Fix-It Friday: Quest For Stickability… How To Dull And Refinish A Glossy Surface

pink staircase
Fix-It FridayHome Improvement 2 Comments

“I would like to redo our staircase and redo rails, they are currently done in pink gloss, is it possible to sand them in order to varnish or stain them or will I have to stick with glossing them?” – WYSK Reader Sharon

Hi Sharon! Pink gloss? Wow, I’d really like to see the design and décor that goes along with a glossy pink staircase! My curiosity aside, your question is a good one and you point to the very issue at hand… “gloss”.

The problem with covering any shiny surface is what I like to refer to as lack of stickability. When something is too smooth there’s no “tooth” for a paint (or even adhesive or mortar) to stick to. The first thing you need to do is dull that surface to create tiny grooves and nooks-and-crannies, for the new coating to stick to. (Let me note, “bonding primers” purport adhesion to shiny surfaces, but I have never personally come across one that works as well as physically dulling a surface).

On your quest for stickability, here’s how to dull and refinish a glossy surface:

  • Hand of a woman sanding fixturesWearing a dust mask and protective eyewear, use fine-grit sand paper to scuff up the entire painted surface. Wrap sand paper around a thin wood dowel to get into tight places. You can use an orbital sander on flat surface like the staircase treads and risers.
  • Vacuum up all the dust and wipe down the surfaces using a rag and detergent. When dry, wipe all surfaces again with a tack cloth to grab any remaining dust.
  • Paint the surface with a proper primer to get the surface ready for the final finish.
  • Sand, again, with a very fine-grit sand paper to get rid of any imperfections you may now see. Vacuum and wipe with a tack cloth.
  • Slowly and methodically paint a thin coat using a ¼ nap micro-fiber roller and brush for cutting. Use a paint especially designed for floors as its chemical composition can handle foot traffic.
  • Drying time is crucial. Wait at least 24 hours to put a second coat.
  • Finish with a clear polyurethane type coat for extra protection. Know that an oil-based polyurethane can yellow a color.

I gotta warn you, this job will be dusty, time consuming, and tedious, not to mention put the staircase out of commission for a few days. Remember, proper preparation is key to a professional finish.

Now, my dear, I must address two other things you mention in your question, “varnish or stain”. Let me knock the hard one out of the way first… when you say “stain” that implies a transparency that will simply stain the wood allowing all of the wood grain to show through.

colored wood

If this is the look you want, ALL of the paint needs to be removed, which is a lengthy process I can address in a follow up answer. Solid-body stains are actually a watered down paint that absorb into the wood, depositing a color, but will reveal the wood grain. Being that your wood grain seems to be covered up already with that pink gloss paint, I don’t think this product is for you.

Varnish, as opposed to stain, is simply a clear resin coating that goes over wood or other materials to provide a transparent protective finish. Typically, one would varnish over a stain, or simply varnish natural wood.

I’m happy to say, following these steps, your staircase can be in the pink sans the pink gloss, and you can enjoy a fresh new look in your home!

Norma sig

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Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.


  • sharon

    Hi Norma, thank you so much for your reply. I don’t need to sand the floor part of the staircase as it is carpeted but the side of the staircase is solid and glossed, there is a dado rail which is a lovely wooden colour, this is what I would like to bring the wood back to. I’m very dubious about the wood that is underneath, I haven’t even looked under the carpet yet!! But as this will be for life I’m prepared to put in the work to achieve the result I want.

    • Norma

      Love your ambition! Ok, my dear, if getting down to the bare wood is your goal, I suggest doing a test first on one step to see what lies beneath–hopefully you’ll be happily surprised! Use an all natural paint stripper–lots of elbow grease. Lemme know if any other questions come up. Best of luck with your project!