How to Paint Stair Steps and Staircases

Give a fresh look to one of the focal points of your home's design by painting the steps. This is an important feature, so you'll want to do it right with our tips!

Some structural elements in the interior of a home just naturally become focal points. Fireplaces are one such example. Staircases are another. Because they play such a dominant role in the design of a room, staircases deserve special attention. One way to make your staircases pop is with a fresh coat of paint. If you decide to take this plunge, you'll want to do it the right way with our helpful tips. Check out our information below before you pick up the paintbrush. Once you see the gorgeous end-product, you'll be glad you did!

  • Working Time 14 Hours
  • Start to Finish 2 Days
  • Difficulty         Projects Kind of Easy
  • Involves Painting, Sanding

What you need

Tools

  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint roller
  • Scrap cardboard
  • Drop cloths

Materials

  • Painter's tape
  • Primer
  • Paint

How to do it

Step 1 Check the Surface

In many older homes with painted stairs, you'll find quality hardwoods under the paint. You may want to first decide whether to strip the paint and refinish with a stained and varnished surface, or simply repaint it. This is a decision you should make when you're planning the room, so the finish and color of the staircase will fit harmoniously into the overall appearance of the space. To find out what kind of wood is hidden by the paint, scrape the paint from an inconspicuous spot. If you don't recognize the wood, call in a carpenter. Even with an expensive hardwood, you still might not want to go to the trouble of removing the paint. Experiment with a section, applying stripper and removing the paint. If the paint was applied over undamaged varnish, stripping it will only be messy, not difficult. If the varnish had deteriorated, however, the paint may lie in the grain of the wood, and removing it may require extensive and careful work with stiff brushes and stripper.

Step 2 Paint Walls Around the Railing

Stairways can pose painting problems different from other projects—chiefly those associated with height. Use ladders to reach outside surfaces. Don't hang over the railing to paint one side. It's dangerous and you're bound to miss spots. When you're painting a stairwell, you might find the upper walls out of reach, even with an extension handle. And without some kind of platform, cutting in the edges at the ceiling will be impossible. Make yourself a scaffold platform with two ladders, clamping the plank to a step on the top ladder. Adjust the other ladder until the plank is level. Painting the lower walls may require only one stepladder and a scaffold plank. Make sure the plank is level and clamped to the ladder. Move the plank down the ladder and steps as you work.

Step 3 Paint Handrail

Carefully mask off the steps with heavy butcher paper and painter's tape. Starting at the top of the stairs and using a 2-inch trim brush, paint the handrail first, working the brush carefully to get paint on all the surfaces. Finish each section by brushing with the grain.

Step 4 Paint Balusters

If the balusters will be painted a different color than the rest of the staircase, make sure to mask them off carefully where they meet the steps. If everything will be the same color, keep a dampened cloth handy to wipe up drips and spatters. Although they might be the same color, they'll dry as lumps.

Step 5 Begin Painting Steps

After you have finished painting the handrail and balusters, start at the top of the steps and paint the underside of the first nosing. Then paint the first riser.

Step 6 Finish Steps

Paint the tread next and continue down the steps in the same order, applying paint to every other step. Leaving alternate steps unpainted will allow you to use the stairs while the paint dries. When the paint is dry, lightly tape 4-inch squares of cardboard to the painted stairs and paint the remainder. The cardboard will remind family members which treads they can step on.
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