How to Polish Wooden Stairs

By Mego Kimani •  Updated: 06/21/23 •  4 min read

Once you have completed the construction of your wooden stairs, it’s time to elevate the finishing touches and make them truly stand out. However, polishing stairs requires a different approach compared to polishing a table. It demands careful attention to detail, particularly regarding the vulnerable tread nose that experiences the most wear. Additionally, selecting the appropriate polish is essential for achieving optimal results. In this article, I will guide you through the process of how to polish wooden stairs, ensuring a stunning and long-lasting finish.

Polishing with Abrasives

Polishing with abrasives is essential for both restoring finishing and polishing the finish. In this section, we will explore different types of abrasives, including sandpaper and steel wool, and how you could use them on your stairs.


Sandpaper is a versatile abrasive used to flatten the finish and remove dust nibs and brush marks. Stearated aluminum oxide sandpaper is the best choice for sanding a finish. Stearated sandpaper has the ability to prevent “corning” or the formation of balls in the finish. This is possible due to the presence of dry lubricants in the finish. Wet/dry silicone carbide sandpaper, on the other hand, will quickly ball up if used without water as a lubricant. However, wet sanding stairs can be challenging in terms of working mess-free. Additionally, the water slurry can make it difficult to assess your progress.

Dura-Gold Premium asorted 1/4 sheet sandpapers
$16.99 ($0.42 / Count)

These sandpapers feature a durable aluminum oxide coating, ensuring effortless dry sanding without the frustrating issue of the finish balling up. With a comprehensive assortment of grits ranging from 80 to 1000, this pack provides everything you need to prepare wood surfaces, sand between coats of finish, and rub the topcoats for a high sheen.

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Synthetic steel wool

Traditional steel wool is not recommended for use with waterborne finishes. Steel wool sheds steel particles that leave a mess and give the user steel wool slivers. Besides synthetic wool performs well at both water and oil-based finishes.

3M Synthetic Steel Wool Pads, 6-Pads
$8.55 ($2.14 / Count)

Designed to deliver exceptional results, these pads are the go-to choice for smoothing out the final coat and achieving a flawless surface. Whether you prefer a wipe-on poly for your projects or brushed poly, these pads are the ideal tool for enhancing the beauty of your finish.

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Stairs safety and a reflection on sheen

Stair safety is an essential aspect, encompassing not only the selection of an anti-slip finish but also the initial design considerations. The comfort and well-thought-out design of the tread play a crucial role in preventing accidents. Additionally, the chosen finish should complement the overall safety and security of the stairs. Now, the question arises: Does sheen impact stair safety? Let’s delve into this analysis.

How to polish wooden stairs

There’s only one secret to a good rubout, whether it’s a table, floorboards, or stair treads: Let the finish fully cure. This is the most important aspect of a successful rubout. A finish that hasn’t fully cured will not be hard enough to create an even scratch pattern, resulting in an uneven sheen. If the finish doesn’t buff or ball up on the sandpaper, give it another week or two before attempting to rubout again.

How to get a shine on stairs

Though it sounds counterintuitive, to get a good shine you start by sanding it dull.. This step removes dust nibs and brush marks leaving the surface smooth and flat. Note that the finish tends to be thinner at the tread nose so be careful not to sand through. 600 grit will do the job fine the goal is to get a smooth feel. small visual defects at this step should not worry you much.

Rub with #0000 synthetic wool until the entire tread has an even satiny sheen. There is no danger of rubbing through the finish at this point. To further enhance the shine, use soapy water or paraffin oil as a lubricant for the abrasive wool. Rub thoroughly, then wipe dry. If you’re still not satisfied with the level of gloss, you can use 4F-grade pumice. Sprinkle it on the surface of the stair you’re working on. Now, rub it with water and a dampened rag. Wipe off the slurry and repeat the process with rotten stone. Your stairs should now have a rich and glossy appearance.

Mego Kimani

Hi there, my name is Mego Kimani, and I am the owner of Woodmeter, a website dedicated to wood finishing. At Woodmeter, we offer a comprehensive resource for woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts, providing information on everything from achieving the perfect finish to product recommendations and technique guides. Our goal is to empower our community with the knowledge they need to create beautiful, long-lasting finishes on their projects, no matter their skill level or experience.