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Amazing Tips for Painting and Staining Stairs

It’s been forever since I talked about my staircase and hallway makeover. Sometimes life gets in the way of getting stuff done. Other times, the project stumps you a bit. This was a bit of both. When I last wrote, I shared how we removed the carpet from the stairs and prepped for staining the stairs. I stained them, but wasn’t happy with them. It took a few weeks to decide whether to re-stain them or just paint them. Unseasonably warm weather convinced me to try re-staining them and I’m super happy with how they’re looking. Today I’m sharing how to paint and stain stairs to make them beautiful, as well as my missteps along the way and what I would do different.

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To see the finished results, check out this post: Staircase Renovation Reveal

The Order for Painting Stairs

In case you are planning a similar project, it’s helpful to have a plan for work order.

how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs

  1. Treads
  2. Risers
  3. Trim (still needs to be done)

Still to be done on my project:

  • Walls and other work (I’m planking the stairwell walls, so this will be done next.)
  • Install a new handrail
  • Install the new railing
  • Install Runners

How to Stain Stairs

Supplies

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  1. Start with very clean stairs. I vacuumed up dog hair and kept a microfiber rag with me to wipe away any stray hairs that I missed.
  2. Like I mentioned before, I stained every other stair. This allows people to still get upstairs since the stain takes a long time to dry. how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs
  3. Mix the stain well and apply with a foam brush.
  4. Let it sit for a few minutes and  wipe it off with a clean rag. The longer you let it sit, the darker it will be.
  5. Let dry for about 8 hours before using the stairs. I let my stairs dry for a full day before applying the coat of stain on the rest of the treads. In the picture, you can see where I considered staining the risers as well. It was also an easy way to see the color of the stain from far away.                                        how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs
  6. When all of the stairs are dry for a full day, apply a clear coat of poly. I used a satin waterbased poly so that it won’t yellow over time. It goes on milky, but dries clear. It was fully dry after about 2 hours, but this will vary depending on the brand you use. The poly protects the wood, but also enhances the wood’s beauty.
  7. Apply a second coat of poly if you want. I’m installing runners on my stairs, so I skipped the 2nd coat.

To remove stain from your hands, wash your hands with a bit of olive oil mixed with soap. Add sugar to the mix if it’s really bad. Not only does this make your hands soft, it removes all of the oil based stain from your skin. This also works for spray paint! Check out this DIY hand scrub!

How to Paint Stair Risers

Supplies

  1. Tape off the stained treads. I only taped the bottoms because I’m decent at cutting it at the top. If that makes you nervous tape the top too. If your trim needs to be repainted, don’t worry about taping it off either. After you apply your tape, rub the edges well to create a seal.how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs
  2. Use primer if you’re painting the risers white. Pine has knots that will bleed and make your white paint yellow. I recommend Zinnser BIN primer because it’s the best. It’s a bit stinky, but not horrible. Use a chip brush and clean it with household ammonia.
  3. If you’re painting the steps black, skip the primer, unless you just like priming. I used Sherwin Williams for HGTV paint from Lowes in Tricorn Black. This paint is so thick and it goes on nicely with 2 coats. I used satin, because it covers well, but it still cleanable. You can use semigloss, but be prepared to apply more coats. I would not recommend a flat paint.how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs
  4. Apply a thin coat, especially at the taped edges. Let dry.
  5. Apply a second coat as needed.                                           how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs
  6. When it’s dry, remove the tape and voila! Your stairs are gorgeous! (Besides the trim…)how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs

If your paint bled under the tape a bit, you can either leave it because it’s unlikely to noticeable when walking on it, or you can gently scrape it off with a razor blade.

Things I Would Do Different

  • For the prep work, I had filled in all of the gouges and nail holes, and then sanded. If I had to do it again, I would skip the filling part. The stain looked awful on these parts, so I had to re-sand portions of the stairs. On dark surfaces like stain, the holes will not show up anyways.
    how to paint stairs | how to stain stairs | refinish a staircase | order for painting stairs
    The color difference is subtle, but makes me so much happier!
  • Work in warm weather. I’ve been working on this project during the winter, so ventilation has been difficult. The last coat of stain was applied when I could open the window and it made a world of difference to the smell and my mood. Plus, it dried faster.
  • Use the correct stain the first time. I had leftover deck stain that was a pretty color and I thought it would work just as well as it did on the deck. Boy was I wrong. The color looked wrong inside, plus it was so dull and lackluster. I applied a coat of Minwax Special Walnut over the top of it and it added so much depth. It’s a million times better now!
  • Work on low traffic days. Working while the kids were in school worked much better than having to keep them off of the stairs. It worked best if I applied the stain first thing in the morning so that it had all day to dry before they were needed.
  • Pine stair treads will never be perfect. If that’s an issue, for you, save up for more expensive hardwood to use instead. Pine is soft and dents easily. I have a huge gouge from where I threw down a dog bone. Personally, I like the dings because they give it character. Plus, in a house with kids and a dog, I don’t have to worry about things being too precious. If it’s already a bit beat up, I won’t cry when it gets “aged” a bit more.
  • If weather permits, place a box fan in a nearby window facing outside to blow all of the stain fumes outside. It’s not perfect, but it really helps cut down on the smell. The smell was the worst part about the process.

There’s still a lot to do in this space, but I’m determined to get it all done this month. It wasn’t a hard process, but it took me a while to realize that doing it the right way would make me happier in the long run. I’m glad that I waited until the weather got better and re-stained it.

 

Check out the final reveal!

Related Staircase Posts


4 thoughts on “Amazing Tips for Painting and Staining Stairs

  1. Nice job! I like that you did the risers in black (or very dark grey? hard to tell in the pictures). I have seen filler that is supposed to take stain like wood. Was this that kind so I know it LIES? I have a big gouge I’d like to fill on a bench when I refinish it this summer so I want to make sure I get the right kind.

    Thanks!

    1. They’re black. I’ll show you the wood filler that I used on Friday. It stained okay, but not perfectly. There’s another kind that smells like death and destroys the stairs. Don’t use that one. Test it out on scrap wood first.

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