How and what to paint a wooden staircase?

How and what to paint a wooden staircase_ Paints

In two-story wooden houses, townhouses, and cottages, the owners often choose wood when choosing the material for the stairs.

This gives the interior a natural feel and lightness. However, the wooden staircase is susceptible to moisture, mechanical abrasion, and contamination, so without special treatment, it will not retain an attractive appearance for long. And if that staircase is outside, even less so.

One traditional and simple way to protect wood is to paint. Let’s consider in detail how to paint the wooden staircase yourself so that it does not lose its look for years.

Is it necessary to paint the stairs?

There are several reasons to cover the surface of the stairs with varnish or paint:

  • Protection from sunlight;
  • Increase wear resistance;
  • Preventing the elements from drying out;
  • Protection against insects;
  • Protection against the effects of wet and corrosive environments.

In addition, painting is often carried out for the organicity of the stairs to the overall style of the interior. Sometimes the steps and treads are painted in two different colors, which looks very original, or even make the staircase is multi-colored.

What should I choose: paint or varnish?

The choice of paint material depends largely on the quality and characteristics of the wood species from which the stairs are made.

  1. Deciduous species: this material is easy to work with, the wood immediately absorbs the paint material. The main thing is the absence of knots and irregularities. Here it is appropriate to use both varnishes and paints.
  2. Conifers: over time, they release resin, which reduces the adhesion with the protective decorative coating. Stairs made of pine are better covered with spray enamel – this will fill all the irregularities as much as possible.

Varnish allows you to preserve the naturalness of the pattern because natural wood in a cut looks very beautiful. If the surface is not very smooth, the paint will help to hide the deficiencies. As for exterior work, it is better to give preference to exterior paint for wooden structures or polyurethane varnish.

Choice of paint material

Painting wooden stairs are not cheap, because good paint materials cost a lot of money. The materials most suitable for covering wood are stains, enamels, varnishes, and paints. Since wood has an unusual structure, all elements of the structure decorate the original pattern, and the occupants usually do not want the stairs in the house to be painted. In this case, impregnations, varnishes, and polishes are used.


A stain can be called pigmented impregnation. It comes in water-based, oil-based, alcohol-based, acrylic-based, as well as solvent-based, and alkyd varnish. Each variety has its own advantages and disadvantages.

The first two variants can be purchased as ready-made or dry. When diluting, all lumps and flecks should be eliminated. Alcohol-based stain is better bought as a ready-made solution, as good quality alcohol is difficult to obtain.

A dry mixture for dilution with water is good in that you can control the concentration yourself when staining, but when applied, the construction may swell a little, so you will have to sand it down a little.

The oil stain is almost odorless and evenly distributed on the surface of the stairs. The acrylic-based stain may be considered the best solution, as it is easy to apply, does not bleed, and forms a water repellent layer.

The solvent-based stain has an unpleasant toxic smell and by buying impregnation on alkyd varnish, you can “kill two birds with one stone”, as the design and will acquire a pigment and varnish at the same time.


Enamels have in their composition varnish and coloring pigment, which is very advantageous. The most suitable enamel paints for stairs are alkyd, oil and acrylic. As for nitro enamel, it quickly wipes off when walking. To choose the right enamel you need to pay attention to some tips:

  • It is better to give preference to Finnish and Italian enamels, as they retain color for a long time, lie evenly and dry quickly.
  • The material is sprayed from a spray can, which should be well shaken before use.
  • It is better to cover furniture and valuables with plastic sheeting so that the particles sprayed by the aerosol do not settle on them.
  • What to give preference to, glossy or matte enamel is a matter of taste.

Typically, wooden staircases are made of matte or semi matte.

Easiness of application of enamels:

  • There is no need to use a brush or sprayer – paint from an aerosol will best distribute on the surface of the stairs;
  • They protect the wood from the environment and insects while giving the structure maximum smoothness.


Coating stairs with varnish is chosen to preserve the natural structure of wood. In addition, this material will help maintain the strength of the wood, as it has a very important preservation function. Here is an overview of some options:

  • Acrylic or water-based varnishes are chosen to paint the stairs inside the house, as they are less toxic and dry quickly. Complete drying will have to wait a couple of weeks, and then you can apply the finishing coat.
  • Alkyd varnishes dry much faster, literally in three days. They are suitable for both exterior and interior work and also preserve the natural look of wood. In addition, after their use, the construction can be safely washed.
  • Despite the good characteristics of frost resistance nitro varnish is not recommended for painting exterior and interior stairs, because it is highly prone to abrasion.
  • Oil varnishes give the steps a shine and you can use them to change the shade, but they are not too durable, so the finish coat is better to do alkyd varnish.
  • Polyurethane varnishes are the best option for wooden stairs, as they are highly durable and wear-resistant, are not exposed to abrasion, and aggressive media and dry quickly.

Other materials

Some people prefer to apply special polishes, but it is a very time-consuming process, and such compositions are very expensive. But it is impossible not to note that after polishing, the staircase looks very attractive.

For exterior work, it is better to pick up a facade paint on wood, and acrylic and oil paints are more suitable for interior decoration.

How does the painting process work?

Before painting, you should consider that if the staircase is inside, it is undesirable to use toxic materials with a pungent smell. With the technology of applying paint or varnish need to decide even before you buy them. How to paint a wooden staircase: with a spray gun, brush or roller, will depend on the consistency and technology of the application of varnish and paint material.

  • Coat stairs with paint materials better when it is not yet assembled – so you can maximally treat all surfaces separately: treads, treads, balusters and railings. First, it is necessary to grind all the elements with fine sandpaper.
  • Then all the shortcomings are covered with a wood filler.
  • After that, the surfaces are treated with a vacuum cleaner to remove the smallest particles left after sanding and puttying.
  • Then a priming compound is applied to the structure, which helps increase the adhesive properties of the wood.
  • The last step is the application of paint material. This is done in the most convenient way of using the technology that is specified in the instructions for the paint or varnish. To get the smoothest and most even surface, it is recommended to apply the material in 2-3 layers. Until the previous layer is completely dry, do not apply the next layer.

Painting wooden stairs that are in the basement or damp rooms of the house or outside involves prior impregnation with an antifungal composition, which is most convenient to do, using a sprayer.

Preserving the naturalness of the staircase can not be putty and not primed, but it is appropriate only for the interior. In such cases, it is better to give preference to hardwood, which is stripped, lightly tinted stained and varnished.

In general, painting of wooden stairs with their own hands requires certain skills, diligence, and accuracy. Strokes should be clear, so that the paint does not spill, creating runs. However, by following the sequence of work and the technology of painting, you are likely to get a good result.

Additional Questions

What type of paint is best suited for wooden stairs?

Typically, the top choice for wooden stairs is paint with a satin or semi-gloss finish. Both these finishes offer a good balance between durability and aesthetic appeal that’s particularly suitable for hardwood floors. The satin and semi-gloss paints are commonly used in floor painting due to their resistance to wear and tear, giving your stairs a lasting, fine look. This use of satin or semi-gloss paint on wooden stairs has been proven as a reliable choice over time in both professional and DIY painting projects.

How can I prepare wooden stairs for a paint job?

Before you get started with painting your stairs, you need to perform some prep work to ensure the paint adheres properly. Start off the process by lightly sanding the stairs; this helps to create a clean and fresh surface that accepts paint well. Following this, wipe them clean using a damp microfiber cloth for effective dust removal after the sanding process. To protect the surroundings from unsightly paint smudges or drips, apply painter’s tape to adjacent walls. Doing these steps diligently can help ensure a clean, professional-like painting job on your wooden stairs.

Is it possible to paint wooden stairs without resorting to sanding?

Even without sanding, you can still paint wooden stairs effectively, thanks to priming. While sanding helps create an ideal paint-adherent surface, the use of a primer can easily cover the wood and help achieve consistent color. This means that every part of the stairs – including railings, treads, risers, trim, and banisters – needs to be primed. Proper use of a primer can help you circumvent the need for sanding and achieve a perfectly even color on your stairs.

What is the most appropriate finish for wooden stairs?

The finishing choice for wooden stairs can vary according to personal preferences and desired effects. However, oil is often considered the most practical and beneficial option despite its complexities during restoration. A fair share of homeowners and decorators still prefer to use varnish on wooden stairs for its convenience; it offers a quick method to finish the stairs while also providing a protective layer for wear and tear. Whether you choose oil or varnish, choosing the right finish can greatly enhance the longevity and aesthetic appeal of your wooden stairs.

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