How to Update Stair Treads with Minwax Gel Stain


When we were in the beginning stages of this renovation, we had our floors and stair treads refinished. My goal was for them to look light and natural, however, I hadn’t taken into account the fact that they are 1) two different materials (stair treads are soft pine, and our floors are oak), and 2) 140 year old floors!victorian staircase stair treads

Note the color difference between the stair treads and railing

When the floor guys sanded and poly’d the stair treads they were very orange compared to the golden oak color of our floors. For me, they were fine at the time, and I lived with them, but recently realized how different the color of the stair treads were compared to the railing and it began to bother me. It also doesn’t help that while painting my new trim work (reveal coming next week), I dripped paint all over the treads during the process (#poorplanning) that needed to be sanded off, so it sort of forced me to take this project on.

On a client project recently, I gave gel stain a try for the first time to cover up some very orange pine beams in my client’s kitchen, and it was amazing! No sanding, no drips, no major mess! So I decided to give it a try on my stairs.

Minwax Gel Stain
We used Minwax Gel Stain in Coffee on the beams
For this project I used Minwax Gel Stain in Hickory

First my husband lightly sanded the stair treads to remove the paint splatter and drips. We wiped them down to make sure they were free of debris (aka pine needles from Christmas).

I then taped off the stair treads, grabbed a paint pad, latex gloves, and a rag (it was actually an old sock, lol).


I spread the stain on the stairs with the paint pad and quickly realized that it wasn’t the right tool for this application, it did work well, however, on the beams in my client’s kitchen. I then tried the old sock over a gloved hand and that seemed to be the right tool for the job, allowing me to have good control over the amount of stain that was applied.

First coat vs second coat

With gel stain, you can paint it on thick and leave it, or paint it on and wipe any excess off until you get the desired look you are going for.

My greatest tip, is to have good lighting when applying the stain so you are sure that the stain is distributed evenly.

So you may be thinking, “Shouldn’t the floors and stairs match?” In a perfect world, YES, but I think as long as they coordinate, they’re fine. Our floors have some dark areas of grain in them so I think it works just fine. And I’m just so much happier seeing the treads and railing match.

gel stain newel post

During this process, I also gave the stairs, balusters and newel post a swipe of the gel stain too, and it really helped to revitalize the wood.


Have you tackled any projects using gel stain?

Stay tuned, next week I’ll be sharing my stair makeover reveal on Royal Building Product’s website:


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  1. Christina
    May 14, 2020 / 12:34 pm

    I’m confused because in one photo you said notice the difference in stair treads and raining but it looks like you stained them the same?

    • madebycarli
      May 15, 2020 / 11:00 pm

      Hi Christine, in the first and second pic, the stairs were not stained yet. I am pointing out the difference in color between the railing and stair treads. Now that I’ve stained them, the railing and treads now match 😉😊

  2. Kristen
    July 4, 2020 / 10:40 am

    This is beautiful! I have oak floors and pine stairs too, and trying to find the best way to finished our stairs. Are your floors red oak or white oak? Did you use stain on the floors, or just sand and poly? TIA!

    • madebycarli
      July 5, 2020 / 3:17 pm

      Hi Kristen, thank you! I’m pretty sure our floors are red oak, we had the floor refinishers use Minwax natural stain:)

  3. Kristyn
    July 9, 2020 / 1:22 pm

    I’m currently in the middle of a similar project but find that it’s hard to get in between the railings. There are “brush” strokes in between the railings. I’ve tried using a rag but because of the tight space it’s hard to get smooth strokes. A foam brush works slightly better. I just did a second coat and I’m hoping a third will cover it. Any tips?

    • madebycarli
      July 11, 2020 / 8:07 am

      I often use a cheap cellulose sponge when staining or just a rag wrapped around a gloved finger to get into small spaces. You could also use a small art paint brush with fine bristles.

    • Julie
      November 6, 2021 / 8:26 pm

      Hi! Did you use any poly on top?

  4. Jenn
    October 16, 2020 / 3:44 pm

    Did you use a water based poly or oil based?

    • madebycarli
      October 25, 2020 / 6:45 pm

      I used oil based poly 🙂

    • Susie
      January 23, 2022 / 11:18 am

      What color did you stain your stairs! Love the color

      • madebycarli
        January 23, 2022 / 5:06 pm

        Thank you! I’m pretty sure it was Mission Oak by Minwax

  5. Jenny
    January 2, 2021 / 5:27 pm

    We refinished my hardwood floors with 50%provencial/50%gray stain and they looked gorgeous but our railing looked very orange. I mixed special walnut and gray gel stain until I got the right color. It now looks gorgeous! I also used it on our awful basement stairtreads and they turned out amazing! Love gel stain!

    • madebycarli
      January 3, 2021 / 6:20 pm

      Yes gel stain is amazing–it’s like magic, haha!

  6. jeanmarie
    January 12, 2021 / 10:20 am

    Looks soooo good!! How have you found that it holds up to walking/etc.?

    • madebycarli
      November 7, 2021 / 2:23 pm

      This stain holds up very well, but if you have concerns you can apply a poly top coat.

  7. Karen
    February 7, 2021 / 5:07 pm

    Looks amazing! What finish did you use on the treads?

    • madebycarli
      November 7, 2021 / 2:23 pm

      Hello, I used Minwax Gel Stain in Hickory

  8. Elena
    April 13, 2021 / 3:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing! Great idea!
    How long it took to be completely dry?
    And, dod u apply any top coating?

    • madebycarli
      April 16, 2021 / 6:30 pm

      Hi! I let it sit for 24 hours at least. Checking it often for stickiness.

  9. Cathy
    November 23, 2021 / 1:18 am

    Looks beautiful! We just bought the same Hickory stain for our oak banister. I want to get rid of the natural oak/ orangey/yellowy look since we updated our front door and kitchen floors. Because I’m not a fan of stained oak, I so badly wanted to get rid of the banister all together and put in a new one with a different wood but it’s too much money…I hope it turns out as beautiful as your stair treads!

  10. Monica Thomas
    June 11, 2023 / 10:44 pm

    The refinishing guy says he has to remove entire banister and posts in order to sand the stairs but it would be costly to replace. My question is : If I sand and stain oak floors natural , then what happens to stairs if I don’t take banister down? Can I use gel stain dark on stairs even though we want natural on both floors?

    • madebycarli
      June 22, 2023 / 1:54 pm

      Hi Monica! That’s what we did here. I was just sure to utilize a stain that coordinated well with my wood floors. So for instance, some of the grain was a bit darker in our pine floors (stained natural as well), so I picked up the darker color in the grain and used something similar on the steps. The steps here were just basic pine, nothing special unfortunately, so gel stain was a good choice because it covered it basically covers most of the grain.

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