how to5 min read

How to paint your staircase

Painted rainbow staircase

WordsMaha Elley


Want to make those daily climbs a little more aesthetically pleasing? Looking for ideas for how to update your hallway decor with a simple DIY job?

It’s easily done with a tin of paint. 

Although it’s not quite as straightforward as painting walls (thanks to all those little nooks and crannies), painting stairs isn’t as tough as you may think. From prep and prime to paint and dry, it takes just a couple of days to complete the process. And you’re left with a much more stylish staircase to strut up and down every day, as well as a better looking hallway space.

Painting wooden stairs? We’ve got you covered.

Working with wooden stairs? First, make sure you prep and protect the surface. We’d recommend using Bedec water based varnish for an extra layer of protection. This also reduces the impact of wear from high tread and the high amount of handling that your staircase gets on a daily basis. 

When deciding which staircase paint to use, either a matt or eggshell finish would work equally well. Both fare hard-wearing and easy clean finishes that would stand the test of time in such an oft-used area. For painting wooden stairs, eggshell paint may work slightly better for a more durable finish. 

How to prep and paint your staircase

Once you’re equipped with a trusty tin of paint, it’s time to take a closer look at what you’re working with. 

As Sam, our resident Colour Specialist, says: 

“When it comes to painting your stairs, it will be your stairs themselves that determine their destiny. They will reveal if they are up for the job. If you're lucky and they are in good condition, your prep work will be one of ease. Your staircase can then be a colour fountain up to your first floor and a creative pleasure to paint.”

We love the sound of that. Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1: Clean the surface 

Before we get to the creative stair painting part, it’s time to get stuck in with a good old fashioned scrub. Use soapy water to clean your stairs, making sure you rinse all the soap off after. 

Step 2: Leave to dry 

Step back with a cuppa and wait for the stairs to dry so you have a clean working surface. Make sure your stairs are bone dry before moving on to the next step. 

Step 3: Sand and clear dust 

Using a sanding block, sand your stairs where needed to create a smooth surface for your paint to stick. This will also result in a more even finish.

Once done, make sure your stairs are clean and dust-free so they’re nice and smooth for priming and painting. 

Step 4: Prime 

Start by applying a primer first. This step will help make your staircase paint last longer and provides a solid base for the paint to stick to. 

Apply your primer coat and leave to dry before painting. Using Lick paint? You can skip this step as our paint is already formulated with primer.

If you’re painting wooden stairs that haven’t been painted before, the surface can be quite porous, so we’d recommend applying a mist coat and letting that dry before you paint as normal. What's a mist coat? It's a diluted mixture of paint and water. To make it, just add water to your paint in a 70:30 paint to water ratio.

Step 5: Paint

Time for the fun part. Remember to start your paint process early on in the day so you have enough drying time before you need to make use of the stairs. Then, starting from the top and working your way down to the bottom, use a brush to cut in the corners with your paint before painting the surfaces. We’d recommend using a roller to paint the main stair surfaces. Discover our paint supplies here.

Leave to dry for at least 6 hours and stick to a socks only rule for the next 72 hours to give the paint time to settle into the wood.

Step 6: Finish off with varnish for extra protection 

Want to stomp up and down with worrying about wearing your paint out? Add a varnish at the end to give your paint job that extra layer of protection. Leave at least 72 hours between painting and varnishing for the best results.

Looking for ideas for painting your stairs?

So now you know the how. But your staircase isn’t just for climbing - it can also serve as a design statement in your home.

Need a creative vision to get you started? Start by checking out this stellar staircase makeover, or try out some of Sam's top staircase paint ideas below:

Don’t be afraid to go bold in your choice of staircase colour

Hallways can be a tricky space to decorate, but a ‘statement’ staircase is a simple way to add impact here. Dare to go bold and choose a bright or contrasting colour on your staircase. Sam's advice here: I love a colour block staircase, set against a neutral backdrop, highlighting and leading your eyes upwards to explore your other rooms.”

Try a two-tone paint effect

Want to make a real impact with your stairs? Choose to paint the treads one colour and risers another colour for a cool two-tone effect. e.g. Black & White/Grey & White. Or you could paint the treads and risers one colour and paint the bannister with a contrasting colour.

“Your staircase can be a colour fountain up to your first floor and a creative pleasure to paint.”


Play around with different effects on your staircase 

Although you may think of your stairs as a highly functional space, don’t be afraid to get creative! For instance, Sam suggests creating the illusion of a stair runner with paint as a, “Simple and affordable way to make a feature and statement”.