When Painted Stairs + Dogs Don’t Mix


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:

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  • Leah Prevost3.18.16 - 8:41 AM

    I absolutely LOVE how you can see your pitties in almost every picture. I have a pitbull too, and I smile knowing the feeling of trying to take pictures and your dog is staring at you like a psycho lol. I found your blog a month ago and have been sucked in :) Your home is beautiful and your I love all of your posts.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 9:37 AM

      Thanks, Leah! Pittie stares are the best, aren’t they? All things Pittie are really the best though!ReplyCancel

  • Allison3.18.16 - 8:44 AM

    I love your foyer! It makes me wish we had one, but our house was built in 1987, not as much character…
    Anyway, stair runner immediately made me think of YHL and the one they did for theirs.

    • Kim3.18.16 - 9:36 AM

      Yes, I remember that! I really liked that runner, but I don’t think anything with that much white would fly with our two goofballs.

      Also, it’s funny because a “foyer” or an “entryway” was on my MUST list when we were house hunting. We’ve never really had a proper one before, and I always wanted that feeling of being welcomed into our home – and not our living room. Haha.ReplyCancel

  • Kim3.18.16 - 8:52 AM

    YES to the stair launch of doom. My dog will jump from the 5th or 6th stair — it’s crazy!

    I have this issue too, but it’s because the previous owner didn’t poly the dark wood stain — our entire first floor and stairs have dog scratches. Ugh. Think I can spot fix wood stain scratches? I am afraid we’ll have to refinish all the floors if not!ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 9:34 AM

      Oh, no! I suppose it depends on how bad it is. You could certainly do touch-ups with stain in the areas that are the most visible (maybe just try a walnut danish oil to darken the light areas), but when/if you do go through the trouble of applying poly, you might need to refinish and get it over with.ReplyCancel

  • Julia [Chris Loves Julia]3.18.16 - 9:21 AM

    I am so glad you found a solution! I need to figure something out for our patio doors that I painted black awhile ago. I am in the same routine of touching them up every couple months on the bottom where Charly loves to sleep and the streeettcchhhh and scratch the door up. I think a stair runner would be so pretty!ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 9:41 AM

      Oh, man. Should you, CAN you poly a door?! Or maybe try a different brand/exterior grade paint? PS… I love Charly so much.ReplyCancel

  • Meg3.18.16 - 9:46 AM

    Rexx Rugs on Lincoln has several heavy-duty stock carpets which can be made into runners. My recollection is that they were all pretty neutral and hard-wearing, while still attractive.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 9:56 AM

      Cool, thanks! And it’s close to Brown Elephant, so I guess we’ll have to make a stop in there, too. :)ReplyCancel

  • Wendi3.18.16 - 10:20 AM

    We had the same problem, but I’ve been really reluctant to use poly because our 13 year-old Labrador is getting arthritic and has trouble navigating the slippery stairs. So, in January we installed black rubber non-slip runners with carpet tape over a fresh coat of paint. It was a good choice for the dogs plus they were relatively inexpensive, they’re easy to clean, they absorb some of the sound, and they don’t break up the visual line of the black stair tread. They may not work for everyone, but it’s a great for our busy and active household.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 10:25 AM

      I love that. When we get around to installing a runner, our idea is that it will serve the same purpose.ReplyCancel

  • angela3.18.16 - 10:33 AM

    SO glad you posted this! I have painted charcoal doors and a painted window sash by a bay winder where my dog loves to keep a watchful eye. We also dog sit a LOT. I did all the proper prepping for both and of course, scratches!!! I’ve been considering getting Varathane for the doors and window sashes because if it holds up for floors, it should work for doors and windows too, right?! So now I’m convinced and I’m going to do it asap.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 10:45 AM

      Hooray! And make sure you get the heavy traffic formula for floors! I know they have a similar looking one on Amazon, but I THINK the formula we used is even more tough.ReplyCancel

  • Elaine - visual meringue3.18.16 - 10:37 AM

    Great solution! The stairs look amazing :)ReplyCancel

  • Crystal3.18.16 - 10:41 AM

    I highly recommend that you try Puppy Treads, made by the company Handi Treads. The Puppy Treads are clear and provide a ton of traction on stairs, making them safer for you and for the dogs going up and down the stairs. They would also likely help prevent a lot of the dings and dents and chips that happen because they would take the brunt of it. And since they are clear, you would keep the same clean look of the black treads.ReplyCancel

  • Dani @ Danielle and Co.3.18.16 - 10:45 AM

    We don’t have dogs, but somehow our stairs still take a beating! Our issue is the actual risers… We painted them a pretty green, but they are constantly scuffed… I might look into adding poly to those! The sheen might be nice too…

  • Alanna3.18.16 - 12:04 PM

    I have a pittie too and her nails are long. I am working hard on getting her counter conditioned to nail trims and filing, and it is a lot of effort to get her quicks to recede. But the ideal nail length for dogs is so you don’t hear them click on the floors. It is much better for their posture this way, because there pads can spread out more evenly on the floor surface. The length of their nails can actually effect their whole skeletal structure (just like humans wear orthotics to correct posture and structural issues). It is better also for their proprioception, which might help how they walk/ trip up the stairs. Great that you found a solution for the stair treads, but I would recommend working on getting their nails shorter too.ReplyCancel

    • Nadia3.18.16 - 12:18 PM

      That was my first thought, too, after seeing the closeup of the dog’s paws. I am trimming/sculpting my puppy’s nails every week in an effort to get them to a short, healthy length.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 12:20 PM

      Good point, Alanna. We have been trying to keep up with CC’s nail trims for the same reason as your pup, it sounds like. Her quicks are so long! Jack is a non-issue – we don’t hear his nails click, and he’s never had a nail trim in his life!ReplyCancel

      • Alanna3.21.16 - 2:09 PM

        Yes its tough! I am just working on counter conditioning my pittie to the dremel. I havent actually touched her paws with it yet. But I did teach her to scratch a board I made covered in sand paper and it really helped the front paws at least. I cant seem to train her to scratch with her back paws. One way to help the quicks to recede is cutting along the “alternate cut line”. you actually take a but off the top and sides, rather than the bottom, essentially trying to wittle the nail away so the quicks are ALMOST exposed. this helps them dry up and recede.ReplyCancel

  • Josh @ The Kentucky Gent3.18.16 - 12:58 PM

    Definitely a higher contrast look than before, and the wood looks shinier – less like wood covered in paint if that makes sense? Great work – as always!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah3.18.16 - 1:50 PM

    We have wood stairs and I really want a runner. It would definitely cut down on the amount of noise our dogs make going up and down the stairs in our little rowhouse. I’m interested to see what you guys come up with! I love the Dash & Albert runners but cotton nailed to the floor + 2 big hound dogs seems like a bad combo.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.18.16 - 2:33 PM

      I hear you! I think Dash & Albert also makes more durable outdoor rugs/runners, too. I remember looking into that at one point!ReplyCancel

  • Kate S.3.18.16 - 1:57 PM

    We have four dogs and, believe me, I completely understand your situation. We, too, have painted and touched up and repainted and touched up again . . . and again in an effort to keep our painted stairs looking lovely. It really is an uphill battle! Our situation is exacerbated by the fact that our kitchen is on the first floor and all bathrooms are on the second floor–there’s no way we can avoid going up and down the stairs even for a day.ReplyCancel

  • Bailey3.18.16 - 10:09 PM

    Okay, I know this post is about the stairs, but this is the first time I’ve visited your blog and 1) it’s beautiful 2) — let’s talk about that tile.

    I’ve seen it so much at tile stores recently, but the way it looks in your entryway is AH-MAZING. So obsessed.ReplyCancel

  • Patty connelly3.19.16 - 10:21 AM

    The stairs are beautiful, but get the runner. As our beloved pit max aged, he slipped down our hardwood stairs twice (like the whole way down). After the 1st time, we bought a runner, but didnt get it installed before the 2nd accident. After that he wouldnt go near the stairs and about a year later his hips went and he passed. Granted, he was 13, but those falls down the stairs didnt help an old dog.ReplyCancel

  • Jane3.20.16 - 7:16 PM

    Hey! We have well-polyurethaned steps down to our basement, and they’ve held up great. Our issue has been the dogs slipping on the steps when going downstairs, especially our old man Merlin. (Oh, and me too! I have had some bad tumbles in socks.)

    We didn’t want to add a runner because of the annoyance of having to vacuum it rather than sweep the hair off the stairs, so we added black nonskid tape, one strip at the front of each step. Works like a charm. It doesn’t look great because they’re light wood. But! You have black steps! I wonder if this would work well for you?

    • Kim3.21.16 - 10:14 AM

      That’s the least offensive anti-slip tape I’ve seen! Thanks for the link, Jane!ReplyCancel

  • Dakwerken3.21.16 - 6:42 AM

    Excellent Job !! I have been trying to find a solution to this problem for over a year now. I will be applying this paint coat in stairs and hope it will retain for long time. Thanks Kim for sharing this post.ReplyCancel

  • Julia@Cukoo4Design3.21.16 - 6:25 PM

    This is just in time as I’m just getting ready to finish mine and I just wasn’t sure what to do.ReplyCancel

  • Alison4.7.16 - 11:32 AM

    I love your stairs and the whole look of this photo! Thanks for sharing your stair tips. Can you also please tell the paint color on your walls — the light gray? And the Blue? Thanks. Beautiful.ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.7.16 - 11:51 AM

      Thanks, Alison! The light gray is Sterling by Behr, but I only had it tinted at 75% strength, so it’s a little softer than the paint chip. The blue is Hague Blue, Farrow & Ball. :)ReplyCancel

  • Amanda5.17.16 - 10:24 PM

    Ohh I love it! That black looks so good on the stairs. I am reading back logs of your blog as I’ve been distant in the blogosphere for a while now (I’ve been reading you since the beginning!) and I’m loving what you are doing with your home. It’s so fun to go back and see what you’ve done. Can’t believe I’ve missed so muchReplyCancel

    • Kim5.18.16 - 9:18 AM

      Thanks, Amanda! We are so happy that you’ve been following along for so long. We definitely recognize your name when it pops up. :DReplyCancel

  • Ashley LaMar5.20.16 - 8:14 PM

    So fantastic! We have two dogs (small dogs) and are planning to buy a place in the city next year. We’ve been debating what kind of flooring we could put in with their little nails and I love painted stairs so this is a good info to have.ReplyCancel

  • Will Lombart5.4.17 - 8:28 AM

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It’s toughest to maintain black anywhere in the house when one has a four-legged friend! You could consider blocking off the stairs with a barrier while you’re on vacation.ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen10.24.17 - 2:55 PM

    How is this holding up? I’m thinking about doing something similar to my staircase.

    Did you end up getting the runner? It might be nice to have before you’re carrying the baby up and down — you don’t want to slip with her in your arms :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.24.17 - 3:06 PM

      It’s holding up SO well. Like, remarkably so! There are a few chips here and there, but a little touch up paint does the trick. It’s nothing compared to the chipped madness we were dealing with before polying.

      We don’t have the runner yet, mostly because we simply can’t decide on a style, etc. That is such a great point though (about baby), and it’s definitely on our list!ReplyCancel

  • Phil5.27.18 - 7:57 AM

    I recently used the sherwin Williams floor enamel on my entryways oak stairs. It’s been over 48hrs and the paint feels tacky almost rubber like (not wet). Was this your experience with the paint prior to putting polyurethane on the steps? Not sure what to do at the moment.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.28.18 - 7:34 PM

      Oh, no! We’ve only found that to be the case if we don’t allow enough dry time between coats. We didn’t encounter this issue here at all! Room temperature could be another factor. At this point, I wouldn’t add the polyurethane step until the paint has completely cured. You may need to wait several more days. If you have a dehumidifier, that can also help!ReplyCancel

  • Becky8.10.19 - 7:59 AM

    Hi! I found your black treads! In a previous post that showed only both treads and risers in white you had written: “imagine these in black!” But I couldn’t find a photo or link to help me imagine. But I found them here! I absolutely love how they turned out. I have been wanting to do this with my treads also but have been afraid to commit because I have  a not-dainty hound dog I was sure would shred the black and leave me an even bigger problem. Everyone has been telling me to stain my stairs instead of paint. But I just adore how yours turned out and am now revisiting the idea for my steps. I bought white anaglypta paper (vinyl) -wall paper- for my risers. 
    I sanded and wood-filled dog claw damage. Then I did the same to a piece of scrap wood for practice. I applied a wood stain to the practice piece and am so disappointed to see that the wood-filler didn’t stain. I used DAP Wood Plastic, which promises it is stainable. So! I maybe should just paint and close the chapter. 
    Thank you much for sharing the poly trick. Your black-white stairs are gorgeous. 

  • Sarah12.15.20 - 10:42 PM

    I feel you are the perfect person to answer this question and looking at your stairwell- it’s almost identical to mine. I have a large labradoodle that after a random fall (in the exact spot of the stairs where your pooch is sitting on the landing), now really gets scared when rounding the corner on the landing to go down the second part of the stair case. He now grips his nails into the wood and ends up Scooby-Dooing it around the corner. In that area our 85 year old hardwoods (that were professionally refinished 4 years ago) are taking a major beating. I cringe every time I go up the stairs as I find new marks. Any tips for keeping scratches at bay on hardwoods? ReplyCancel

  • kristin5.22.21 - 2:09 PM

    Hello, I have just come across this post and hope that you can answer a few questions now that it’s been a few years since you painted the stairs. How has the varathane held up? We used Bona high traffic on our wood floors, but that was done professionally. I am tackling the stairs on my own and don’t want to spend the money for the Bona – the varathane is easily $100 cheaper. Since you pained the stairs then used polyurethane, has the color ‘yellowed’ as polyurethane is prone to do?, ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.22.21 - 9:02 PM

      No yellowing, but we have it in black so I’m not sure how much you can trust that. We also added a stair runner (for safety), and we still love our stairs SO much.ReplyCancel

  • Deborah Coulombe8.12.21 - 12:47 PM

    Yes, I have a recommendation: we bought Non-slip tape for stairs Grade by Finehous.   Before we applied these our son hurt his heel on a survival hard landing. Yes, it could have been much worse. This was the answer to our prayers that noone else got hurt as our son did. ReplyCancel

  • Andi4.4.22 - 5:45 AM

    Thank you for this tip!  I’m not in the process of redoing my stairs right now and was looking for a good poly.  I’ll order some now!  I’m sure it’ll come in handy with 4 kids and a German Shepherd.  Funny side note: our stairs will be the exact same color scheme, to include the wooden trim in the top step.  My walls seem to be the same shade of gray as yours and also all of our interior doors are all also the same shade of blue as yours.  So weird that our homes look so similar, but I can definitely say you have great taste ????ReplyCancel

  • katie1.3.23 - 8:20 AM

    I am so glad I came across your article. We have 2 very excited dogs who sit and wait for us by a window and as you can imagine, the dark stained hardwood floors are impossible to keep, well, dark stained. I am definitely going to try this. PS – we also have a pittie mix!ReplyCancel


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