Building Tips

How to Match Solid Stair Treads to Prefinished Hardwood Flooring

We love prefinished engineered hardwood. There are so many color choices and widths available and once it’s installed, it’s finished! But what if you have stairs?

There are solutions for stairs like using pieces the prefinished flooring to cover each step. If done correctly, this can look very nice, but we still prefer the look of a solid tread.

If you go the route of using solid unfinished treads paired with your prefinshed flooring, it can sometimes be tricky to match them. However, we’ve done this several times and had great results.

In this article, I’m going to share my experience and some tips that will hopefully save you some time and headaches.

Choose the Right Species of Wood

The first step to matching stair treads to prefinished flooring is using the same species of wood. This is very important because stains can look very different on different types of wood.

For example, in our new house, we are using Sea Smoke from ADM Flooring. It is a beautiful European White Oak. So we made sure and order white oak stair treads. If we would have ordered red oak treads, it would be impossible to hide the pink color of the red oak unless I used a really dark stain. Since our flooring is light-colored, this was not an option.

unstained white oak tread

Choose the Right Stain

Finding the right stain is the most difficult part. When we were building our current house, I think I bought every small can of Minwax stain I could find at Lowe’s. And I think I tried every possible mixture and combination. But nothing was coming close to matching our flooring.

So I took a closer look at a piece of our Padua flooring from ADM Flooring and noticed that the finish and protective layer on top had a bit of opaqueness to it. That’s when it hit me! I needed a semi-transparent stain.

Back to Lowes, I went. This is a common occurrence for me when we’re building a house.

I located a line of semi-transparent stains by Olympic and chose one called Pearl Gray. After applying it to one of the treads, I could see that it was adding the right amount of opaqueness, but Pearl Gray was too light for Padua. So, back to Lowes, I went one more time. I found another color called Driftwood and it was a near-perfect match!

And turns out, I didn’t waste any money by purchasing that can of Pearl Gray. I discovered it is a perfect match for the flooring we put in the new house, which is Sea Smoke from ADM Flooring.

Apply the Right Amount of Stain

With semi-transparent stains, it’s important to control how much you apply. To do this, it’s best to apply the stain with a cloth. That way you can wipe off excess if you see that you are putting on too much.

Sea Smoke has a whitewash look. By using a cloth, I was able to wipe the stain on and achieve a very similar look. Some of the stain gathers in the grain and on the smoother parts of wood, it wipes off.

Left: stair tread with Pearl Gray stain
Right: piece of Sea Smoke flooring

Once I had the right amount of stain on the treads, I applied a coat of polyurethane, lightly sanded, and then applied another coat of poly.

Before choosing your Polyurethane, determine what kind of finish you need. Both Padua and Sea Smoke have very little shine. So I went with a satin finish.

Update

We’ve been in the new house now for about two months, so I thought I should update this article with a photo of our new stairs. We are so happy with how everything turned out, especially with how well the treads ended matching our floors.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Lorraine Bryant

    I love this! The timing is perfect! We are about to purchase the Sea Smoke too for our modern farmhouse renovation and I’ve been a hot mess going back and forth with that or the Vintage White and stalking ADM’s Instagram! I love the idea for the stair treads!!! Thank you so much for your amazing blog!!!! Did you buy your treads at Lowe’s too? Thank you for your awesome blog!

    January 20, 2020 at 8:02 pm
    • Reply Henry

      Hello Lorraine! We are so glad you like the blog. We hope you find our articles helpful to you along your journey! We worked directly https://www.ljsmith.com/ They distribute to Lowes and other home improvement locations. We love their products!

      January 21, 2020 at 1:35 pm
      • Reply Kari

        I was just scouring the internet for something that describe this! Thank you so much for putting in the time to write this! All of your hardwood posts have been so helpful. Can’t wait to install our own now!

        May 5, 2020 at 8:54 pm
      • Reply dawn

        Hello Henry- Love this blog! Thank you for al the information. I used the link above for treads and there are 8 species available for treads and none is white oak. Are yours white oak? Any possibility you can link the exact ones? Thank you advance.

        May 18, 2020 at 5:21 pm
  • Reply karen

    Hi Henry,

    this is fabulous! I’m a designer in Houston and working with a client using white oak hardwood floors. Do you think this Pearl Gray stain would do as well on full flooring ? The color is spot on to the customers liking, and normally I’ve used WOCA Diamond Oil, but we’re not getting the look she’s wanting with it.

    Your thoughts? and thank you for your input!!!

    January 22, 2020 at 11:24 pm
    • Reply Henry

      Hello Karen!
      So glad the article was helpful and thank you for following along!
      I wouldn’t see a problem in using it on the entire floor. We love the way it turned out also, such a great look! We would love to see a picture when it is finished.

      January 27, 2020 at 1:25 pm
  • Reply karen

    And Henry,

    The poly finish you used would be helpful as well:)

    Thank you !

    January 22, 2020 at 11:28 pm
    • Reply Henry

      Hello Karen! We used Minwax Polycrylic in a satin finish.

      January 27, 2020 at 1:52 pm
  • Reply Lucy

    Why did you not use the engineered hardwood for the stairs?

    January 23, 2020 at 12:26 am
    • Reply Henry

      Hello Lucy!
      We like to use solid treads on our stairs Thank you so much for following along!

      January 27, 2020 at 1:48 pm
  • Reply Marnie

    Just facing this dilemma myself. I however am using a luxury vinyl on floors and white oak treads on the stairs. Having trouble matching. I will definitely look at semi-transparent stains. Now this one you’re showing is exterior stain, is this fine for interior stairs?

    February 25, 2020 at 1:02 am
    • Reply Brooke

      Yes, you should give it a try. It is an exterior stain, but it’s fine to use on the inside as well.

      February 25, 2020 at 6:58 pm
  • Reply Kim

    Can you tell me what you use for risers? My builder states wood stairs are about $6,500 or so. Thoughts? Great job on the plaster hood!

    February 25, 2020 at 4:35 am
    • Reply Brooke

      Glad you like the hood!

      In the farmhouse, we used primed pine for the risers, but in the new house, we used poplar. Price would greatly depend on how many stairs you have. Did your contractor’s price include railing as well?

      February 25, 2020 at 7:01 pm
  • Reply Jackie Shay

    This is great advice! I’m wondering though if you used the same stain on other types of woods for anything else (i.e shelves) as we are having troubles finding a good stain match on poplar and birch for things like nule posts on stairs, built in tops and shelves. Everything that the paint store calls a “match” is green 🙁 Thanks in advance for any advise!

    March 13, 2020 at 6:35 pm
    • Reply Amanda

      This looks amazing! Thanks so much for sharing. Did you use the same stain on the banister? We are redoing our floors in sea smoke, but are trying to figure out how to update our stairs without completely redoing them. Any advice would be appreciated.

      May 4, 2020 at 2:22 am
      • Reply Henry

        Hi Amanda. Yes, we did use the same stain on the handrail. If yours are white oak, it should match.

        May 5, 2020 at 10:25 pm
    • Reply Henry

      Hi Jackie. In our new house we used Driftwood Gray on all of our red oak wood (built-in and beams). It actually has a green tint, but that was good for us since we wanted to get rid of the red in the red oak. Since green is on the opposite side of the color wheel, it neutralizes the red.

      May 5, 2020 at 10:42 pm

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