Step-By-Step Guide On How To Paint Stairs Like An Expert

Does the trip between your floors feel humdrum? Stairs are an essential part of houses and can be a central focal point in many of them. Do you want to give them a fresh look and upgrade your interior design? What you need is a splash of paint. A beautiful, newly painted staircase will make the journey enjoyable and give your guests the best impressions!

Painting the stairs can be an easy DIY project that you can finish in just a weekend. Follow our instructions for the proper prep and our step-by-step guide to painting stairs and give them a complete makeover!

What you need to know before you start painting your stairs

Any decorator would advise you to do some planning before you begin painting your stairs. It is essential to consider the basic factors of the right paint, colour and space preparation. Keep on reading to find out all you need to know.

Pick the right paint

  • Staircases get a lot of wear and tear since they are typically high-traffic areas. This is why you should choose a durable type of paint to support daily use.
  • Semi-gloss paint is the best and most widely used one for stairs. It dries to a harder finish and is easy to clean
  • In general, you should paint the stair treads and risers with oil-based paint that also contains a sealer to hold up to constant traffic.
  • Water-based floor and patio paints hold up well on stairs since they are made to be stepped on.
  • If you want to use gloss and satin paint, you should better paint the risers with it. It is better to avoid painting the tread itself with it since it is slippery and could prove dangerous.
  • To find out which product works best for your specific project, you can talk to an employee at your local paint store
  • You may ask a paint store employee to tint your primer to help with coverage. This will be very useful if you want a solid final coat colour. Having a tinted primer will ensure that your topcoats cover the primer colour easily. It will also reduce the number of overcoats you need to do.
  • To improve traction, consider using an anti-slip additive for the paint.

Pick your colour

  • There are many different hues you can choose from, making it a challenge for some homeowners. You can choose a colour to complement the rest of your house, like the living room or the dining room, or one to make your stairs the focal point of any room
  • Choose pure white paint for your staircase for a clean, crisp look that will work with an assortment of décor styles and stand the test of time.
  •  A two-tone option will make your interior interesting. You can paint the stair risers and the bannisters the same colour or use different ones to create contrast.
  • Emerald green is an option that can create a dramatic focal point and help stairs that aren’t in the best condition.
  • A shade of deep grey will create a moody yet sophisticated stairway display.
  • Light and delicate shades of pale blue are for those who want to infuse some colour and personality into a cramped wood stair.

Prepare the area

  • Remove your wooden stairs’ carpet, if there is one.
  • Clean the area around the stairs and remove any rugs or carpets nearby.
  • Cover any surfaces you won’t paint with a newspaper or a drop cloth. Secure them with tape if needed. 
  • Ensure you are working on a flat surface by hammering down any protruding nails and cover with a filler.
  • Ensure no one will need the stairs for a couple of hours, so you will finish with your project and let it dry.

Preparing your stairs before painting

The right preparation is as necessary as the painting process. You can paint both painted wood and bare wood. Just make sure to complete all the following steps before moving on for the best results.

What you’ll need

  • Rust-oleum chalky finish floor paint
  • Electric sander / Dust mask
  • Paint scraper
  • Wood filler
  • Paintbrush
  • Cleaning solution / Cleaning cloth
  • Painter’s or masking tape
  • Paint roller

Step 1: Strip any old paint from your staircase surfaces

  • If your old paint or varnish is in good shape, you can paint over it. However, you should strip it off if the surfaces have too many paint layers built up or if they’re peeling
  • You can either use a chemical stripping product or a heat gun.
  • If you choose to use a chemical stripper, follow the directions on the packaging. In general, you should apply the product with a brush. Then, wait till the stripper starts to dissolve the paint. Scrape it off with the right tool. It is essential to wear protective equipment, ventilate the area, and clean off excess chemicals afterwards.
  • If you use a heat gun, hold it 5–8 cm away from the paint until it bubbles. Keep the heat gun moving to prevent scorching the wood. When you see the paint bubbles, use a paint scraper to remove them.

Step 2: Fill small holes and imperfections

  • Fill any holes or dings using wood filler or spackle and a putty knife. 
  • For small holes, push a pea-sized amount of filler into the hole and scrape off any extra with the flat end of the putty knife. Let the filler dry.
  • You may need to patch holes larger than 1.3 cm using a more advanced filling technique. Some of them could even cause creaky stairs you’ll need to fix later.

Step 3: Sand rough surfaces

  • Check all of the surfaces to find rough spots. Feel the textures with your hands to find small areas that could need sanding. 
  • Use a 200 to 400-grit sandpaper to smooth out areas you filled and any deformities in the existing paint. 
  • You can either use a simple sanding block or an electric sander.
  • After you are done, remove any dust with a tack cloth or lightly damp one.

Step 4: Sand all painted surfaces lightly

  • Use sandpaper to scuff up smooth surfaces
  • Use fine-grit sandpaper with a grit rating of around 400. 
  • Rub this on the surface to allow the new paint to stick better.
  • Run the sandpaper quickly over all the surfaces you are going to paint for a smooth result.

Step 5: Clean every surface that you will paint

  • Use a rag and a mild surface degreasing cleaner to wipe down areas you’ll paint.
  • After doing so, wipe it off with a clean, dry rag.
  • Using TSP is an excellent product because it will dull any painted surface used on and help the new paint stick better.
  • Use a multi-purpose household cleaner for any stubborn dirt.
  • To remove set-in dirt in concrete or metal stairs, use a wire brush.

Step-by-step guide: How to paint your stairs

It is now time to paint your stairs! Follow our step-by-step guide to give them the fab look they deserve. Don’t miss any step if you want your paint job to last!

What you’ll need

  • Good quality primer
  • Good quality paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint roller 
  • Painter’s tape
  • Putty knife
  • Drop cloths

Step 1: Paint the handrails and trim first

  • Start with the rails on a staircase so you won’t drip paint on the stairs’ finished surface. This will also give you more freedom to move up and down the stairs without the risk of creating wear and tear on your finished paint job
  • Painting the railings, balusters, and trim first, you don’t have to make sure they are super dry before moving on with the next painting phase. If you paint the stairs first, they need to be dry before continuing with your project.

Step 2: Tape off the edges around the railings and trim

  • Use tape to cover the edges around the trim and railings.
  • Run the tape at the edges where you want the paint to end
  • Push the tape down with a putty knife to ensure that paint doesn’t seep underneath it.
  • If you plan to paint any areas in different colours, you should tape these areas in phases. For example, if you want to paint the balusters and rail a different colour than the trim, you should tape off the frame while painting the other surfaces first.
  • Generally, you will paint the trim and railings simultaneously because they are usually the same type of paint and the same colour.

Step 3: Cover surrounding areas

  • If you haven’t done that already, cover the area above and below the staircase with drop cloths to protect the floors.
  • Cover the stairs themselves and any furniture you can’t move out of the way.
  • Keep the drop cloths in place using tape.

Step 4: Paint the primer

    • Picking a good primer is important to create a durable finished surface and a good bond between previous coats of paint and your new colour.
    • Start at the top and paint the handrail first
    • Then work down the balusters to the trim at the bottom
    • You can either do a small part of the whole railing at a time, or you can prime the entire rail, then all of the balusters, and then all of the bottom trim.
    • It is better to use a brush for the railings and the trim. It is harder for a roller to get into small areas.
    • Before moving on to your finish coats, prime the entire handrail and trim.
    • Let the primer dry.

Step 5: Apply several coats of your final colour

  • Use smooth strokes to work your brush from the top of the railing, down each baluster, and along with the bottom trim. Make sure to coat every surface and work your way down the stairs as you did with the primer.
  • Do 2 to 3 coats of the final colour.
  • Let each layer dry before starting on the next to create a more robust paint finish. 
  • Allow the paint to dry completely.

Step 6: Remove the tape

  • Use a putty knife or a razor blade to score along the edge of the tape.
  • Peel the tape off slowly. 
  • Pick up the drop cloths carefully so you won’t smudge your work.

Step 7: Tape off areas around the stairs

  • Tape off areas where the railings and trim meet the stairs to protect your previous work. Then, tape off where the stairs meet the floor upstairs and downstairs.
  • Put down drop cloths at the top and the bottom of the stairs.

Step 8: Paint the primer

  • Start from the top and prime every other step on the way down. That means you should begin at the top of the stairs to paint the first stair entirely. 
  • Skip a stair and paint the third stair down. Continue with the same pattern, working your way down so that you can have room to move as you work.
  • It is better to use a brush to paint the stairs to be able to get into all of the corners easily.
  • Allow the primer to dry. Drying time takes anywhere from an hour to 4 hours. Read the primer’s label to find out the exact time needed.

Step 9: Paint the primer on the other steps

  • Once the first set of steps is dry, move on to the rest of the steps.
  • Start at the top again to paint the steps you have left: the second, fourth, sixth and so on. Keep on going down until you prime all the steps.

Step 10: Paint 2 to 3 finish coats on every other step

  • Start again at the top of the stairs and paint the top step. Make sure you thoroughly coat it before moving down to the third one.
  • Paint into the corners of each step and then finish by painting smooth strokes over the large surfaces. Smooth out any blobs of paint near the corners. 
  • Allow each coat to dry before applying a second coat, and possibly a third.
  • A third coat will be necessary if you can still see primer after the second coat is dry.
  • Let them dry thoroughly. This will take about a day.

Step 11: Paint 2 to 3 coats of the finish paint on the rest of the stairs

  • When the first set of stairs is dry, continue to paint the others
  • Start from the second step from the top and work your way down to the fourth and so on.
  • Apply an additional coat once each coat is completely dry.

Step 12: Tape off the tape and clean

  • Remove any painter’s tape
  • Give a final vacuum. 
  • Stand back and admire your handiwork!

Extra painting tips

Here are some extra painting tips to help you complete your DIY project with more ease and make the results better:

  1. If you want to add a design while painting your stairs, it is better to use a stencil. You can always try your freehand skills, but there are many decor-stencils to help you out!
  2. The longer you leave your paint to dry in each step, the more hard-wearing it will be. Be patient and give it time.
  3. You can create the illusion of a stair runner by painting only each step’s outer sections.
  4. You can add a clear oil urethane floor finish meant for high traffic. This will protect your wooden stairs and give them a nice look. 
  5. It is better to paint in 3 coats in general. Sand lightly before painting the next coat every time for a smooth finish.

Painting your stairs can be a fun and simple home improvement project. Follow all the proper steps to prepare and paint your stairs to spruce up their look and bring a delightful mood to your house! Grab the brush and happy painting!

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