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7 min read

Tips and Tricks to Paint Your Staircase


7 min read

Tips and Tricks to Paint Your Staircase

PaintTips and Tricks to Paint Your Staircase

Revamping your stairs isn’t as tricky as it might sound. With a few useful DIY tips and tricks, you can transform your time-worn wooden or metal stairs into an appealing feature. Whether you’re looking to paint over your stairs without first sanding them or opting for a more metallic finish, the paint colour chosen and the preparation stages are vital. Find out how you can efficiently DIY paint your stairs.

Step 1: Choose the right type of paint for your stairs

indoor stair paint

Source: Canva

Finding an interior stair paint isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. Albeit there are only two paint groups, water- or oil-based paints, they both branch out into the following:

  • Acrylic paints

  • Alkyd paints

  • Enamel paints

  • Glycerophthalic paints

  • Polyurethane paints

  • Epoxy paints 

Learn about their advantages and downsides to then choose the best paint for your interior staircase painting project. 

Acrylic paints

Acrylic paints are water-based, therefore often referred to as “water-based paints.” They differ from so-called “solvent-based” paints due to their binder. 

As a matter of fact, acrylic paint simply needs water as a dilluter since it isn’t made with any chemical solvents, but rather with acrylic resins and colour pigments. 

While they work perfectly well on wood or metal surfaces, using acrylic paints on concrete is typically advised against. 

Alkyd paints

Alkyd paints are water-based paints that merge the properties of acrylic and oil-based paints (glycerophthalic, polyurethane, and epoxy). They’re odourless, quick-drying, durable, and can be applied to all surface types. 

However, given their list of attributes, they aren’t only water-based, but also include either vinyl or silicon binders. 

Enamel paints

Enamel paints, also known as acrylic polyurethane paints, have very similar characteristics to polyurethane. However, they are:

  • More weather-resistant

  • Less likely to fade

  • Air-drying

Acrylic polyurethane paints are perfectly adapted for outdoor use, but can also coat an indoor wooden, concrete, or steel staircase.

Glycerophthalic paints

Glycerophthalic paints are oil-based paints, much like polyurethane and epoxy. Prior to use, they must be diluted using an organic solvent. They’re made with a binder, pigments, and additives. 

Much like all oil-based paints, glycerophthalic paints dry as the chemical solvent in its composition evaporates. In other words, they release a large quantity of VOC, and are especially toxic to humankind, as well as the environment. 

However, glycerophthalic paints are high-performance paints. The paint’s results are apparent in its ability to withstand physical impacts, scratches, as well as moisture. Therefore, they’re especially suited to high foot traffic areas and wooden or metal stairs. 

Polyurethane paints

Polyurethane paints are reactive polymer compounds that include resins and a hardening agent. Polyurethane paints are grouped under oil-based paints and are considered thermosetting polymer resins. 

In layman’s terms, it’s a liquid-state plastic that, once dry, forms a protective film resembling paint.

Polyurethane can be one part (urethane) or two parts (polyurethane). The main difference resides in the drying time and the product’s resilience. However, when used indoors, the resilience of two-part polyurethane isn’t necessarily required. 

However, its drying time is definitely longer (12-14 hours), but can be limited to two hours with a urethane accelerator.

This type of paint suits all surface types, meaning it can be applied to metal, wood, and concrete stairs. 

Epoxy paints

Epoxy, which is also categorized under the thermosetting polymer resin family branch, is a plastic with constant-hardening properties. Its biggest advantage is its water and moisture resistance. 

Even if it isn’t as supple as polyurethane paint, epoxy paint can also be applied to all surfaces (tile, concrete, wood, metal).  

Weighing the pros and cons of each paint type…

Paint type






Glycerophthalic paint




High coverage

Very durable

May contain a fungicide

May contain anti-moisture additives

Low maintenance


Potent smell during application

Paintbrushes are hard to clean

Epoxy paint





Withstands foot traffic

Withstands abrasions, physical impacts, and scratches

Low maintenance

May fade over time

Acrylic paint




Practically odourless


Paint tools are easy to clean

May contain a fungicide

May contain anti-moisture additives



Low maintenance


Not meant for very smooth surfaces

Not as wear-resistant

Needs several coats

Polyurethane paint




Thick protective coat

Glossy and smooth finish


Suited to smooth surfaces


Withstands chemical products

Can be rust-proof

Impervious to concrete’s alkaline level

Doesn’t require a primer

Adapts to material’s motions

Doesn’t fade

Withstand repeated washings


Long drying time

Potent smell


Enamel paint




Thick protective coating

Can be rust-proof

Doesn’t fade


Air drying


Potent smell

Long drying time

Alkyd paint






Smooth finish

Practically odourless

Quick touch-dry



VOC (very little)

Toxic (very little)

Slow to fully dry

Yellows over time

What’s the best paint type for wooden stairs?

indoor stair paint

Source: Canva

Is there a type of paint specially formulated for wood?

Nope, there aren’t any. Paint is either water-based or solvent-based. Therefore, you either have to choose between an acrylic or alkyd paint suited for wood or an oil-based one that’s also suited for wood. 

The first two (water-based) are easier to clean, quick-dry, and less toxic than the latter (solvent-based). However, they’re harder to apply and don’t adhere as well to surfaces. 

Sanding-Free Wooden Staircase Painting Tips 


Specially designed primers and adhesive paints

Believe it or not, you can paint a wooden staircase without first having to sandblast it. However, you still have to wipe it down with sandpaper and methanol to remove coarse dust particles. Without this light manual sanding process, the paint just won’t adhere to the wood.

As for the paint, without sandblasting, it’s best to use a multi-surface, water-based paint or resin-based paint.

However, if your stairs are waxed or oiled, you won’t be able to paint without first sanding down the wood, no matter the paint type you use. 

Tips for a Smooth and Durable Finish

  1. Use sandpaper and manually scrub your stairs to remove dust and smooth out the surface. Doing so will allow the paint to better adhere to the wooden steps.

  2. Stairs are great flat surfaces, therefore, you can use a paint roller. 

  3. For a meticulous finish, use a paintbrush when cutting. 

  4. For a smooth finish, you have to stretch the paint (one thin coat at a time) to prevent streaks and blisters. 

  5. Apply a second coat of paint once the first is completely dry, following the exact same steps. 

What type of paint should you use on concrete steps?

indoor stair paint

Source: Canva

Tips for Choosing the Best-Suited Paint 

Epoxy paints are especially suited to concrete as their chemical formula allows them to bind to concrete. Epoxy paints are durable and wear-resistant. However, they’re not easy to apply.

When you first purchase your paint, ensure that it's labelled for concrete and masonry. The paint will be thicker compared to standard paints.

In any case, choose an anti-slip paint for your steps. The finish will be lightly sanded. If the paint you’ve purchased doesn’t include the above-mentioned properties, you can always add an anti-slip additive mix to the final coat. 

How to Get Your Concrete Stairs Paint-Ready

  1. Make sure the concrete is clean and devoid of coatings or waterproofing products. The presence of such components could prevent the paint from adhering correctly. 

  2. Weigh the foot traffic to choose the best option between a standard paint and a pigmented hardener or an acid stain. In fact, in heavy foot traffic areas, the paint is likely to deteriorate as a result of abrasion. 

  3. For proper adhesion, concrete must have a lightweight texture but a lightly coarse finish. If your concrete was trowel-finished, or especially smooth, the paint won’t adhere to the surface properly.

  4. In such a case, we recommend stripping the concrete surface with acid, or manually sanding the surface. 

  5. Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. The latter will detail useful guidelines in terms of the required indoor temperature during paint application. Rarely is it advised to paint when temperatures are below 10°C (50°F).

  6. Check the concrete’s humidity level. An overly humid concrete will prevent the paint from adhering. To know whether your concrete is overly humid or not, stick an 18 plastic square to your floor.

  7. If, after 24 hours, condensation has formed beneath the plastic square, it’s a telltale sign that your concrete is overly humid. Allow it to dry for a few more days.

Tips for Painting Indoor Metal Stairs

indoor stair paint

Source: Canva

How to Get Your Metal Stairs Paint-Ready

  1. If you’re working with an age-worn metal staircase, make sure the existing paint coat isn’t lead-based. 

  2. Make sure your stairs are rust-free. Rust will prevent the paint from adhering to the metal surface.

  3. Clean the stairs to help the paint adhere to the surface.

  4. A rust primer should be applied to the metal for the paint to better adhere. 

Rust and Scratch Guard

Metal staircases, even found indoors, must be rustproof. As a matter of fact, the ambient air inside of a home is never dry. As a side note, in Quebec, relative humidity levels are on average 60% in May and 76% in December. 

The scratch guard is entirely dependent on the paint type used. Polyurethane paint is perfect to protect metal stairs from scratches. 

However, no matter the paint used, avoid cleaning your stairs with an abrasive sponge or brush. It’s exactly this type of cleaning apparatus that could scratch the paint on your metal stairs. 

Colour Suggestions for Your Steps

indoor stair paint

Source: Canva

Paint sold by retailers, whether water- or solvent-based, is available in a wide-ranging set of colours. Therefore, you can let your imagination run riot. To guide you along, here are a few pointers.

Create gradients or patterns

The first—and most straightforward—method is to design a dual-coloured staircase. Paint the risers using a darker hue, while the tread is coated in a lighter colour. 

In keeping with dual-coloured designs, you can always draw patterns. For example, painting black triangles onto white treads.

On another trendier note, try painting each riser with a different colour. 

Specific Considerations to Paint Basement-Leading Metal Stairs

Colour choice

The colour palette you should stick with is entirely dependent on the following factors:

  • Ground-level flooring

  • Basement flooring

  • Doors

  • Walls 

You can either choose a colour that matches the nearby surroundings or a colour that’s a stark contrast. In keeping with the latter scenario, if your doors are white and your flooring is light in colour, dark-hued stairs, black even, will make for the perfect contrast. 


There are five key ways to light your basement staircase: 

  • At the top of your stairs, above the door frame

  • Ceiling

  • Along the staircase-adjacent wall

  • On the wall, levelled with every step

  • Beneath the step nosing (LED strips)

Ultimately, choosing one type of lighting over another will depend on what you’re looking for. Are you looking to showcase your staircase (LED strips, wall-mounted lights next to every step) or simply for added staircase safety (light fixture above the basement-leading door or ceiling)?

Once you’ve answered this question, you’ll know what type of lighting you should steer toward. 

Painting an Indoor Staircase: The Key to a Stunning Transformation

Painting your interior staircase can radically transform your home’s aesthetic. It’s an endeavour that can not only revamp its overall look but also add a personalized touch to your living space. The detailed tips and tricks, such as meticulously prepping the surface, choosing the right colour(s), using quality paint, and a methodic application, are vital to achieving an impressive and durable finish. It’s important to consider safety in general, meaning using anti-slip materials when needed. By following our guidelines, you can revamp your staircase while also adding a dash of creativity to your home.  

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Last modified 2023-11-07

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