How To Paint Stairs To Transform Your Space

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A before and after picture of painted stairs.

We recently had our unfinished basement done and I decided to tackle the stairs myself. We had a couple of quotes to have them done too but it just wasn’t in the budget for us at the time. I knew it was going to be time consuming, and it was (3 kids made it even longer), but in the end it was more than worth it and we ended up saving a lot of money. Follow along and learn how to paint stairs to transform your space. 

For the record…I am no pro at DIY. BUT, I think I did a pretty darn good job! 🙂

Luckily, these stairs had been built with a basic tread so I didn’t have to do any replacing of treads or risers. The 2 landings though were just OSB boards so we had the guys who laid our floor in the basement add it to the landings and add the nose/edge.   

Prep Work

This is a very important step. Each tread was individually carpeted before I took these photos. I pulled up all of the carpet, removed all of the staples with a needle nose pliers and then cleaned the stairs really well, top to bottom.

I then went in and applied a wood filler to all of the holes. There were not only staple holes but also other dings and damage to the wood that needed to be filled in. You can easily clean up any excess filler with a damp cloth. (I actually use baby wipes…yes, baby wipes! Not just any wipes, Costco Kirkland wipes. I always have a pack laying around even though we aren’t in the diaper stage here anymore…yay! They are a great multipurpose wipe.)

A set of unfinished stairs with prep materials.

Since there was such a large gap between the outside skirting and the walls (top left photo) I added quarter round to fill that gap. I made cuts with our miter saw but you can also do it with a miter box. Nailed them in place with our nail gun – bye bye gaps! 

I then caulked all of my edges with a trim sealant. Some people say to do this, some say not to since things can expand or move when walking on the stairs. I like the clean polished look. I put a very thin bead but then took my…again, baby wipes, to remove most of the caulk leaving what was left in the cracks. 

Once all of the caulk had time to dry, I sanded everything down with my orbital sander. A wipe down of everything again and we were ready to get to the fun stuff…painting!

Painting time!

I started with the white on the risers and the edges. I didn’t tape at this point. I wasn’t too worried about getting any on the treads since I knew I was painting them black anyways. Everything got 2 coats of paint. 

Time to move onto the black treads! I started up at the top and worked my way down. Luckily we have a walk out basement so I could easily get out of the house through the basement instead of going through wet paint or waiting for each step to dry.

At this point, I taped each of the stairs. I chose to paint with a brush for this project and it worked rather well. It really helps if you use a good brush.

Once I started going, this part seemed to go by quicker and it was exciting to see the transformation happening with each step as I moved down.

Stairs partially painted with white risers and black treads, the others bare wood. Bucket of paint and a paint brush on one step.

I gave them a couple of days to dry before I did a second coat. At that time I also removed the tape. In the meantime, I also cleaned, sanded & painted the handrails. I removed them from the wall first.

Beautifully painted stairs. Completed stairs and landing.

Once everything had time to dry I went back in and did a little touch up in a few areas where the paint snuck under the tape. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out AND we saved a lot of money!

Hope this was helpful and gives you the courage to tackle that next DIY project however big or small it is.  

Supplies Used

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