DIY Stairs Makeover – How to Paint an Interior Staircase

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Square feature image of a before and after staircase makeover.

This DIY Stairs Makeover will give you tips and all the details on how to prep and paint your staircase to give it a fresh new look!

I don’t know why I was so afraid to paint the ugly orange-shellac wood staircase in my house. I should have done it sooner, look how light and bright the stairs look!

Before, I worried about someone tumbling down the stairs because they were dark (even with the light on) and steep! If you have a dark, enclosed staircase like this, painting it may be a good option.

Why Paint A Staircase

Paint can give an old staircase a fresh, new look and it’s fairly inexpensive to do. This is also a project anyone can tackle and complete over a weekend or two whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned painter.

Overall, I spent a little less than $250 for all of the supplies including the carpet treads for this project. It did take up my weekend with hubby helping out here and there…from Saturday morning and late into Sunday evening. That was just the treads, risers, and sides which I think they’re called stingers.

I didn’t paint any of the connecting walls and I didn’t have a handrail or elaborate spindles to paint. You will definitely want to add more time for those things.

When Not To Paint A Wood Staircase

If you have hardwood stairs that are in good shape, that are Oak, Cherry, or Maple, you might want to consider staining them instead of painting them. It may cost more and take more time but newly stained, finished-grade hardwoods are a thing of beauty, this is my opinion of course!

Our stairs were pine so painting them made sense. We could have gone the route of replacing the treads with hardwood but that would have cost a ton of money and I’m actually very happy with how they came out.


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DIY Stairs Makeover – How to Prep & Paint A Staircase

Before we get started, I want to mention that I am not a contractor or a professional painter. I’m just a DIYer who has a lot of home improvement projects under her belt.

Take from the information below what fits your project and talk to the professionals at the paint store to get answers to all of your questions before starting. Sherwin-Williams is our go-to store for paint and their staff has always been super helpful. It also helps to bring a picture or two along so they can see what you’re working on.

Vertical large before photo of wood staircase that is old and worn before stairs makeover.
Our staircase before prep and paint.


STEP 1: Clean the Surface

Before painting any part of the stairs, you’re going to need to wipe them down with a clean cloth or sponge and a bucket of water. Depending on how dirty they are, you may need to use a degreasing cleaner such as Krud Kutter or Simple Green to get them squeaky clean.

STEP 2: Sand The Surface

Next, you’ll need to give the wood stairs a light sanding. Sanding the surface will help the paint adhere better and prevent paint from chipping off later.

You can also use a deglosser which helps dull any old paint, gloss, or varnish. This is helpful if you have a heavy layer of varnish. You can learn more about deglosser here in this article from The Spruce.

All that to say, in most cases, sanding to rough up the surface will be enough — just make sure to wipe down your newly sanded surface with a damp cloth before going to the next step.


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STEP 3: Fill in any holes

Closeup of the old wood stairs showing wear and damage after an old carpet runner was removed.
Closeup of the old stairs (and my cat Crosby). There were lots of holes from years of wear and after removing carpet tacks.

When we removed the old carpet runner we found damage and holes in the wood treads and risers. Some of the holes were from pulling up carpet tacks (and there were a lot of them) and some were holes from years of wear.

It was a bit tedious but we used wood filler to fill in as many of the holes as we could and sanded down the high spots once the filler had dried.

I highly recommend that you don’t skip this step. Filling in the holes took a lot of time but our stairs look much more finished.

STEP 4: Tape & Prime

If needed, use painter’s tape to block areas you don’t want to get paint on. We like FROGTAPE brand, but unfortunately, we didn’t use it here on the stairwell walls. We opted to use up the rest of the blue tape and had to do quite a few touch-ups afterward 🙁

Next, paint your staircase with a good primer like Kilz or Zinsser Bulls Eye. I poured primer into a small plastic paint cup with a handle so I could easily carry it up and down the stairs. Then I used a 2 1/2-inch angled paintbrush for good coverage. I gave my stairs only one coat of primer and it dried very quickly.

Photo of interior stairs with one coat of primer on them.
Stairs after painting with primer.

STEP 5: Paint

Now for the actual painting part! Use the same bucket and brush as above and paint the stairs working from the top to the bottom. My stairs took three coats of paint and drying time in between. Set a fan out or open windows to help the drying process. The paint we used was Sherwin Williams Porch and Floor Enamel in Extra White (Satin).

STEP 6: Add a rug runner or carpet treads (optional)

I recommend adding a runner or carpet treads to further protect your newly painted stairs. I found that the carpet treads we purchased added much-needed color contrast and traction to our steep stairs. You can also get them in a ton of different colors and patterns.

Vertical photo from the top of the stairs after a DIY Stairs Makeover with white paint and black carpet runners.
View from the top.

The carpet treads we bought had a slip-resistant rubber backing but I found that they still moved around on the stairs. To keep them from moving we simply tacked the corners with a staple gun. The staples can be easily removed later if we ever want to replace the carpet treads.

Vertical image to save to Pinterest boards showing a DIY Stairs makeover with a before photo of an old wood staircase and a larger photo of the finished/painted staircase with new carpet treads in place.
If you love this DIY, pin the image above to your Pinterest DIY boards so you can come back to it later!

I hope this DIY was helpful. I painted the staircase in September before the cold weather set in. It’s January now and our stairs still look great even with two boys running up and down them each day!


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