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Old 04-25-2013, 08:36 PM   #1
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Can my stairs be salvaged?


I ripped up the carpet on my stairs to find that they had been painted numerous times and that many of the layers contained lead-based paint. I bought "Smart Strip" paint stripper and proceeded to try and safely strip the lead paint. It 'sort of' worked but my stairs are in terrible shape because the stripper made the wood so soft that I gouged them badly trying to remove it. Then, as if that's not bad enough, I can't seem to really get the stripper off. I've soaked it and scrubbed to no end but it still feels sticky and there is an awful smell. I have heard of 'outgassing' and I'm not sure if that is what is happening but when the stripper was on it didn't have much of a smell but as I was scraping it off the smell became very strong. Days later it is still permeating the house and I don't know what to try to remove the stickiness of the stripper and then what do I do with the stairs... I had wanted to sand and refinish but now they look so terrible that I think I might have to even out with some kind of wood filler and paint?
Any advice? I'm a new DIY'er and I have no idea what I'm doing. and I keep thinking "What kind of mess did I get myself into?!"

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Old 04-25-2013, 08:55 PM   #2
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Can my stairs be salvaged?


Ok what was your goal to began with? Was it to put new carpet down? Or try and restore the wood? Once you paint wood it is for ever destroyed in my opinion. Now I hope you did not make a hazmat problem and have to rip out the stairs. I would have left the stairs alone put new carpet on and called it good.

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Old 04-25-2013, 09:09 PM   #3
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Can my stairs be salvaged?


Well originally I wanted to strip the lead paint off and sand them and put Tung oil on them (they are pine). But now I don't know what to do... My first problem is trying to get all of the stripper residue off. It was a water-based stripper so I thought it would come off easily with soap and water like the directions say but, not so.
Next I need to decide if they can be sanded well enough to look decent when stained. I don't think so at this point... Or should I try to level them out with wood filler (they are very old and have been painted so many times that the middle is lower than the sides) and repaint them.
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Old 04-26-2013, 03:21 PM   #4
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Can my stairs be salvaged?


Sorry your having such a problem. Best thing clean them up use some self leveling re carpet.
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Old 04-26-2013, 04:52 PM   #5
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Can my stairs be salvaged?


Maybe consider renting an edge sander most tool rental places have them. Then sand over the stairs with a 24 or 16 grit to remove all the paint and then go over them again with a 36 grit, then agin with 50, then again with 100 grit. Get a carbide scraper to do the corners that the sander will not get. Maybe consider leaving the risers painted or re paint them to save a whole lot of hassle with sanding those. If you do want to sand those, then I would suggest a belt sander, or a palm sander. Hope this helps.
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Old 04-26-2013, 04:57 PM   #6
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Can my stairs be salvaged?


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Originally Posted by wstotz View Post
I ripped up the carpet on my stairs to find that they had been painted numerous times and that many of the layers contained lead-based paint. I bought "Smart Strip" paint stripper and proceeded to try and safely strip the lead paint.
I hate paint strippers they sell at the hardware store, it's almost worst than useless because it's so watered down these days it BARELY removes ONE layer of paint per application.
There is no real do-it-yourself SAFE way of stripping lead paint, if you aren't exposed to the lead then you are exposing yourself to the carcinogenic and toxic chemicals in the remover.

I mostly agree with nailbags in that once some fool PAINTS wood it's ruined, a co-worker tried to give me a bunch of salvaged interior softwood window trim that had lots of paint on it, nice design on the face but as a test to remove the paint to wood it took one QUART of remover to do ONE 5" x 8' board!
I made new ones with a similar design out of oak and using a router to rout the design in, far less time and cost than trying to salvage the old junk.

It's probably not a viable option with your stairs but I almost think replacing the treads, or overlaying a new 3/4" thick tread might be a more viable option if we are talking about a plain design here with no carvings and the like.
With remover, you have to keep working at it and wiping a lot, and then a solvent at the end like denatured alcohol and rags can help get the last of the sticky residue off.
Denatured alcohol works pretty well, dries fast, and being a more natural product I feel it's less hazardous to work with than something like acetone, M.E.K. toluol, xylol or any of the other solvents someone might pick at the hardware store.
The outgassing you smell is hard to say what it is, it could be the old paints, stains on the stairs that the former owner painted over to get rid of (cat urine comes to mind) I doubt it's the remover because that usually goes away in a day.
If the wood is as damaged as you described, well, I won't chastise you on continuing to scrape after seeing the damage it was doing on the first step, you learned a valuable lesson there, but now as to how to fix this, pictures will help, it may not be as bad as you thought.

One big issue is what kind of wood it is, if it is hardwood which I doubt now, it's worth cleaning up and staining, but most of these cheap softwoods they used for these items, interior doors etc were MEANT to be painted over, that is one reason why they usually used the cheapest crappiest wood because they knew it was to be primed and painted over anyway.
You may very well wind up using wood filler to fill dents and damage, sanding and painting back over it.

There is acetone based filler and water based, personally I prefer the water based "Fill-n-finish" not Dap plastic wood, I forget who makes the fill-n-finish we use, it's not Borden, but it works well, no fumes.
If/when you are down to BARE wood and need to sand to get the scratches and damage out, You'll probably need to sand with 80 or 100 grit to start with then 150, but unless you have an air compressor and orbital sander or electric sander, it's going to be lots of work!

I see now you say the stairs are just pine, I don't feel pine is even worth refinishing unless it's some kind of historic house, you might be better off doing as a couple suggested- carpet back over it as it stands now and be done with it.

I have 15+ years woodworking experience, I do most of the lacquering and finishing at work, mostly on poplar, white oak and cherry.

Lets see some pics...


Last edited by RWolff; 04-26-2013 at 05:18 PM.
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