A Guide: How to Paint Stairs

Do your stairs need some TLC? Are you planning to tear up carpeted stairs and go for bare wood stairs?

Spruce up your stairwell with paint and a runner to transform your space - we've put together some tips and tricks to guide you through the basics of painted stairs.

What kind of paint do you use for stairs?

  • Obviously, your floors are exposed to a fair amount of foot traffic and durability is a key factor when deciding on the right paint. You'll want to select something that will withstand the wear and tear of stair use.

  • Epoxy-based and polyurethane options certainly have their place, but there are still some very good water-based, non-toxic and odourless floor paints available that are perfect for painting stairs.

  • The thing with stairs is that people tend to scuff up them and stomp down them - you want your paint to last.

  • Talk to your local paint shop about specialist floor paint and a highly stain and scuff-resistant, durable option. A satin finish or chalky finish is better than a smooth finish due to safety and slipping. If you like the look of a smoothly painted staircase, consider adding a runner or textured paint on the edge of the steps.

Is there a specialist floor paint?

Yes, there is. However, you don't necessarily have to use floor-specific paint. It's mostly recommended because of the durability factor. It's best to apply something that doesn't show all the scuff marks and stains and dirt from summer bare feet and footwear.

We recommend talking to paint professionals at your local paint store to help determine the best paint option for your home.

What is the best way to paint stairs?

Dublin Bay Sheepskin Footstool

Dublin Bay Sheepskin Footstool / Mt Gold Sheepskin Footstool

With any paint job, the best result will usually come from the best prep work. Learning how to paint stairs is really no different. Here's a basic step-by-step guide to getting you started.

  1. Remove any carpet that's in place or scrape back old paint. Really just focus on loose flakes as you'll be sanding anyway.

  2. Fill in any nail holes and gaps that might be present. Use a good wood filler - super easy to apply. Once this is dry, you can begin the next step.

  3. Sand stairs! This is imperative for a good finish. If you're handy with power tools then this is a good efficient option. Then you'll need fine-grit sandpaper to finish the sanding process.

  4. Tape off the walls and base of spindles that you don't want to be painted. If you are painting the spindles and railing, it's not a bad idea to do this first.

  5. Clean all the loose dust and wet wipe the stairs.

  6. Let the stairs dry completely and then start painting in thin coats begin with. You may need two to three coats all up. Your top coat will be your perfect work with a brush. You can also use a small hand roller if easier.

  7. Once your final coat is completely dry, you can apply a fresh coat of

Do you use a brush or a roller to paint stairs?

You can really use either. For an even finish and smooth application, a roller is a good way to go for your top coat. A paint brush can sometimes be easier when getting into corners and hard-to-reach places.

Try a speed brush for an ultra-smooth finish. These are easy to use and apply the paint in a nice thin, even coat.

Does painting make stairs slippery?

Yellow stairs

It can. This depends on the type of paint you use. It also depends on whether you use grip tape or textured paint for the edge of treads and risers.

When painting stairs it's certainly worth considering the safety factor in slipperiness. Some people do apply a thin textured coating or narrow sisal strip to just the risers for added safety when running up or down stairs.

What paint can I use so they're not slippery?

A stair runner is an excellent way to avoid slippery stairs. However, if you have natural wood and want to retain that look, try applying a narrow strip of sisal carpet to the edge of the risers.

A chalk-based paint adds texture as well - there's no reason you can't use this for the entire staircase, otherwise paint a strip on the edge of the risers where you'll need the most grip.

Is it better to paint or stain stairs?

If you like the look of wooden floorboards and have nice wood that you'd prefer to keep exposed, then staining is definitely your best bet.

There are plenty of quality, clear and non-toxic stains if you like the natural colour of your wood type. Or, you can brighten things up with a lighter stain shade.

How do you protect painted wooden stairs?

A water-based clear top coat is a long-lasting and non-toxic protective layer to finish your painted stairs. Ask your local paint professional for a water-based urethane product and discuss with them the best product for your paint job.

Do you need to sand hardwood stairs before painting?

Matuki Double Sheepskin

Matuki Double Sheepskin

Yes - Preparation is key!

The prep work for most painting jobs takes much longer than the actual painting itself. Sanding smooths the wood surface and gets out any nicks and scuffed areas. This makes the finished product look like a professional job and it will also last longer.

Taping off sections you don't want to paint is also very time-consuming, but so important.

Always put time and effort into the preparation. It is absolutely worth it!

The takeaway:

Stairs are typically a high traffic area within the home. They'll usually be leading to a bedroom floor, or to a bonus room below. If you have wooden stairs that need a freshen up, then painting stairs is a relatively easy job that's not too tricky to take on yourself.

Create an inviting and welcoming stairwell with painted stairs and a stylish runner. Or simply go for a painted look to evoke a cottage look and feel. For a more industrial vibe, install metal railings and wire cables with natural wood.

Really, anything goes. Just be sure to prep the work - this is the single best piece of advice we can offer if you're planning to paint a staircase.

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