Paint a Stairway to Heaven!

Stairs are often overlooked when it comes to decorating. But think about this: Your stairs may be the first thing guests see when they enter your home.

If your runner is ragged, your carpet is threadbare, and your wood is worn, consider painting that staircase.

Need another reason to paint your stairs? They’re easier to clean.

If you’ve ever lugged a heavy vacuum cleaner up a flight of stairs and had to use the tiny attachment to vacuum each stair, you know what a hassle it can be.

And we won’t even mention scrubbing muddy footprints, whether human or canine, out of staircase carpet.

But painted staircases are low maintenance. Simply start at the top, broom debris from one stair down to the next, then sweep it all up at the bottom.

And mud wipes up with a damp sponge.

But best of all, painted staircases allow your creativity and personality to shine.

Start with prep.

As with any project, proper preparation is critical.

There are two parts to every step – the tread where your foot lands and the riser is the vertical part that sits just beneath it. While the tread is the part that gets all the wear and tear, the riser is the more visible portion when seen from below and is often scuffed.

If you’re removing carpeting or a runner, there may be stuck-on padding, tack strip, and nail holes. Scrape off any stuck-on residue and fill nail holes. You may also have to do some patching and repairs on nearby molding.

After repairs, sand the surfaces until smooth. Begin with sandpaper with a rough grit, then work your way down to fine grit, rinsing and wiping away and residue until dry.

Type of paint to use

When painting the risers, professionals recommend semi-gloss paint. Semi-gloss paint dries to a harder finish that’s easier to clean.

If you want your risers to have a matte, flat finish, use semi-gloss paint, then apply a matt polyurethane sealer.

Pros recommend a tinted primer, then a porch or floor paint for the treads, because they will undergo the most wear and tear. Choose “low luster” paint that tends to hide dirt and dust bunnies until you can sweep. Low luster is less slippery, too.

In what order should you paint?

Paint the risers first. The semi-gloss paint will dry quickly, and you will still be able to use the stairs while it dries. Allow it to cure for 24 hours, especially if you will put painter’s tape over it to paint the treads.

Primer and porch tape take considerably longer to dry and cure, so you won’t be able to use the stairs for a day or so. Plan ahead! Make sure you have everything you need from the upper floor before you start.

Finally, start at the top and work your way down, unless you want to be trapped on the upper level!

Let’s get creative!

Painted patterns

Use painter’s tape to create checkerboards, diamonds, grids, or other patterns on the risers, then finish the treads in one of your pattern colors or natural wood grain.

Solid runner

Paint a wide strip of a dark color down the stairs’ center, both treads and risers. Then paint both sides of the strip with a lighter, contrasting color.

Traditional with a twist

Traditionally, the riser is painted white and the tread a dark brown. But instead of a dark color, choose a pastel shade to add a playful punch.

Faux finish

Use faux painting techniques such as sponging, color washing, rag rolling, marbelizing, or granite on the risers and treads to make things more interesting.

Metal Patina

Metal tones aren’t just for metal. Brass or copper paint shades give stairs an industrial vibe.


A whimsical look that you can create in bright, bold colors or subtle pastels.

And if you don’t like painting

Try wallpaper on the risers or adhesive wall stickers. Seal with a coat of polyurethane.

We hope these tips and ideas will spur your imagination to create your own painted stairway to heaven.