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Best Varnish for Stairs in 2024 | Top 5 Picks by an Expert

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Stairs are a pain. They’re hard to clean, they’re dangerous for kids and pets, and they can be downright ugly.

Varnish is a good way to protect your wood stairs, but you can make a huge mistake if you don’t pick the right one. Choosing the wrong varnish could lead to slips and falls that put people at risk of serious injuries. 

Some varnishes just won’t protect your stairs from moisture, and others will turn yellow after a few years. 

For that reason, it is imperative to invest in the best varnish for stairs. It will not only keep your wood stairs looking nice but will also provide a slip-resistant surface that is safe for everyone. 

Moreover, it offers excellent protection against moisture damage, so your stairs will remain in good condition for a long period. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at some top-rated varnishes on the market that you can use to protect your stairs.

Rust-Oleum Stair Varnish

System Three Varnish Stairs

Epifanes Varnish for Stairs

5 Best Varnish for Stairs Reviews

Choosing the right varnish for your wood stairs can be a daunting task. There are a lot of different products on the market, and you want to make sure that you choose one that is of good quality. 

But, how do you know which products are of the best quality? For this reason, we have compiled a list of the top 5 most ideal varnishes for wood stairs.

1. Rust-Oleum Stair Varnish

Rust-Oleum varnish is a high-quality product that is perfect for use on exterior staircases, trim, furniture, and other wooden surfaces.

This is an oil based stain that expands and contracts with weather changes. It is a perfect choice for wood stair, which experiences a wide range of temperature changes throughout the year. 

The varnish also provides excellent durability and coverage, making it a great choice for high-traffic areas. When dry, it provides a beautiful glossy appearance to wood finishes. As a result, your wood stairs will remain in good condition for a long time.

It is a quick-drying, highly durable varnish that can cover up to 150 square feet. With just two hours of drying time, it creates beautiful, long-lasting wooden surface finishes. So, you can get back to your wood project faster, without sacrificing quality.

This stair varnish is highly resistant to UV rays. Thus, exposure to the sun will not affect the color or finish of the product. Additionally, this product is resistant to salt and mildew. Therefore, you are assured that your stairs will be protected. 

It is therefore perfect for use on staircases, which are often subjected to high levels of wear and tear. The product is excellent for wood finishes with a beautiful, clear gloss. 

With maximum protection, this polyurethane varnish is ideal for protecting wood surfaces. The product weighs 1 pound and measures 5 x 5 x 5 inches. 

Highlighted Features:

  • Oil-based formula expands and contracts with changes in weather.
  • Maximum protection against salt and mildew.
  • Dries in two hours for quick use.
  • UV resistance that will not be affected by exposure to the sun.
  • Provides excellent durability and coverage.

2. Epifanes Varnish for Stairs

This varnish from Epifanes is a high-quality product that is designed to protect your stairs from damage due to moisture. Epifanes Varnish is a high build, matte finish that can be applied without sanding between coats.

If it is recoated within 72 hours, it will achieve high-quality wood finishes. This product is perfect for staircases because it provides a durable and long-lasting coating. Epifanes wood stains are perfect for giving your stair treads a fresh, new look. 

The soft matte finish is beautiful and will bring out a more natural appearance to your wooden staircase. Plus, this varnish provides you with outstanding U.V protection. So, you can rest assured knowing this varnish will be sure to last.

It is a high-quality one-component varnish based on modified alkyd resin and tung oil. This varnish is perfect for protecting and enhancing the appearance of wood stairs. 

This product dries quickly to hard, quality surface finishes, and is resistant to wear and tear. You will achieve a rubbed appearance with this product.

500 ml of this product can be used for multiple surfaces, depending on how many coats are applied. The product weighs 0.99 pounds. Thus, if you are looking for varnish for stairs, Epifanes Varnish can be an excellent choice for you. 

Highlighted Features:

  • Provides a durable and long-lasting coating.
  • Excellent U.V protection for long-lasting results.
  • One component matte finish.
  • Protects from damage due to moisture.

3. System Three Varnish Stairs

This product from System Three is a clear, marine spar varnish coating that offers excellent quality and ease of application for a broad range of wooden surfaces.

It comes in both a gloss and satin finish, and it is formulated to cure properly over System Three epoxy products. Using this varnish will give your wood stairs with beautiful surface finishes that will last a long time.

This product provides a high-solids, VOC-compliant finish. If you’re looking for a high-quality product to protect your exterior wood surfaces, System Three varnish can be a great option. 

The varnish has been specifically designed for marine and exterior applications, so you can rely on it to withstand the elements. It also dries quickly and produces beautiful surface wood finishes, making it the perfect choice for any wood project.

When it comes to exterior stair finishing, System Three Varnish provides homeowners and woodworking professionals with the best protection against salt air and water. 

This varnish is perfect for heavy traffic areas that are constantly exposed to the elements with quality surface finishes. 

It offers excellent protection against fading, cracking, and peeling, making it a long-lasting solution for your exterior varnish stairs.

This varnish comes with an ultraviolet light absorber that will protect wood against the elements and maintain the natural beauty of the wood.

Highlighted Features:

  • Offers both gloss and satin finishes.
  • Offers a high-solids, VOC-compliant finish.
  • Comes with an ultraviolet light absorber.
  • Provides excellent protection against salt air and water.

4. Tried & True Anti Slip Varnish for Stairs

If you are looking for a great way to keep your stair parts safe, then you may use Tried & True varnish.

It is a premium product for a wood finish made from polymerized linseed oil and natural pine resin, which makes it a great material to make your wood stairs safe.

If you are looking for an anti slip varnish for stairs, this is an excellent option. This oil based polyurethane is safe for skin contact, food contact, and application. So, it can be applied indoors without the need for ventilation or gloves.

This results in a satin, high-sheen look that is resistant to scratching. It is perfect for stairs, as it provides extra safety and anti-slip finishes.

Since this wood oil is made from 100% renewable ingredients, you can feel good about using it. Furthermore, it is simple to apply, so you will be able to begin immediately. It does not contain solvents, dyes, petrochemicals, or volatile organic compounds.

The product can cover up to 1,000 square feet per gallon and is recommended for use on wooden stairs. This product gives you extremely long-lasting surface finishes that are both hard and scratch-proof.

Highlighted Features:

  • Covers up to 1,000 square feet per gallon.
  • Comes in a satin high-sheen finish.
  • Provides a safe slip-resistant surface.
  • Resistant to scratching, making it great for stairs.
  • Made from 100% renewable ingredients.

5. ‎Furniture Clinic Non Slip Varnish for Stairs

This product from Furniture Clinic is a water-based varnish designed to provide a high level of protection for wooden furniture and stairs.

If you’re looking for a durable and long-lasting, anti slip finish for your stairs, Furniture Clinic’s varnish can be a great option. 

It creates clear surface finishes that doesn’t yellow over time, and it also helps to keep your wooden stairs safe by providing extra traction.

You can apply it to interior wood surfaces, and it provides a layer of protection that makes them non-slip and safer.

This varnish is applied to the surface of the wood, which gives it a rich, natural shiny finish that will complement any hardwood surface. 

So not only will it make your wood stairs look good, but it will also ensure that they are safe, which is a benefit for both you and your guests.

It can be used both on new and old stained wood, which means that it is highly versatile. This product weighs 1.26 pounds and measures 7.87 x 2.36 x 2.28 inches.

With this water based polyurethane, you can rest assured that it contains low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and virtually eliminates any odor, so you don’t need to be concerned about harmful residuals. Therefore, it may be a good idea to choose this non-slip varnish for stairs. 

Highlighted Features:

  • Provides a non-slip finish that helps to make your stairs safer.
  • Water-based varnish that provides long-term protection.
  • Creates a clear finish that won’t yellow over time.
  • Can be used on old stained wood as well as new.
  • Low levels of volatile organic compounds and odorless.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Varnish for Wood Stairs

oil based polyurethane

Creating beautiful, long-lasting surface finishes for your stairs is easy with the right varnish. When choosing the right stain for wooden staircases, there are some factors you should consider. Some of these include:

1. The Type of Finish You Want

The finishes for varnish are divided into three categories: matte, semi-gloss, and gloss. The matte finish is the least reflective and ideal for entrances or stairs that receive a lot of traffic. 

The semi-gloss finish is a popular choice because it reduces the glare caused by light while maintaining an elegant appearance. While a gloss finish is more reflective, this type of varnish makes your stairway have a high-class look.

2. Durability

When choosing a varnish for your wood stairs, you will want to choose a durable one. A more durable varnish and wood stain will help to protect your hardwood stair tread from scratches and dents. It also ensures that the wood finish will last longer than less durable options.

3. Ease of Application

To ensure that your wood finishing will go smoothly, choose a varnish that is easy to apply. This will allow you to get the job done quickly, so your stair tread can be protected sooner. 

4. Odor

tung oil leaves

Choose a varnish that has little to no odor. Otherwise, you may end up with a strong chemical smell that can be harmful to your family’s health.

5. Drying Time

You will also want to consider the amount of time it takes for the varnish or wood stain to dry. The faster it dries, the less time you will need to wait. So, pick a varnish that dries quickly.

6. Additional Protection

If you are looking for added protection, choose a varnish that includes UV-resistant properties. This will provide additional protection from the sun’s harmful rays. 

You can also choose a varnish that is mold-resistance, which will protect the wood grain of the stairs from mold and mildew.

7. Safety

When choosing a varnish for your oak stair, you will want to ensure it is safe. You should choose a varnish that does not contain harmful substances. This will ensure that your family, including your pets and kids, are not harmed in any way. 

How to Varnish Stairs?

After you have chosen the great varnish for stairs, you are ready to apply it. The process of applying polyurethane is simple. 

You need to follow a few simple steps to achieve a beautiful and durable finish. Here are the steps to apply varnish to stairs: 

Step 01: Prepare Your Stairs

Before you can apply your varnish, your stairs need to be properly prepared. The end result may not meet your expectations if they are not properly prepared. 

If the stairs are carpeted, you should remove the carpet. In addition, you should remove other items and furniture from the area around the stairs.

Step 02: Sanding Your Stairs

Using sandpaper, you should lightly sand your stairs to create an even surface with which you can work. 

After completing this step, you should vacuum or sweep your stairs to remove any sanding dust. Using a soft tack cloth, wipe the surfaces until they are completely clean. Ensure not to use an abrasive cleaner when cleaning because it could damage your varnish.

Step 03: Start Applying the Varnish

After your stairs are prepped, you are now ready to apply the varnish. You may choose a dark stain or any color that you desire. Using a brush or roller, start at the top of your stairs and work down. 

Apply the varnish in thin layers. Make sure to wait for each coat of varnish to dry before applying the second coat.

Step 04: Allow Your Stairs to Dry Completely

After applying the varnish, allow it to dry completely before you use the stairs. This may take several hours, depending on the type of varnish you used.


There are some common questions that people ask about varnish for stairs. Below are some of the answers to these questions.

1. Does Varnish Make Wooden Stairs Slippery?

brush marks

If you use the wrong type of varnish and apply it incorrectly, your stairs will be slippery. The stairs should not be slippery if you used the appropriate varnish with anti-sleep properties and applied it properly.

2. When Should You Apply Varnish for Stairs?

It is best to apply varnish for stairs at the end of the construction process. That way, the varnish will form a protective coating over your hard work and will protect your stairs from damage. 

When you would like to give an old staircase a new look or protect it from damage, varnish can also be applied. 

3. How Long Does It Take for Varnish to Dry on Stairs?

Depending on the type of varnish you use, it could take a few hours to 24 hours to dry. It is essential to wait until the varnish is completely dry before using the stairs. 

If you don’t, you will ruin the varnish, and your beautiful new staircase will be ruined as well.

4. How Long Does Varnish Last for Stairs?

It depends. The life of varnish on stairs will depend on its quality, how it is applied, and how often it is used. A good quality varnish can last a long time with the proper care and application.


After reading this article, you should now have a better understanding of what varnish to use on your stairs. Also, you will have a greater sense of why you should use the best varnish for stairs. 

All of the product recommendations and guidelines outlined in this article should assist you in reaching your decision. After purchasing and using our recommended product, we hope that you will be confident that you made the right choice.

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