While you might use them many times, every day, wooden stairs in your home are still quite dangerous. Have you ever got up in the middle of the night for a snack or to check on the dog, only to find yourself flat on your back? If you are keen to avoid that situation and want to know how to make wooden steps less slippery, then read on.
The simplest way to make your wooden steps less slippery is to add texture in the form of a carpet or a stair runner. If you don’t like the look of the carpet, transparent stair strips, anti-slip finish, spray and paint additives work too – be sure to remove the wax from your stairs first. Lastly, measure the rise and run of each step to make sure they are up to code.
The good news is that the solutions for making your steps slip-proof can be inexpensive and easy to install. On the other hand, opting for carpet can be time-consuming and more expensive than the adhesive and stain options.
In this article, we’ll go over the pros and cons of each method and product so that you can make the right choice for the non-slip surface on your wooden stairs.
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Are Wood Stairs too Slippery?
This seems like a dumb question, but if they are so dangerous, then why do people keep putting them in their homes?
The simple answer is that a well-installed, hardwood set of stairs looks fantastic. If your stairs are opposite your front door, this is often the first thing visitors see when they enter your house. A beautiful set of oak, ash, or even hickory stair treads is a huge selling feature and talking point for anyone who comes to your house.
To get those treads to shine, they need to be sanded ultra-smooth, then have many layers of stain and finish or wax. This “shine” – the stair finish – is what makes your wooden steps so slippery.
You could sand your steps with coarse sandpaper to make each tread rougher and gain more traction, but you’d be sanding off your stair tread finish resulting in a very poor tread appearance. Not an option.
Below we’ll look at all the options you have to make your wooden steps less slippery while maintaining an acceptable appearance for your staircase.
How to Make Wooden Stairs Less Slippery
1. Transparent Anti-Slip StripsI recommend adhesive, transparent anti-slip strips for various reasons, the foremost being that these strips still allow you to see your beautiful, finished wood steps.
As their name suggests, these strips are transparent. Some products even provide a roller for installation. The roller will remove any air bubbles from the strip, allowing it to blend in perfectly with the rest of the stair tread.
These strips can work with indoor and outdoor steps, and on surfaces other than wood. Depending on the manufacturer, it may be difficult to remove these strips should you ever want to discontinue using the strips.
Transparent anti-slip strips today are made with environmentally safe materials – no PVC – with an eye for indoor, barefoot use. Unlike the non-transparent black strips, these clear strips are not like sandpaper. They provide a tactile yet soft surface that prevents slips while remaining comfortable to walk on.
In the past, some have complained that these strips would attract dirt, marring the appearance of their wood steps, and negating the transparency of the strip. Many clear strips now offer an easy to clean surface, requiring only water and a rag to bring them back to a clear shine.
- Non-abrasive surface
- Easy to clean
- May not come off easily
- Can collect dirt around the edges
- Air bubbles will appear if not installed properly
2. Stair Carpet StripsMuch like the adhesive strips, carpet strips are simply rectangles of carpets cut to fit a standard tread size. The advantage of stair carpets strips is that many of them come with a backing that is neither glue nor adhesive. That means no damage to your hardwood stair treads.
The other appealing aspect of carpet strips is that it allows you to avoid installing a carpet stair runner, which runs the length of your steps.
Stair carpet strips come in all different designs and various sizes to fit narrow or wide steps. Many come with a tacky – but not adhesive – backing that keeps the carpet in place. Some products offer a no-slip underlay instead of backing on the carpet itself.
These strips are designed for indoor use, and modern stair carpet strips are focused on making a product that won’t damage your wooden stairs, even when you remove them.
Some shy away from stair carpet strips primarily because they, at times, might tend to slip, negating the very reason you had them in the first place. Depending on the type of finish on your floor, you might have trouble getting the carpet strips to stay in place.
As well, if you have a bunch of small kids in your house, then you know nothing is sacred, not even stair carpet strips. Kids will peel them on and off, or just take them and move them. All that movement will eventually wear away at the strips’ ability to hold in place.
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Different designs/colors available
- Non-adhesive backing
- Can be expensive
- Some versions are prone to movement
- The backing can wear away after a while
3. Anti-Slip TapeA product you have likely seen in commercial or institutional establishments, this is the black, rough tape that you’d find on the treads in stairwells.
Anyone who has used this anti-slip tape before knows that it will stick and provide an effective non-slip surface for stairs of all kinds. In fact, this tape is actually sandpaper – 80 grit – with an adhesive backing.
Even better, this tape is weatherproof. You can put it on both interior and exterior wood stairs and not worry about it peeling off. I wouldn’t recommend putting it in an area that experiences constant moisture, such as a pool deck, but it will withstand rain extremely well.
The big problem with putting anti-slip tape on wood stairs in your home is that getting it off is a problem. The adhesive backing is not kind to wood floor finishes, and you can expect that when you pull the strips off, the wood finish will come right along with it.
As well, the tape is rough. It may be uncomfortable for little feet and toes when barefoot in the house.
If you have a workplace or industrial space with wooden stairs, then this tape is a great option because it is a virtual guarantee that you won’t slip. However, the look, feel, and flexibility make it impractical for a nice set of wooden steps in your own house.
- Do not come off easily
- Very rough texture (sandpaper)
4. Stair RunnersA stair runner is a length of carpet that runs the entire length of your stairs, from top to bottom. In fancier homes or hotels, you might see a bright red runner running down the middle of a grand staircase – that’s a stair runner.
For most of us, a stair runner will resemble our existing carpet in other parts of our home, but it will be cut and finished to fit the length and width of our stairs.
Stair runners are a more expensive option for homeowners because it needs to be fitted to your exact stair measurements – height and width. It is also more complicated to install.
A pneumatic stapler, a knee-kicker, and other tools are required when installing. You will also need underlayment to put under the stair runner on each tread.
A stair runner does not take up the entire width of a stair, so you will still be able to see the hardwood on either side of the carpet. On the other hand, the runner will cover most of your stairs, so the nice wood finish of your steps will be mostly obscured.
This option will prevent slips and falls – but it comes at a cost. You lose the look of your wood stairs while paying a steep install fee for the stair runner.
- Excellent slip-proof surface
- Attractive, professional look
- Comes in many different designs
- Difficult to install
- Very rough texture
5. Anti-Slip Floor FinishA less common solution due to the lack of products available, there are anti-slip wood finishes available that won’t cover the beauty of your hardwood stair treads.
The anti-slip wood floor finish goes on transparent. Many products are available in various finishes such as matte or gloss, giving you some choice in how the finish looks after application.
The downside to these products is removal. If you don’t like how the product is working or how it looks, then removing it can be difficult or result in damage to your treads.
Although many of these finishes are water-based, any scrubbing or use of cleaning agents such as mineral spirits can damage the original finish of your stair treads.
If you opt to go with an anti-slip finish, test some on a spare piece of the stair tread, or a scrap piece of the same species, such as oak, to see what it looks like. If you do like the finish, then this type of finish is a great, lasting option for ensuring your stairs keep their natural look while becoming less slippery.
- Keeps the natural appearance of your wooden steps
- Comes in either gloss or matte finish
- Will last longer than other non-slip options
- Time-consuming to apply
- Once applied, very difficult to remove
- May require many coats to achieve appropriate surface texture
6. Anti-Slip SprayAnti-slip spray for wood stairs is a cheaper alternative than roll-on anti-slip finishes or carpet. It is also the simplest anti-slip product to apply and is completely transparent. Finally, this product is affordable.
But keep in mind – you pay for what you get. Many of the paints’ biggest brands sell anti-slip spray, but that doesn’t mean this product will last or give you the results you want. Many customers complain that it makes the appearance of their wood darker, or changes the color.
If you already have a finish on your wooden steps, it is unrealistic to expect a spray-on coating will not change the appearance at all. These sprays can often require several coats, and all of that spray will certainly affect appearance, even if the product claims to be “transparent”.
Another potential issue with this spray is durability. Roll-on anti-slip finishes achieve excellent coverage because of the way they are applied. The spray does not guarantee a uniform finish, which will not only affect durability but also appearance as well.
The anti-slip spray is incredibly simple to apply, but it is challenging to be consistent. For a fancy set of finished wooden steps, trusting a cheap product like an anti-slip spray would be like taking your pristine 69 Camaro for a ride down a gravel road – you just don’t do it.
- Easy to apply
- Quick anti-slip solution
- Durability is not good
- Can change the appearance of wood
- The application involves harmful odors
7. Non-Slip Paint AdditivesIf you are looking for a non-slip paint, you’ll have a hard time finding it. Instead, most manufacturers provide a packaged non-slip floor paint additive to add to any floor paint, including paints for hardwood flooring, that will make the surface non-slip.
These additives are essentially a pail of sand that binds with the paint, creating a sandpaper-like surface. Sand is completely innocuous when paired with paint, so the additive does not affect the color or finish at all.
You can also dictate the amount of anti-slip additive you add to your paint. If you want a coarser feel on your painted surface, you simply add a bit less of the additive. If you want a denser, rougher feel, then you add the entire bucket or package.
Since you would be using this product with paint, you wouldn’t have to worry about how it would affect the finish of your stairs since the paint would cover your wooden stairs.
Naturally, the grit would damage the wood beneath over time. But removing the paint would require you to refinish, including sanding, your wooden steps anyway.
If you are planning to paint your steps and you want them to be anti-slip, then there is no better option than the non-slip paint additive.
- Excellent slip-proofing for painted wooden surfaces
- Mixes with all types of paint
- You can control the grit level
- Only works with paint
- Time-consuming to paint your stairs
- Once applied, very difficult to remove
8. Fix Your Stairs
The standard stair dimension is 7 -11. That means each stair riser should be close to 7 inches and the stair tread – the horizontal surface – should be close to 11 inches.
While no two sets of stairs are alike, and these measurements can vary, but newly constructed homes will have stairs measuring exactly 7” x 11”.
For those of you who have a beautiful but slippery set of wooden treads in your older home, then you should get out your measuring tape before buying any of the products above. Why? There’s a chance that some of your risers or treads are not uniform.
Even one riser that is only ½” shorter or taller can result in people tripping and falling. We take walking upstairs for granted, only because our muscle memories expect a standard flight of stairs to be of the same height. But take one riser and make it slightly taller, and all it takes is one short trip to send someone on their back.
But what to do if your risers or treads are not uniform? You’ve got several options:
- Re-do the entire flight of steps
- Remove the offending tread or riser and use shims or a saw to raise/lower it
- Use a product above and cross your fingers
I don’t recommend just letting a problem like non-uniform stairs just sit. You or your family might be able to deal with it, but if you have an elderly guest or simply a guest who trips and falls, then you are liable for whatever injury they sustain. That injury could cost you far, far more than a new set of uniform stair treads and risers.
- Provides a permanent solution
- Must be fixed anyway to re-sell your house
- Will improve stairway appearance
- May involve skill beyond your capabilities
- Could be costly
- Invasive – use of stairway may be impeded for awhile
Whichever option you choose to create an anti-slip surface on your wooden stairs, just be sure to follow the directions of the product. Adhering to manufacturer specs will ensure that no matter which product you choose, it will look like it is supposed to look and not ruin the appearance of your wooden stairs.
If none of these options suit you, remember that leaving your stairs slippery is a liability to others in the household – I highly recommend against leaving a slippery set of stairs alone.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope it has given you some ideas for improving the safety of wooden stairs in your home. Please feel free to comment below or drop us a line about products or issues you’ve encountered when dealing with your slippery wooden steps.