How to paint stairs! Plus, how these painted stairs are holding up… and how our painted stairs project turned out…
Today, we’re talking painted stairs. Stare-worthy painted stairs, to be exact.
Truth is, I guess these stairs have always been fairly “stare-worthy”. But in the beginning, I don’t think it was really for good reasons. But I’ll let you be the judge.
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Before we get into the how-to, here’s what you’ll need to do this to your stairs –>
Supplies for Painted Stairs:
- porch paint for base color (Behr porch & patio – ultra pure white)
- porch paint for runner color (Behr porch & patio – baltic gray)
- Frog tape (1.5″ for delicate surfaces)
- angled 2.5″ paintbrush
- paint roller, pan, and nap
- measuring tape
- palm sander
- wood putty (stainable) or Bondo (to fill large gashes or dents)
Before I dive into the how-to, I’ve shown you these basement stairs of ours before. Truth is, we’ve had to update a LOT of stairs in our day, and the problem is, staircase renovations are almost always $$$. Well, we didn’t have $$$ for this project. We had more like ¢¢¢. Problematic.
Our first plan was to stain the stairs.
After a ton of sanding work, we realized this plan was going nowhere. These treads are made of pine. Pine is soft, and the treads have tons of wear on them. Gashes, divits, etc. And stain doesn’t take evenly to pine in this condition. If we were willing to put a ton more time into the staining plan, it *might* have worked, but we weren’t willing to spend that time and energy on a maybe. So, we abandoned ship on Plan A.
We priced out a Plan B of purchasing new oak treads to stain. Holy moly. We realized quickly that wasn’t in our ambitious (cheap) budget.
So, we moved onto Plan C. And it took a while for the hubs to embrace Plan C, since, admittedly, it was a little “different.” Sure, we’re not the only ones in the world to have painted stairs, but they are not universally loved, accepted, and done on a regular basis…yet. But I love the look, and it was certainly the right price point, so he agreed to give it a try.
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How to DIY Your Own Painted Stairs:
Step #1: Preparation.
Since we are going to have a painted staircase, not a stained staircase, the preparation is MUCH easier. We used a palm sander to remove the glossy coating that was on our stairs. You want to take off any old paint or coating to ensure the new paint sticks well to the stairs.
If you have any HUGE gashes/divots/etc, you might want to try to sand those out or fill them with wood putty or Bondo to smooth them out a bit. After you have finished sanding, simply make sure the staircase is dusted/wiped down and clean.
Step #2: Prep your landing, if necessary.
In our case, the landing was subfloor that had been covered in linoleum. What we decided to do was cover the landing with utility oak hardwood flooring. This stuff is outstanding. We purchased it from Lumber Liquidators for .99/sq ft!!
We reused the old nosing piece to finish the edge of the landing. We had to raise it up 3/4″ with plywood to match the height of the new oak flooring. Once the oak flooring was installed, get out that palm sander and sand this floor until it is nice and smooooooth.
Here’s what it looks like installed…
And if you’re wondering, YES, we do put our children to work on all our crazy DIY projects. And YES, pajamas are the standard business attire around here.
Step #3: Paint your base coat(s).
We painted two base coats of the Behr ultra white porch & patio paint on the stairs (risers and treads) using a combination of a roller and brush…not really any different in terms of supplies/technique than any other paint job you’d take on.
Step #4: Tape off your runner.
This is the ONLY somewhat challenging part of this project. It’s important that you take time on your taping so that the results are great.
First, decide on the thickness of the gray “stripe”. We settled on 1.5″…not a coincidence that this was the width of the painter’s tape. Choosing that width made taping the steps much easier. Then decide on how wide you want your gray runner to be. In the image above, the blue painter’s tape placed where our gray stripe will actually be painted.
TAPE THIS FIRST. Once I figured out where the stripes were going to go, I measured from the edge of the stair to the blue tape and cut a spacer out of wood and used that to help align the blue tape as I went down the stairs.
**Note: we are using the regular blue painter’s tape for this portion because it’s cheaper, and that is simply a placeholder for now. We personally prefer the Frog Tape to actually “do the job” here. The blue painter’s tape will be removed before you start to paint.**
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Once the blue tape was installed and we were happy that it was nice and straight, we took the yellow tape (the Frog Tape) and ran it next to each side of the blue tape. Now repeat this for the other side of the stair. Once you have your two lines of Frog Tape in place, remove the blue tape so that you’ll be able to paint on your gray stripe in that location. Remember: under that “inside” yellow tape is where your white “stripe” will be once the tape is removed.
Now repeat this process on the opposite side of the steps. Below is how the stairs should look prior to painting the gray runner.
Step #5: BEFORE you start painting runner…
*** Go back and do a light coat of base color (in our case white) over top of the tape, everywhere. THIS SEALS THE TAPE EDGE SO THAT YOU WON’T END UP WITH ANY PAINT SEEPING UNDER YOUR TAPE JOB!!!! This step is the most important tip for ensuring you will have clean lines created on your painted stairs!!! Just make sure it is a very light coat of paint that you put on.
Step #6: Paint runner in batches…leave landing for last, if applicable.
You’ll be tempted to start at the top of your stairs, or at the bottom and just paint EVERYTHING now that you have everything taped off. DON’T. If you do that, you likely won’t be able to get to the other end of your staircase once you’ve painted! Yikes! Paint your runner in sections so that you’ll be able to still get to the top or bottom of your stairs by skipping a step here and there. Once the first application of your runner paint has dried, go back to those steps you skipped, and give them a first coat.
You can see in the image below that we didn’t hold back with the gray paint. You really want to go all the way to the tape, and then paint OVER the tape as well so that you won’t have any unpainted little spots. Again, as seen below, leave painting the landing for last so that you can still negotiate the stairs mid-project….
Step #7: Tape and Paint Landing (if applicable).
Taping the landing was a little more challenging. I first taped the stairs above and below the landing. The reason I did it that way so that when I went to tape the landing, I could match up the runner from the stairs above the landing and the stairs below the landing. I used a straight edge to try to get the tape as straight as I could, but in the end, I had to eyeball it a little bit to get the runner on the landing to match up with the runner on the stairs.
Where the tape turns 90 degrees, you are going to have 2 layers of tape. In order to fix this, put a sharp blade on a box cutter and cut a 45-degree line through the tape. Remove the excess tape…now you have a single layer of tape forming your 90-degree turn. The keys here are to use a new, sharp blade and to only cut through the tape, you don’t want to cut into the paint below the tape.
Step #8: Remove tape.
All that’s left to do is remove that tape!!
Step #9: Enjoy your new stare-worthy stairs!
And that’s how to paint stairs! We love how these painted stairs turned out. For the cost of 2 gallons of paint, we have re-vamped an old staircase with a brand new look.
A couple more uber budget-savvy DIY projects finished off this space.
And we took that builder grade flush mount “boob” light and created a beauty out of it in about 5 minutes. No joke!!
As I write this post, the painted stairs are going on being done for 2+ years. If you want an update about how they are holding up, here’s a link:
This super inexpensive project has even been in print! Check ‘er out in This Old House magazine. Not bad for a couple of cans of paint and a little DIY time and energy spent!
Pin this post for later! And if you try this project, leave a picture of your finished stairs on the pin! That will help others decide whether they want to tackle this painted stairs project, too!
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