Have any suggestions for our stairs?

paucieMay 15, 2009

We originally thought we wanted to refinish the treads and risers on our 112-year old staircase, and "clean up" all the surrounding woodwork. It is all horribly spattered with paint from over the years, and I'd like them to be refreshed. In addition, the treads are very, very dark on each end -- it doesn't look nice.

Problem is, no one wants to deal with that much refinishing. I've been told it would be at least $3,000 to complete the entire staircase, which is more than we want to spend. This is not our forever home.

How they've looked since we tore the carpet up that the previous owners had down:

One of the guys we had over here told us that a big part of the discoloration on our treads is from 112 years of good ol' dirt. He recommended that DH get something called "Goof Off" and try working on the stairs with that. Here's the spot he worked on -- it doesn't seem like a good overall solution, though. It seems to be removing too much. DH also tried some Formby's on one step today, and that doesn't seem like the perfect solution either. Then again, neither of us have any clue what we're doing!

We really just want to put down a nice runner, but we don't want to do that over paint-splattered, unevenly-stained stairs. Bottom line -- how can we even out the colors and remove the paint stains/splatters?

What do your old stairs look like? What solutions have you found?

I've even considered painting them, but this is all oak, so it seems like a shame to put white paint over that wood. However, I'm desperate at this point.

Help, please!

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I had an old Victorian with beautiful woodwork like that, and I used a fine steel wool with a mild oil soap and just scrubbed it well and then wiped it dry. The dark did indeed come off and it all lightened up nicely to what I imagine was the original finish. It took a little elbow grease, but I think I only spent a day on it and there was LOTS of woodwork.

What you don't want to do, unless you want to get into an whole refinishing project, is to remove the finish entirely. You may want to try a spot with the steel wool and soapy water to see how that does.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 9:10PM
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can you tell what kind of finish you have?

When we moved into our 120 yr old house I gave my daughter a rag w/murphy's oil soap and told her to go at the staircase. I came back a half hour later and she proudly showed me where she had "polished" a newel post. She sure did. :)

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 7:18AM
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Carpet it and move on to the next problem.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 7:30AM
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kterlep -- I am completely unversed in all of this, so I have no idea what to look for in determining the finish. I'd be happy to figure it out with some pointers, though!

mightyanvil -- Carpet is the last ditch option. But, yeah, it's still an option. We do want to put a runner down, but I am thinking it won't cover enough of the icky parts, right?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 8:36AM
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That is a lovely staircase -
I agree with others. It is likely the darkened areas are not uneven stain, rather ground in dirt.

First step is to determine the finish - whether it is sound or not and if sound what type of finish - wax, lacquer or water based finish

Link below provides useful information in determining type of finish & how to clean -

I think you will be surprised at results of a good cleaning then you can decide if you want to finish with some product to protect

good luck

Here is a link that might be useful: wood floor dr

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 9:29AM
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I agree with using fine grade steel wool and a very mild soap. The paint and dirt will come up. I wouldn't use anything else till you tried the steel wool and mild soap.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 4:05PM
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Oh my goodness, even with the "dirt", you still have beautiful stairs and woodwork. Please, don't paint. I had to do the same thing in my great grandmother's house a very long time ago. I still remember that. I was in my early teens and I was quite proud of my results. Just a good memory. They really should clean up well with some mild soap and water. Steel wool would be fine and just a really good scrubbing. I would love to see your results.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 4:38PM
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The good part about the stairs being "dirty" (I think you should say "patina'd") is that the paint will come off easier.

Don't do this on the top of a step, find an inconspicuous spot. :) Here's some ideas for figuring out what your finish is:
turpentine - if it dissolves, it's wax.
denatured alcohol or Lacquer thinner - if it dissolves, it's shellac
xylol - water-based
paint remover - Polyurethane or varnish

I'd wait for someone brighter than me to chime in. :)

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 7:49PM
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You find that kind of dark shadowing even on newer furniture. We have an oak living room set, Amish made, and on one arm chair, the dark has started where body oils have accumulated on the wood. It's almost 'gunky' and you feel like you could scrape it off carefully. Oils oxidize and darken, just like zits. LOL.

Back when I was a child, wooden floors were the norm and not not the exception and wooden floors and furniture was oiled to keep it looking shiny. It was common for the lesser used part of a floor or stair tred to darken from lack of wear.

I think your project may turn out to be less of a problem than you think, and the wood looks like it's in good repair. The steel wool and soap will remove paint spatterings. I use it routinely on my wood floors when I find paint spatters, and that's so common when people use rollers, as opposed to brushes.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2009 at 6:07PM
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I have used Howard's Restore-a-Finish with some success.
I have also used mineral spirits and quadruple O steel wool. HTH

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 1:13PM
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Beautiful stairs! I would figure out where your runner is going to be and test on areas that will be covered. Conversely, once you figure out the best method for clean up, put most of your elbow work into those areas that will show.
Try to avoid painting, they probably still won't look very good, and you'll make it nearly impossible to ever get them restored.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2009 at 1:59PM
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