Tips for Painting and Refinishing Your Staircase
Stairs are one of the trickier things to paint in your house. Fortunately, our tips are here to help you get the job done right the first time.
When we think of a focal point, we typically think of a fireplace or a large piece of wall art—not our staircase. Even so, when you walk into an entryway or foyer, the staircase tends to draw the eye first. This may make some aspiring home designers nervous. Stairs tend to take a lot of abuse, and they aren’t necessarily the easiest things to “dress up.” These tips for painting and refinishing your staircase are designed to make the task simple and fun.
Painting the Stairs
The different parts of a staircase will all benefit from different types of paint. The place where you put your foot is called the tread and the space beneath is the riser. The parts that experience more frequent contact will need a more durable paint. The same is true for the railing. For the tread and handrails, choose one of our durable floor paints. You can get away with a semi-gloss paint for risers and the spindles that hold the handrail up.
Prepping the Stairs and Supplies
Every paint job begins with cleaning the surface. Since stairs are one of the highest contact areas in a house, cleaning may take longer than you think. You’ll have to mop thoroughly and wash the numerous nooks and crannies by hand. For the paint to adhere to the surface, especially in areas where there are scuffs, you’ll need to do some sanding as well. A 60 to 80 grit sandpaper should be sufficient. Always remember to vacuum the stairs between sandings.
Painting the Stairs
The biggest challenge for painting and refinishing your staircase steps is being able to use the stairs during painting. One way that homeowners work around this is by painting every other tread until the paint has dried and then going in and finishing the other steps. If you’re painting the steps and treads different colors then it may be a good idea to paint the risers first. That way, if you drip paint on the tread, you can paint over them.
As with the steps, clean and sand the railing and spindles before applying paint. After priming, paint the railings from top to bottom. Some find it easier to use an air sprayer to paint the spindles. If you’d rather not use an air sprayer, try smaller brushes or rollers. One trick some homeowners use is to put a sock or mitt on their hand and use it to apply paint. (If you use this method, be sure your hand is wrapped in plastic before dipping the sock or mitt into the paint.)
Refinishing the Stairs
Designers use finish to help add an extra layer of protection to wooden stairs. Adding finish can be done after painting the stairs or after applying a new wood stain.
The most typical type of varnish is an oil-based polyurethane. It’s durable, water-resistant, and easy to apply. However, polyurethane takes a long time to dry and is both flammable and toxic when breathed in. A good alternative is to use a water-based varnish instead, which will help preserve your home’s indoor air quality and your flooring.
Prepping the Stairs
The process of preparing stairs for finish is the same as preparing them for paint. First, go through and sand the stairs thoroughly. If there is old finish, this will need to be removed during this process. A scraper may be necessary to help remove varnish from the corners of the stairs.
Refinishing the Stairs
Before starting, stir the can of finish thoroughly. This will ensure that sediments won’t settle to the bottom of the can. Applying finish to the stairs is similar to applying paint. Complete every other stair until the finish dries, so you can use them during the refinishing process. Apply three coats of finish instead of two and sand between every coat. Remember, if you’re applying varnish to a painted or stained stair, wait until the paint or stain is completely dried before applying varnish.
Design Ideas for Stairs
Focal points, by definition, draw a person’s eye when they walk into the room. If they’re going to be looking at the staircase anyway, why not add an eye-catching spark of creativity?
A simple way to add a mix of colors to a staircase is by using a different color for the tread and the risers. One of the classic ways to do this is by using a stain or finish on the tread to highlight the wood and then using a simple white paint on the riser. However, there are other ways to do multi-colored stairs. For example, choosing a single color, such as blue, and painting each riser a different shade going from dark to light. Or, you could alternate between colors central to your color scheme.
Designs on the Risers
For an extra dose of creativity, you can add designs or words to the risers. These can be more neutral, such as stripes, polka dots, stenciled patterns, or even wallpaper. Or, you can explore a theme with words. For example, you can paint the names of your family members on each step, or the words to your family’s mantra. Another fun idea is to paint each step to look like a book’s spine, with titles of classic books.
Carpet runners are a classic look on a staircase but require more effort to maintain than simple wooden stairs. A great way to get the look of a runner without the maintenance is to paint a “runner” onto the stairs themselves. This can be done by painting a majority of the staircase one color and then painting a single stripe of another color going down the center of the stairs.
Painting a staircase can be a tricky design challenge, but it’s not out of the realm of DIY. Here at ECOS, we’re ready to equip you with everything you need to get the job done.