Painting Stairs and How to Do the Best Job

Painting Stairs

Painting Stairs Achieving a professional finish when applying paint to stairways and landings can be a difficult process. There are so many little nooks and crannies that the idea of undertaking a complete redecoration can be a daunting prospect. However, by following the correct steps and working methodically to ensure each step has been properly completed before moving on to the next, you can expect superb results.

As with so many projects concerned with achieving a fine decorative finish, careful preparation is the key to success. It is vital to spend sufficient time preparing the stairs so that they are in the right condition for receiving the paint finish. Hence after you have removed old paint, stain or varnish, you will need to carry out any repairs before applying the new finish. Newer stairs that do not have a build up of paint or other finishes can be redecorated after they have  been rubbed down with sandpaper.

Aim to apply at least one primer coat, two undercoats and two top coats. One-coat and self-undercoating gloss paints are available, but they are seldom as durable as a correctly applied paint system. If your stairs are older, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that burning or stripping paint off exposes detailing previously lost under layers of old finishes.

Safety Advice

Many older houses have been painted with lead-based paints. If you suspect that the staircase has been painted with lead paint, you must limit the amount of dust created. One way to do this is to rub down paintwork with wet-and-dry paper used wet. You should also avoid the use of blow lamps and hot air guns, removing the paint with a proprietary non-caustic paint stripper instead. Modern paint strippers are far safer than older caustic solutions, nonetheless treat them with respect and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Always wear thick rubber gloves and goggles to protect you hands and eyes.


Tools for the Job:

  • duct tape & trimming knife
  • bucket & sponge
  • dust mask & goggles
  • blow lamp or hot air gun
  • wire wool
  • orbital sander
  • tack rags
  • paintbrushes
  • sanding block
  • abrasive paper
  • clean rags


1. Remove the stair carpet or other flooring material, if fitted. Leave the grippers in place if you intend to refit the carpet, but stick duct tape over the pins to protect hands, feet and knees from injury.

2. Wash down the existing finish with sugar soap, following the manufacturer’s recommendations. Do this only if you intend to sand down the paintwork in preparation for the next finish. If you are burning off the paint there is no need to wash down the surfaces.

3. The quickest way to remove thick layers of old paint is to burn them off with the aid of a blow lamp or hot air gun. These may be bought or hired from good tool shops. Apply just enough heat to bubble the paint, then use a paint scraper to scrape it off while still soft.

Safety Advice

Blow lamps and hot air guns can cause a fire if used carelessly. Keep the blow lamp or gun continuously moving to avoid scorching the wood or starting an accidental fire. Have a fire extinguisher or a bucket of water handy in case of an accident.

4. When you have burnt off as much of the old paint as possible with the blow lamp, use coarse wire wool to remove any remaining paint. This can be dusty work so wear a suitable dust mask.

5. Use an electric sander on larger flat surfaces. Start with 80-grit and finish with 120-grit paper. Work into the corners with paper wrapped around your fingers or a flat stick.

Safety Advice

Always wear a good quality dust mask when rubbing down. Sanding generates dust that can be harmful if it gets into your airways and lungs. This is especially important if you suspect the stairs have previously been painted with lead-based paint.

6. Tear thin strips of abrasive cloth and while holding them between the thumb and forefinger in each hand, work them back and forth to clean up circular and barley twist baluster spindles.

7. When all the old paintwork has been completely removed, the next stage is to prepare a dust-free surface to receive the new paint finish. Vacuum the stairs to pick up as much dust as possible, then rub over the surface with a tack rag to remove any remaining dust particles.

Tips of the trade

New brushes are prone to shedding hairs, which then tend to stick in the paint and so mar the final finish. To prevent this happening, use the new brush to apply the undercoats so that it gets broken in, then follow that with a thorough cleaning. After the brush has been used and cleaned several times over, any loose bristles will have come out before the top coat is applied.

8. The first stage of the painting process is to brush primer onto the bare wood. It is important to follow the correct sequence for application – first balusters, then the handrail and finally treads and risers.

9. Once the primer coat has dried, proceed to the undercoat. Follow the paint manufacturer’s application guidelines, but always apply at least two undercoats. Follow the same application sequence as for the primer coat. Wait for the final coat to dry, then wet down with wet-and-dry abrasive paper to rub down the surface. Dry off with a clean rag.

10. The staircase surface is now ready to receive the final paint finish. Brush on the top coat with a good quality bristle brush. Follow the same application sequence used for the primer and undercoats.


15. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Decorating, DIY Home, Painting, Stairs | Tags: | Comments Off on Painting Stairs and How to Do the Best Job

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