long to complete it! lol xo
Can the gel stain work on a hardwood floor. Mine have a slight orange tint.. I’d like them more brown
Yes, it will, Julie. But would I do this on an entire wood floor, no way! ;) In my opinion, this is best left to smaller projects and perfect for them actually. Minwax does have a product called Complete 1-Step Floor Finish that is basically the same thing, however, I have not used it so I can’t say how the application of that product is. (search it on Google, it might be just what you are looking for)
Nice job here!! Planning to change my stairway and this will certainly do the trick. Thank you for this post!!
Thank you, Debra! Yes, look into this, I’m so glad I did…and so glad I did it this way! :) xo
i must say that i thought you were nuts, the color of my stair treads would be the last thing i would worry about! however, seeing the new ‘color’ next to your beautiful dark floors, i can see why they looked orange. BEAUTIFUL! and so EASY! thanks!
Haha, thanks, Gwen!! Well, I didn’t worry about it since last fall anyway! ;) But it was time to get with it and get it done! I know, isn’t it so much better?! So crazy how different and finished off it all looks now. So happy with it. :) xoxo
Good morning, Nancy….love this post. I have been thinking about painting the step that go down into the garage from the house, but I love your idea so much more. Looks great and add so much more dimension to the stairs. I do have a question, do the steps become slippery with the poly sealer? This would be my only concern. Thank you, 😊
Hi Glenda! Yes, this is a great idea for that. And no, they didn’t at all. But I used a Satin finish which is not shiny. Not sure if the shiny would be more slippery either, though. I actually find having wood finished stairs less slippery than typical carpeted stairs. (having had experience with both) My foot has slipped off the rolled edge of a carpeted stair more times than wood! ;) Anyway, hope that helps! xoxo
The dark wood with the white is just beautiful. Sometimes it’s hard to get to the “finishing touches,” but this really brings it all together, Nancy! Thanks for showing how the gel stain works on the stairs.
I just love that contrast too, Marcie! That is so true, especially when followed up by more DIY work to be done! lol I’m so thrilled with how easily and beautifully this one wrapped up though! xoxo
Hi Nancy, You found the perfect gel stain color and your stairs and handrail look awesome! Great job on this girl it all looks beautiful!.
Thanks, Kaycee! I am thrilled with how it turned out…and glad it’s done! :) xoxo
Thanks, Helene! :) xo
This post is exactly what I needed, thankyou!
I put laminate downstairs, and plan on doing upstairs as well, but what has had be stuck was what the heck was I going to do with my orangey pine stairs. Well, now I have the answer!!! thank you!
Awesome!! I’m so glad to hear that, Tracey. Give this a go. I think you will be thrilled! :) xo
So much prettier, good job!
Thank you, Robyn! I’m so, so happy with them! :) xo
I have stairs that look almost exactly like yours. After 14 years, they need to be refinished, too. Our problem is we have three cats who are up and down the stairs all day, so the only option is to lock them up, which would not go well. Still, it will have to be done at some point, so I’ve pinned your post for future reference. Your stairs look fabulous, BTW!
Yes, that was a concern for us too. It really was not a problem at all though! And we all started walking on the stairs quicker than I had planned and they look great. :)
Beautiful job! The different colors would have driven me crazy too! I love the dark but wondering if it shows everything that lands on it? Like a black dress 🥴. I’m saving this post so I can refer to it if I get brave enough to try staining my cabinets. Have a wonderful weekend!
Thanks, Cecilia! Yes, it did drive me crazy!! lol I haven’t really noticed them showing more. Our darker floor doesn’t really either. But that could have to do with the variations in the pattern. But I don’t think either are as bad as the really dark wood floors. They do show up more! And yes, I think this product would work great on old wood cabinets! :) xo
Meant to say “orangey” wood cabinets…like my treads!! ;)
This looks great! What a difference. You are so talented. Your home updates have been amazing! Keep up the good work! Love your blog!
Thanks, Michele! I’m so happy you have enjoyed following along on all the updates! Thank you for the kind words too! :) xoxo
It’s because of you that I found my love of chalk painting and have re-done several pieces in my own home and I always look for inspiration! You never disappoint! I’ve even re-done lamps and coffee tables, picture frames, my bookcases that flank my fireplace, I’ve whitewashed my fireplace brick, etc. Re-purposing and chalk painting, re-designing my home… It’s become a whole new hobby for me now! LOL
I absolutely love this!! I can not tell you how happy that makes me to hear, Michele. :) And all of the things you’ve updated!! That is just awesome! And haha, you sound like me. Thank you for sharing this with me. This is EXACTLY what this whole blog is all about. Hope you have a wonderful weekend! xoxo
How much sanding would be required on painted stairs for the gel stain to work?
Hi Betty, I’ve never used the gel stain on painted wood before but I know it can be done. I would imagine you’d need to clean them well, then give them the same sort of light sanding. Especially if they are really glossy, you will want to remove some of that shine first. :)
Thanks. Yours turned out so darn nice that if mine turn out half as nice they will look great!
I am sure yours will!! :) xo
This is the answer I needed for my almost 100 year old house with hardwood stair treads! Quick question. My stairs are a bit “sticky” and of course aged so they are worn. Can you please tell me what you cleaned the treads with before you started the staining? How do I get the sticky old stuff cleaned up before I sand and stain?
Thank you and cannot wait to take on this project!!
There are many things you can use such as TSP, alcohol or mineral spirits. I just usually use Windex. It does the job and gets them nice and clean. If yours are sticky, then I would use something a little stronger though. One of the ones I mentioned. You will want to lightly sand them and make sure they are no longer sticky before you begin. Good luck and have fun!! xoxo
Thank you so much for the recommendations and reply!! This is one project I am really excited about after seeing your wonderful results! And I will make sure to use Frog Tape because I have the same white paint trim to deal with.
You are very welcome, Lisa!! Good luck and have fun with your project! :) xo
They look SO good!!! And it doesn’t seem like it was too hard… Isn’t it crazy sometimes how long it takes to start a project because you imagine it will be so hard? Our stair project is still at a stand-still boooo! We just need to add the railing back though! XOXO
Thanks Christy!! It was so crazy easy. OH no!! Hope you get yours done soon!! :) xoxo
I am wondering if this process would work for floors. I have original wood flooring in my bedrooms that have that orangy color. I would love to darken them up.
Oh, I don’t see why not. You could always give it a go underneath the bed, in a closet, etc, before you tackle the whole thing. :)
I missed this post earlier this year and am glad that I got to enjoy it today. Our steps and handrail need this exact treatment. I’ve got to remove carpet first and I’ve been putting this project off for too many years. I may need to add a runner, but now I know how to make the wood that shows on the sides of the runner and the handrail look much better.
Oh yes, it was a great option!! SO much easier than the whole sanding down and all that. :) Happy New Year, Paula! xoxo
Good Morning, Nancy, I just finished my stairs with the gel stain. I’m trying to decide on a second coat. I know that some polyurethanes will make them darker. Did you notice that with the polyurethane that you used? And has there been any color change since you did your stairs? Thanks
Hello Lori! Hmm, I have not really had a poly make gel stain darker at all. It really should not do that unless you are using one of the poly/stain in one type of polys. And no, no change at all! :) xo
I was wondering how well its held up over this past year and would you reccomend it for floors?
It has help up wonderfully! I’ve been very happy with this project, for sure. Hmm, how big of an area? I’m not sure I’d tackle a whole floor with this product. It has its place and works well for quite a few applications but does have its limitations.
I love how this turned out. Perfect match to your floor. This diy project is something I will be doing this summer, so I can open the windows after staining. Thanks for this lovely idea, “staining with gel.”
Thanks so much, Ivory! This was really a simple solution for me. :) xo
I think I may have asked you this before, but I just have to make sure, please, please give me the color of the paint on your walls…love, love, love it!!
We are in the process of moving and our new house is going to need a lot of updating. Definitely inspired by you… and the color of your walls, including the white wainscoting! :) Also, I know, finding out about this gel stain is going to come in very handy, as well. Thank you! The stairs look fabulous with the flooring!
Do you have a tutorial or any advice on taking wallpaper down??
Oh yes, it is Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams. It’s an amazing color! :) OH gosh…wallpaper removal is no fun. I don’t really have much advice although just about every room here had some form of it when we moved in!lol I think perforating it so the solution can get behind it is my best advice. And just perseverance! ;) xo
Thank you so much, Nancy!! :)
Blessings to you!!
It’s a sleepless night in MI, and even with the CoVid19 Pandemic ruling our lives presently …. I’m on Pinterest, and rejoicing since I found your post!!
I’d already bought my Gel stain, but truly love your color much better (& I don’t have wood floors below to match) So, it seems I’ll be starting the ‘old scuffed, 60 yr old stairs I’ve dreaded doing this week, and truly believe your post was divinely found.
By the way, your home looks tremendous, and very Welcoming …. I. will be checking back to see other posts, and, I also noticed you used Sea Salt paint! (My kitchen & hallway were done, by me, 3 years ago, in that and Ive
never had as many compliments on a paint color!! It is so calming to me.)
God Bless & keep us DIY’ers coming back for more, girl! Sam
Oh yay! So happy you found us over here. :) This is the perfect time to stay in and get all those house projects done. I know we will be working on ours! (we have more to do still…almost done though) And thank you! Yes, we love Sea Salt around here. I actually used Oyster Bay (from the same color chip) on our island in the kitchen and on our hall bath upstairs. Both are great colors. Have fun with your stairs and stay well!! xoxo
Hi Nancy, Looks beautiful and matches your flooring very well. By the way what product and color is your floor? I have cats that will go up and down the stairs, any suggestions on how to be able to use gel stain with pets moving about?
Thank you, Sabrina! You can find all the info on the flooring >>> here. We LOVE it! So much so that we are putting it in our upstairs master closet and bedroom remodel AND in our entire beach condo later this summer. :) And oh boy, well, the best and just about the only way is to keep them contained in another room until you are done.
Hi! Someone may have already asked this but I didn’t see it. What color/brand did you use on the stairs? Currently doing stairs at out new house and I have gone through four colors and haven’t liked any but love yours.
Hi Chelsea! Oh, I’ve got a direct link to the stain in the post. (in the gray Materials List box) It’s by Minwax and it was the perfect color! I did the same thing, went through several before I found the right one. Good luck! :) xo
Thank you for recommending this! I’ve read about a lot of success with gel stains, but wasn’t really sure what the whole process would be like. I have stairs and a walkway, and I didn’t want to mess it up. I think this would be the best process. Alright, I’m off to DIY! Nicely done!!!
You are very welcome!! :)
Looks great! Definitely saving to try later! Did you sand the handrail, too? What paint color is on your walls?
Thanks, Courtney! Yes, only lightly as I did on the stairs. Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams is the paint color in the foyer, living room, and guest bath of our home. :) It’s a great neutral! xo
Thank you so much! This is exactly what I was looking to do with my stairs :) By the way, what color paint is in your downstairs hall with the side table and mirror?
You are very welcome! The color is Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams. :)
Did you know that you can apply gel stain directly over paint? I’ve done this with success all around our 103 yr old home. I’ve also had great success using gel varnish. Have not used on floors but on old white painted trim. Now (thanks to your post) I’m about to tackle two painted staircases! Until I came across your site I had also planned to paint a faux runner! Your beautiful results have given me a new plan! Thanks so much for sharing…
Hi Lynn! Yes, I sure did. But I would think mostly as a decorative thing. Do you do it to mimic wood?
And yes, I am just so happy with how my stairs turned out. They have held up great too! Good luck with yours! xoxo
I’m so glad I found you! we just put a contract on a home and our offer was accepted! its about 15 yrs old and the wood floors, stairs and hand rails are all a little too orange for me. I’m going to get an estimate to refinish but am also wondering if I can tackle with gel stain on the floors…? interested in your thoughts. I’d be willing to do the work, while the house is empty-especially if it saves us a lot of money.
And I am glad you are here, Karen! :)
Hmm, now I know people have done floors but I wouldn’t recommend it. Stairs, rails, stools, furniture, yes all the way, but floors, I don’t think I would. Now saying that, our stairs have held up beautifully so that is not why. The application is why. It’s fairly easy to get a nice, even application on a small things like furniture or a stair tread but an entire space of flooring? Not so much.
Refinish all the way. Just bite the bullet and get it done or do it yourself. (we have done it before…it is do-able!) Good luck with whatever you decide! xo
What color is the gel stain?
Hi Holly! I have all the direct links in this post to the products I used. (they are in the gray box marked “materials list”) But the color is called “Coffee”. :)
weren’t the fumes from the gel stain and the poly overpowering? that’s what’s keeping me from doing this project….our steps are orange too and nowhere near the beautiful cherry red of our first floor. Is the General gel less overpowering? Thanks for any advice.
No, it wasn’t bad at all. I despise fume-y products. I’d say, go on over and buy and can open it up and see if it is something you can tolerate. And yes, the gel stains are less bothersome. The poly can be a little smelly but it usually doesn’t last long. :)
I love your steps! I’m wondering if you are supposed to have a railing there to be up to code? We have almost 3 steps showing, and I’d love to not have a railing there at all!
Well, that is unknown! ;) I guess we will find out when we go to sell. I’m thinking it might be okay since we have the railing on the other side all the way up. I will tell you, our front door almost skims the stairs as it opens. It’s SO much nicer without the railings! It was very tight feeling with them there.
Hi there – going to be doing this soon. I was told that the stain would inevitably get on the white trim and we’d have to plan for touch ups. My question is this – do you have to prime over the bleed through on the white, or can I just simply wipe on some paint? How was the touch up process for you?
Well, if you do get it on the trim it might take several coats or some primer and then a coat of paint to cover it fully because it is dark. BUT … tape it well and you won’t have to deal with that. Use Frogtape and apply it well and you should be good to go. If you do have to touch up after that it should be very minimal. :)
Hi! Your stairs look great! Did it leave your stairs slippery at all?
Thanks! No, not at all. They’ve also held up great! :)
Hi! Just finished gel staining our treads thanks to you! Super quick question… did you “finely sand dry poly” as the back of the no wax can suggests?! And you just used 1 coat of poly, right?! Thanks a million for your post- saved us $100 at read we were quoted!!!!
Hi Beth! I only applied the one coat of poly, so no sanding in between, etc. So happy you did your own, doesn’t that feel great?! xo
Yes! Thank you so much!! I just read your “About Me” page too… and it was exactly what I needed to read- maybe even Divine Intervention! Thank you! God Bless You!
I’m thinking about pulling the carpet off my stairs and finishing the wood. Would gel stain work? It’s unfinished wood and I’d probably like to do it a light color.
Yes, it should work fine! (depending on what your stair treads are made of)
Hi! Would this work over a reddish brown stain or would they have to be primed first? Thanks!
Hi Danielle, yes, it will work over any but take into account that your finished color will depend on the color underneath. If you are trying to counteract (reduce) the red in the underneath stain, look for a stain that has zero red tones and ones with more “greenish”, flat tones instead.
I love this! We are remodeling our home and changing out all the maple wood that has taken on orange hues. My handrail on my staircase is my only issue left. The spindles are painted white and the handrail is maple with a very heavy topcoat of varnish or poly. You mentioned you only roughed up the existing top coat on your rail. Ours is shiny and thick with some grooves on the bottom that would be visible from downstairs, and I am not sure how it would penetrate the wood. Was yours like that, too? Does it penetrate or cover? Your makeover looks amazing! Thank you for sharing!
Hi Mare! No, it won’t really penetrate the wood if you have that much varnish/finish on it. It would mostly only cover. I would probably sand a little bit deeper if I were you. You don’t have to get all the way down to the wood but I would not want to apply this over very heavy, thick varnish. (and no, mine was not, we installed it at the same time as we did the treads and I only applied one coat of poly so it was minimal) Thank you…and good luck with yours! :)
I want to do this to my stairs…
Do you think there is a difference between using Minwax gel stain and another brand of top coat or should I stick with the same brand of Minwax?
You don’t have to use the same brand at all. :)
Hi! Are your stairs laminate? I have laminate and have the general finishes stain that I doing my stair rail with but the stairs are a lot lighter and I want to stain them with the same gel stain!! Will it work?? Thank you!!
Hi, no they are not, they are oak. It will probably “work” but keep in mind it may not hold up as well. I would sand the laminate well, clean it with a TSP type of product, and then apply the gel stain in light, thin coats. Top with a high performance seal coat to finish.