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What Tools Do You Need to Sand a Staircase?

Electric sander sanding floor
29 September 2023 497 view(s)

Though once an elegant addition to a home, stairs can look tired and worn over time, taking away from your home’s overall aesthetic instead of enhancing it. But what can you do about it?

Perhaps you’re considering a fresh coat of paint or some decorative touches to breathe new life into your staircase. If so, there’s an essential step you cannot overlook: sanding. Achieving a flawless and long-lasting finish requires thorough sanding to prepare the surface for painting or other decorations.

To do this, consider the tools you need to achieve professional quality. Whether you’re a beginner at-home DIY’er, a property investor, or anything in between, you must obtain the appropriate equipment, such as abrasive tools, to sand stairs and give your work the best results.

From selecting the right equipment to ensuring a smooth and even surface, we cover everything you need to know to approach this task and finish with a luxurious staircase.

So take a look as we explore the tasks and tools required for sanding stairs for painting, staining or carpeting.

Required Tools for Sanding a Staircase

Polished staircase

This process requires careful attention to detail due to its meticulous nature, and each staircase will have its own requirements and needs so you can transform it into the perfect feature within your home.

While the specific tools needed may vary depending on the condition and material of your staircase, such as its condition and the presence, or lack thereof, of carpet and paint, this list encompasses the essential tools needed for most circumstances.

1) A sanding tool

Sanding tool

When sanding a staircase, using powered tools is highly recommended as they can save you significant time and effort compared to manual sanding.

There are various sanding tools you can find to suit your project. An electric floor sander is ideal for sanding stairs, whilst corner and edge sanders help you access those hard-to-reach areas.

For example, the Ingersoll Rand Mini Sander is an air-powered tool that can access tighter spaces and remove things like rust and welds.

The best sander for sanding stairs will depend on what you’re trying to achieve. You can opt for a basic handheld sander depending on your budget and staircase size. Sanding pads, some of which can be used for machine and manual sanding, are also available.

To effectively sand your stairs, you will need various grits. The grit is how rough the sandpaper is, with lower numbers providing a harsher finish.

2) Knives

Stanley knife

Two types of knives are essential for staircase sanding: a utility knife and a putty knife. The utility knife, such as the Bahco Utility Knife, helps cut and remove any loose or protruding materials from your staircase, such as carpet or old paint.

On the other hand, putty knives like the Bahco Putty Knife are ideal for removing any residual adhesive or paint from the stair surfaces and applying and scraping off wood filler during the repair process.

3) A wonder bar (aka a utility bar)

Ulility bar

Also known as a utility bar, a wonder bar is a versatile tool for prying and removing stubborn nails, staples, or other fixtures on your staircase. Its flat, wide blade allows for efficient leverage, making it useful during staircase renovation involving things such as old carpet tacks.

4) Pliers


You can use a range of pliers during this process to help grip and extract nails or staples that you cannot easily remove by hand. They make the task more manageable by providing control and leverage and are indispensable for items such as grippers.

5) Scraper


A scraper is essential when removing layers of old paint, varnish or other finishes. This tool helps create a clean and smooth base before you sand your stairs, ensuring better adhesion of new finishes or paint.

You can find a scraper with a wooden handle to support you as you work towards a smooth, even finish.

6) Wood filler

If your staircase has any gaps, cracks, or imperfections, wood filler is crucial for repairing them. After sanding, these imperfections can become more visible, so you need an appropriate wood filler to help create a polished appearance.

Choose a high-quality wood filler that matches the colour of your staircase for seamless results, and apply it with a putty knife. Once dry, the sanding can begin.

7) Masking tape

Masking tape

Protecting adjacent surfaces from accidental damage is essential, and masking tape is ideal. It creates a barrier that prevents the sander or other tools from scratching or hitting different parts of the room or areas you do not wish to sand, such as bannisters, railings or adjacent walls.

Masking tape can also help create clean lines.

 8) Dust sheets

Dust sheets

To minimise the mess and make cleaning easier, lay down dust sheets or drop cloths before sanding. They catch dust, wood chips and debris to protect the surrounding areas, such as carpets, from damage and help keep them clean.

You can hold down these sheets using masking tape.

9) Correct PPE

Man wearing PPE, including face mask

Personal Protective Equipment is crucial to ensure your safety whilst sanding. Various PPE can help with this, such as safety glasses and dust masks to stop the dust from entering your eyes and mouth respectively. Also, wear work gloves to protect your hands from splinters and abrasive materials.

10) Cleaning products

Cleaning products

Sanding creates dust and debris, which requires thorough cleaning during and after the process. Use a broom or vacuum to remove all loose dust and debris from the staircase.

A cloth and warm water with mild cleaning products remove any residue or dust. The cloth, such as a microfiber cloth, also cleans grease or grime and ensures a pristine finish.

With these tools, sanding your staircase becomes easier and can give a smooth and professional-looking result. But knowing how to use them effectively is equally important. That’s why we have a step-by-step guide to sanding staircases to support you through the process, providing instructions and tips to help you achieve outstanding results.

How To Sand Stairs: Step by Step

1) Remove existing flooring

Stacked wood

Start by removing existing flooring material on the staircase, such as carpet, to expose the wooden surface below. If this does not apply to your staircase, proceed to step two.

If you have carpeted stairs, use a wonder bar to carefully lift the flooring material, beginning at the top of the staircase. You can use pliers or a utility knife to help you if your carpet is one continuous piece. Either slide the knife along one of the edges or pull a small carpet section up with the pliers. Do so carefully to avoid damaging the stairs or stair treads.

Small sections of carpet can also make up stair flooring, in which case its removal may be easier.

2) Cover walls and skirting boards

Dust sheets in a room with ladders

As previously mentioned, sanding produces plenty of dust and debris. Covering the walls and skirting boards adjacent to the staircase protects the surrounding areas from dust and potential damage.

Use dust sheets or drop cloths secured with masking tape to minimise the risk of unwanted marks or scratches. You should also cover any surrounding furniture if you cannot move them.

3) Remove grippers

Grippers hold the carpet in place, so the grippers are no longer required if you are painting or varnishing your staircase. 

Carefully remove these grippers from the edges of each step using the wonder bar or pliers. You should also remove any nails or other protruding objects at this stage.

If you intend to re-carpet your stairs, keep the grippers where they are if they are in good condition. Replace the grippers if they are worn, damaged or rusted. Rust can stain the carpet, particularly lightly coloured ones.

4) Clean the stairs

A woman cleaning a staircase

Whilst it is clear you must clean the stairs after sanding to remove any dust and debris, you must also do so beforehand for the same reasons. Use a scraper for any dried paint or varnish drips, then sweep or vacuum on all surfaces of the stairs. Ensure you reach the edges, corners and hard-to-reach areas.

The stairs should be clean and free of any visible dirt or dust so you can start sanding.

5) Sand the stairs

Somebody sanding a staircase

Mechanical sanding tools can make this step both quicker and easier. To reach those narrower areas and corners, a detail sander is ideal.

Use the correct grit sandpaper or sanding pad, making sure to do so evenly along the wood grain. Start with a coarse-grit sandpaper to remove any existing finish, scratches, or imperfections and gradually work your way up to finer grits to achieve a smooth finish.

Do not use a mechanical sander on the spindles, handrails or any other curved area that makes mechanical sanding difficult. To maintain the shape, use sandpaper strips and sand them by hand.

At this point, your stairs should be smoother, and any scratches or imperfections should be less noticeable.

6) Remove dust

Somebody sweeping up

After sanding, thoroughly remove all sanding dust from the staircase. Pay attention to corners and crevices, and use a broom or vacuum cleaner to remove the loose particles. 

Then, wipe the stairs with a cloth, cleaning solution and warm water to capture any remaining dust and prevent unwanted particles from affecting the quality of your final results. Your stairs need at least 24 hours to dry before you proceed.

7) Protect the exposed surface

Now you have your newly sanded staircase, apply a protective finish, wood stain, paint or varnish suitable for stairs. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application, ensuring even coverage for the best results.

This finish protects the wood, improving its durability and longevity whilst enhancing the final appearance. Give the finish time to dry, per the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Sanding can refresh your worn staircase and give it a new lease of life, but it isn’t the only way to do this. If you want polishing and buffer tools to improve your stairs further, Heamar have a wide range available to support your DIY needs. Take a look and see how we can help your projects.

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