Until recently, we were pretty positive that our plainted black and white stairs were just One of Those Things that we’d have to maintain. All the time. We love them so, so much (as proven by the intense amount of love was poured directly into them), but every couple of months, I’d have to take out my mini paint tray and roller and touch up all the treads. Almost immediately after a fresh paint job, small scuffs would slowly appear, exposing the primer beneath. Eventually, the treads themselves would pock and chip down to the original pine, and we’d wait as long as we could stand before another fresh coat of paint, usually 4-5 months. As it turns out (or so we thought!), painted stairs + 2 beefy, excitable dogs don’t exactly mix.
We’ll never expect our stairs to be pristine. Every tread dips slowly towards the middle, and there is over one hundred years of dents from heavy shoes, items dropped and countless up-and-down errands. We love that; we want to see that character shine through. What we don’t love is the every-few-months maintenance after we spent a good year getting them to this point.
We painted the stairs (at the tail end of 2014) using three coats of good quality floor enamel in Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black. Essentially, the enamel should hold up on its own, but maybe that’s for people that always wear fuzzy socks and tiptoe? Since then, many, many additional coats have been applied, but – surprise, surprise! – despite our best efforts, all it would take is one flying leap from CC towards the tile foyer to set us back. Jack’s habit of tripping up the stairs didn’t help, and although we’re a (mostly) shoes-off household, we needed to up our game.
Right now you might be thinking, why aren’t you using polyurethane? To be honest, we had been hesitant about polying the stairs for fear that if it didn’t work, I could no longer slap another coat of paint on the offensive areas. Instead, I’d have to sand down the poly, touch up and re-poly. Even more work = no way. That’s the thing about poly; when you decide to commit, well, you have to commit.
We were frustrated, but at this point, we figured we had nothing to lose. Let’s just poly, we said! Grumble, grumble. I fell down the internet rabbit hole researching the best polyurethane for floors, but I consistently came up empty handed as even the highest rated products still had a lot of complaints. But since our method of paint alone wasn’t cutting it, I chalked up low reviews to poor prep (prep is everything, we all know this!), closed my eyes, and bought this Varathane Floor Finish in satin off of Amazon. Note: The price on this goes up and down like a yo-yo. When we purchased, it was under $50!
Before we left for Hawaii in February (aka, the land of Jurassic Park!), I knocked out a stair refresh over the course of four weeknights. While we were gone, both Jack and CC would be staying with their sitter, so aside from our kitties, Maddie and Libby, and the house sitter, no one would be using the stairs for a full week. Here’s what I did:
• NIGHT 1, I applied Bondo to the deepest scrapes and gouges.
• NIGHT 2, I sanded the Bondo, vacuumed and cleaned the stairs, and applied 2 coats of paint.
• NIGHT 3, I applied 2 coats of polyurethane, following the can’s instructions.
• NIGHT 4, I did a light sand with 220 grit paper and applied 2 more coats of polyurethane.
The enamel and poly both dry fast, and our dogs are weirdos that put themselves to bed early (I’m talking, like, 8PM they go upstairs to their beds!). I did the first wet application at the same time, and I followed up with the second coat at 10PM. As long as we were light on our feet, we weren’t too concerned with walking up and down the stairs in the late evening and early morning. Below on the left, obviously, is the before, and the photo on the right was taken yesterday:
It’s been a month since our much needed tweak – with 3 weeks of consistent human, Pittie and kitty use – and it was 100% worth it! The satin finish is so pretty; it really kicks the contrast up a notch. Not surprisingly, it’s more durable for quick cleanings with our vacuum attachment and a swipe with a damp microfiber. That said, it is more slick than the paint alone (so definitely keep this in mind!), and we’ve been talking about adding a durable runner to the stairs for well over a year. Any recommendations?
The pups continue to use the stairs as their personal launching pad from the second floor to the foyer, and the black treads remain black. It’s a beautiful thing! At it’s worst, we can see some indentations in the poly where their nails have scraped, but it doesn’t go beyond that. Had we simply thrown on another coat of paint, 3 weeks of use would have shown us several worn areas and peeks of primer – at least. But now? As it turns out, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Or, you know, your painted stairs and a four pet household, anyway.
Our entryway remains my favorite ‘room’ in this house. The evolution from move-in day to now has been one of our biggest transformations in this home, taking it from a typical Chicago two-flat to the single family home (plus garden unit!) it is now. Entryway, you have our hearts so hard.
PS! You can catch the story on our stairs from start to finish by clicking on the thumbnails below: