How to Paint and Refinish Your Stairs
Make Old Stairs New With Paint
Stairs are an important part of a house. They are usually a central focal point and high traffic area, so they need to be durable to withstand wear and tear and should look good doing it. Many homes will, unfortunately, accumulate some major damage on the stairs. Paint can be a great way to improve their look for a small investment, and by following this guide you can be sure that the paint job will last.
Deciding How to Update Old Stairs
Depending on your existing stairs, you will have certain options in how to proceed.
- In the case of worn-out carpeted stairs, you could simply replace the carpeting, but why not try improving that dated look? Remove some of the carpet and see what kind of wood is underneath. In some homes, you will find perfectly good solid wood treads and risers. If you do, you are lucky! And we can begin the process of refinishing as with bare wood stairs below.
- If your stairs consist of manufactured chip board or other lower grade woods, the best option will be to paint both treads and risers.
Bare Wood-Treaded Stair Refinishing
If you have nice wood on your treads, you can get a great look by staining them and then painting the risers and sideboards in a suitable color. Even if the wood is not perfect and has a few gouges or nail holes, you can get a stylish antique look that can be very interesting, and the right type and colour of stain will maximize this statement.
If this is the route you want to take, then you should follow these essential prep steps.
How to Paint and Refinish Your Old Stairs
- Prep the steps carefully first. Don't skip this step, or you'll be sorry. Read below for full instructions.
- Select the proper stain and/or paint for the job. Which type, color, and brand do you want? How much will you need?
- Apply stain first, then paint after. Allow each layer to dry fully before adding another.
Read step-by-step instructions and details below.
How to Prep Old Stairs for Paint
- Remove all nails and staples and vacuum dirt left by the carpet underpad (if applicable).
- Next, you want to sand the treads to get the wood clean and smooth: Use a belt sander with 60 or 80 grit sandpaper, and you will need to hand-sand to get in the corners. Aim for an even finish.
- You should also sand the risers and sideboards/trim before any painting begins.
- Then thoroughly vacuum and wipe away all dust.
Choosing a Paint and/or Stain
Next, you will want to choose a stain if you want a particular color. Its advisable to go with a dark stain for a rich look if you want to conceal imperfections. Otherwise, go with any stain you fancy, including light and medium tones, especially if you want a weathered, antique look.
You could skip this step if you want just the natural oil finish which will bring out the wood grain and detail. Stain's purpose is really just to add color and will not affect the durability of the final product. It is also possible to get 2-in-1 stain and finish products, though use these with caution. It's better to get separate products for each step.
Applying the Stain and Finish
- Stain the wood before painting, as its far easier to clean paint off of the wood finish than vice versa!
- Apply the stain by spreading with a brush applicator and let it saturate the wood; then after a few seconds, wipe off with a cloth.
- You should do two coats for even and defined colour, but one coat is okay if it looks good.
- Allow stain to dry for several hours (check label for specific instructions, depending on product).
- You will next apply a clear oil urethane finish. This is a standard floor finish, meant for high traffic. Buy the best quality you can. You can get oil and water-based formulas, each with its own characteristics (see how to choose house paint for perspective), but an oil will give a slight yellowish tint which can be appealing for an antique look, and wood finishing in general.
- According to the product instructions, you should apply three coats for excellent durability, and sand with fine grit paper between coats to achieve the finest finish. I recommend a satin finish, since it has a lower gloss level and makes for more a subtle and appealing look.
Painting Your Stairs
After 24 hours, the treads are dry enough for light foot traffic, and you can start painting. Follow these steps:
- Tape off the treads with masking tape if you are not comfortable cutting (or edging) with a brush.
- Prime bare wood using a high quality wood primer (latex primer will work). This is necessary for good adhesion and sealing the wood.
- Paint two coats with a high quality enamel trim paint. Use a quality sash brush (as shown in pic). Satin will blend well with the satin treads. The color is up to you, but you should pick an off-white that matches other trim in your house, or you can make a statement with a darker color as well.
Other Methods: Painting Treads
If you decided to paint your treads too, follow the same painting procedure as above. Priming is extra important here for durability, and you want to pick a paint rated for floors. The higher quality the better. The color should be dark to conceal dirt: a dark brown can look quite good and create the illusion of dark stained wood. Added durability can be had by applying a final coat of a clear urethane.
You can also get some great looks by adding paint details to your stairs, such as a multi-tone pattern. And further enhance by adding a carpet runner for a classic look.
If you have any questions I am happy to answer them in the comments. Thanks for reading, and hopefully you can take this information and make your stairs a lasting thing of beauty.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.