How to Paint Staircase Risers

I have a foyer staircase makeover update for you today showing you how to paint staircase risers. I know many of you think I love to paint… I don’t, but I do a lot of it because it is the only way I will get the look I want in my house with the budget I have to work with. :-)

Last week I was determined to getting the staircase completely made over.

A recap…. here is what the staircase looked like when we moved into the house.

DIY foyer staircase makeover on a budget

Dark stained everything and a carpet runner.

wood staircase makeover in foyer

It is a big staircase with wasted space underneath.

Cronk Duch Architecture foyer staircase

This was our inspiration for the staircase makeover, but on a much smaller scale.

Stained wood foyer staircase makeover

I removed the carpet runner and had to figure out out to deal with finished and unfinished wood.

How to stain staircase steps

I wrote how I did that, in this post: Staining Staircase Steps

Now it is time to paint the staircase risers.

How to Paint Staircase Risers

Foyer Staircase Makeover Update

I painted the risers and side trim in semi-gloss white.

Removing carpet to complete a staircase makeover

I used Sherwin Williams Pure White. I needed 3 coats and then touched up a few areas. When painting over stain and wood, you have to make sure you use a product or primer that will block the stain before painting.

If you don’t, the color of the stain and or wood tannins will bleed through the paint and change the color.

You also need to sand over the surfaces first to rough them up a bit so the primer and paint have something to grab onto. A quick going over with 100 grit sandpaper on a hand sanding block is how I do it. No need to sand to the bare wood.

White painted riser staircase DIY

It is still a work in progress. I have removed the painter’s tape and have not cleaned the steps since I am now going to start on the balusters… all 62 of them, plus 3 posts.  I wish I could clone myself so I could get the job done faster. :-)

Leave the Newel Post Stained or Paint It

Staircase makeover on a budget

I was undecided if I was going to paint the newel post white or leave it stained.

Staircase makeover after

In the staircase makeover I did in my previous house. I didn’t paint it.

white painted newel post

I do like the look of it painted. I found this photo on Ann’s blog, On Sutton Place.

stained newel post with white balusters

But I ended up leaving it stained. I did paint the staircase spindles white. You can read more about doing this in this post on painting staircase spindles.

Under The Staircase

Staircase painting

You can see in this photo how the stairs look underneath and why we want to close it off.  This was a second home for the previous owners. I think it was not a priority for them to finish it off since the house was their place to come and relax.

How to paint staircase risers

You can read how we finished this area into a hidden closet in this post – How to Create a Hidden Closet Under a Staircase.

If you have any questions or problems that arise when painting staircase risers, let me know in the comment section of this post and I will try to help.

 How to paint a staircase risers.

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  1. Did you put painters caulking on the white before painting?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Sammy – I didn’t add painter’s caulking as my steps/risers didn’t need it, but if you see a gap in yours – it would be a good idea.

  2. Geraldine Richardson says:

    Hi could you help me with the problem of painting a handrail a different colour to the spindles I put masking tape on but when I took it off they where a total mess The handrail is black and spindles I have left white now I ve the problem of touching up the spindle s without hitting the black handrail I ve tried everything I can think of to get a straight line
    Thank you

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Geraldine – Sorry to hear you are having a problem with painting the handrail. It sounds like you are doing everything correctly. The only thing I can think of is that maybe the paint brush you are using is to wide. I would get an artist’s small pointy tip paint brush at the craft store and use that to paint the area where the spindles meet the rail.

  3. It’s awesome. I have to do something similar to both stairs. The one going up to the bedrooms looks like yours after removing the carpet. The one going down to the basement does not. For that one I have to buy some materials.

    Thank you for Showed me what to do.


  4. I appreciate this post as it may be something I may need to do in the future. You did a great job on both set of stairs. Unfortunately unless you are working on an older house, chipboard is usually used to build steps in order to save money. I think this should be against the law for safety reason but apparently isn’t as I’ve seen it several times.

  5. Cathy Norwich says:

    Omg.. So glad I found your site!
    I had my house built in 1990. No carpet on stairs (all oak, with pine risers) and love it. I sold the house 29 yrs later, sure miss my big house.
    I bought 1983 condo. Unbelievable, it was a mess. Three carpets later, I ripped out. The middle part of stairs that had half pieces of carpet with LOTS of staples! Lots to fill in wood fillers and sanding. How do I know there were carpet replaced 3 times….I found strains of them….gold, blue, and tan/white. Ugly.
    I want to sent you picture of before, during…. Still working on it. Trying to figure out shall, I leave trims under steps on risers. One is missing at top.
    If leave it (too many holes ?), paint white or stain it. I think white is better. I plan to add trims on side wall board (it has damaged wood).
    Trying to decide what color stain I want. My living room floor is going to have grey waterproof vinyl “wood”.
    Can’t wait to finish. Taking a break due to back and hip pain.
    BTW I ripped carpet out of basement stairs and stained last year. So now onto second one…sure is a pain.

  6. I love both your posts about the stair makeovers! I have been wanting to rip the carpet off my stairs for 3 years(since we moved in!) but didn’t want to spend a fortune to make them look good! I think I just might do them this summer ? yours are beautiful! I can’t wait to see what mine look like when I’m finished. That’s probably the best motivation to do it haha

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Jessica – I would not even hesitate to do your stairs if the wood under the carpet looks good. Have you checked to see what is under the carpet yet?

  7. Your instructions are great. I think I may just have to this in our home, I hate my carpeted staircase! I don’t know what’s under the carpeting, but I’m willing to go for it! Your project is beautiful. I saw your other post about your previous house and the stairway makeover there. You do beautiful work. I hope ours come out as nice. Half of our staircase is open on both sides, which, I will admit, scares me, but I’m going to do this!
    Thanks so much.

  8. Patricia McLaughlin says:

    This is giving me courage . I have wanted to get rid of carpet for 20 years on my stairs . My problem is like yours all stained.. I really want to do this . If I can achieve the look you have I will be over the moon happy. Love your blog!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Patricia – I would go for it. Once the carpet is off and the staples are gone, the hard part of the project is done. The sanding, staining and finishing is easy to do. What takes so long is waiting for each coat of stain, paint and poly to dry.

  9. Green Ladies Cleaning says:

    I love your staircase ideas. Its so nice. A great space beneath stairway is really perfect for closet.

  10. Hi Diane, I am new to your blog and I love it! You are so talented! I love the staircase. I’ve read about your painting your louvered doors as well. What a difference paint makes. I was wondering, what color white paint do you use? Thanks so much!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Judy – My go-to whites are: Sherwin Williams – Pure White 7005 and Alabaster. Valspar Bistro White and Glidden Swan White or White.

  11. Catherine Heigle says:

    That is great space beneath stairway, perfect for closet. I could say one thing about any house, extra closet is always needed, especially when you have kids with ton of stuff. Anyway, great project Diane, I would like to have enough time to make projects like you. I have day job, and for me projects on that scale would last to eternity. That is reason why I always call for professionals.

  12. Alan Gore says:

    It is great upgrade, now stairway looks much better. I feel new energy in that room, I can’t wait to see your new stairway finished I wonder how closet with a hidden door will look like. One more tip: “Don’t forget some pink elements as you usually do!”

  13. Mariele Storm says:

    (Psst – at least for me, under “But am liking the look of it painted. I found this photo on Ann’s blog, On Sutton Place. Since I am such a visual person, I love when I can find something exactly like what I have.” you have the same picture of your staircase from behind as you do under “You can see in this photo how the stairs look underneath and why we want to close it off. “. ;> )

    This looks so beautiful so far!! You have such an elegant style. I can’t wait to see it finished. :)

  14. Your comment about cloning yourself made me chuckle. Your identical twin sister is your clone! Ha! Have you ever used one of those painting mitts for turned wood like this? I’m curious if it helps or hurts. Like the painted newel post. At first I thought no until I saw the pic.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Vicki – My twin sister has never had to paint…she married a pro painting contractor. :-) I have use the painting mitts. They do work, but I find it easier to use a brush. The mitt requires just the right amount of pressure, if you use too much, you end up wiping the paint away, not adding it.

  15. lindalw666 says:

    It’s a really beautiful house… well worth all your effort! I hope you won’t develop a crick in your neck painting the balusters! I admire all of your hard work. I think it will be a real joy to show it off, say, by Christmas?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Linda – It will be one year that we have been in the house come December. Last Christmas I didn’t have time to do much and am looking forward to decorating the space this year.

  16. Design Chic says:

    It looks amazing – what a difference paint and elbow grease make! The newels will be beautiful painted white – bright and fresh – can’t wait to see! Happy weekend ~

  17. Sheryll $ Critters. says:

    Wow! You have done a ton of work in a short time. I am one that emphatically votes for white paint, but can not yet say this for your Newell post. I could go for either equally. But why not wait bit, cause I am thinking it will probably get more use. I am seeing (in the future) a wet puppy dog tail brushing against it. You know, running in from a dip in the lake.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Sheryll – The puppy dog that comes to my house is Kindi, my daughters dog. She is deathly afraid of water. Won’t go near it. She will go on the boat, but not go up to the shoreline. I think I will wait to see how the post looks once all the balusters are white. Happy weekend.

  18. Joanne B. says:

    Your staircase transformation looks great! Such an ambitious undertaking! I admire your energy and the physical endurance needed to contort yourself to do all that painting! You may not have asked, but I vote for keeping the newel post stained! It just seems to look so regal (that’s probably not the right word, but you know what I mean?) stained;paint white it just looks so ordinary.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Joanne – Doing the staircase has put me in some very interesting positions and given me a stiff neck. I agree that keeping the newel post stained is more regal or classic looking. I am going to wait to decide until I have all the balusters painted.

  19. Kimberly ~ Serendipity Refined says:

    Gorgeous so far. I don’t envy you painting all of those spindles but I know that it’s going to be amazing when you’re finished

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Kimberly – Thanks. It is a lot of work, but envisioning how it will look once they are all painted is giving me the energy to get it done. I am looking forward to decorating the space too. With the holidays coming…I have lots of ideas.

  20. So nice to see your progress. I thought you liked painting since you are so good at it. I enjoy reading how careful you and Ed are in fully prepping before the final stages. So important and often overlooked in the rush to be finished with a project. Smiles

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nancy – I like what painting does to a room, but doing it, not so much. It has become my way of life so I do try to embrace it. :-)

  21. Sue Bauman says:

    You are a brave, wise woman and you make your dreams come true! I really admire this about you! And you ARE cloned! Where’s your twin sister? LOL

    Watching your lake house come together is fascinating to me; keep on painting, the staircase is looking fantastic!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Sue – My twin sister has never ever picked up a paint brush… she married a professional painting contractor. He helped us get our previous house ready to sell. It was a huge help that I could get used to. :-)

  22. Love how your steps look and my vote would be to leave the newel post stained. Your idea to make use of the space under the stairs is super. Do you have plans to do anything with the brick floor? Vikki in VA.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Vikki – I think I am going to leave the brick as it is, but you never know. I will need to give it a good scrubbing. I do like the look of white washed bricks. I love the open clean look of the space. My hope is to have all the flooring – living room, kitchen, and bedroom eventually match the color of the brick so the 1st floor flows together.

  23. Diane, it looks beautiful!!! What a transformation! I can’t imagine the talk you are giving yourself to motivate yourself to get it all done. I finally convinced my husband we should redo the game room/his office while I am looking for employment. He finally agreed so I removed the wall paper last week. The whole time I was peeling the paper off I was asking myself “why did you want to do this?” :) We had a contractor come out to give us a quote on repairing sheetrock (a large mirror was removed) and a few other things. I added painting to his list as a “wish” request. Ha ha! I’m pretty sure I’ll be the one doing the painting. :) I don’t like to paint, however I love what paint does to a room. Therefore I paint.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Debbie – I agree 100% with what you said…”I don’t like to paint, however I love what paint does to a room” :-) Knowing this gets me through the painting process. Removing wallpaper is a really BIG pain! I have that project in my near future, too. The walls in the kitchen and hallway of darkness are all covered with it. It was painted many years ago and is not coming off easily, plus the sheetrock underneath is not really sheet rock, but some sort of rough board. I may have to repaper or do something creative to cover it.

  24. All of your work is beautiful. And yes, I have a procrastination project – thanks to you and that beautiful white chair you painted. I want to do my sofa. However, I’ve combed the junk stores to find a couple of small ttoman type stools. Painted one, it’s a bit too stiff so will practice again on the second one. I really think I’m just procrastinating. -:)

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Susan – One thing I miss about living in PA was my access to really wonderful thrift stores. Here in SC, I have not found any that have good furniture deals. I have to search a little harder to find them. As far as the stool fabric feeling stiff, it will soften a bit if you sit on it a lot. You can also add paste wax over it to give it a subtle shine to look like leather. Enjoy the thrill of the hunt looking for more to paint.

  25. Simply stunning! And I always assumed you loved painting!!
    I need to finish the trim in my bathroom- in comparison to your efforts it’s maybe a 3 hr job.
    No more excuses!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Kat – Sometimes the prep work and getting all the stuff out you need to use to paint the 3 hour job can seem just as daunting. Once that is all set up, the actual painting process does go fast…then you have the clean up. :-) Just keep the vision of the freshly painted trim in your mind and you will soon have it done.

  26. Denise Beasley says:

    Did you poly the white too? And if so, does it help prevent scuff marks? I did mine like this 2 years ago and I love them but I did not polyurethane. I am constantly cleaning scuff marks off the white paint and wondered if polyurethane would help cut down on the scuff marks?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Denise – I did not poly over the white paint. In my previous house, I did not poly and never had a problem with scuff marks even with a big dog going up and down daily. Since I used semi-gloss paint, any mark that did show up on the risers, I wiped off with soap and water.

      Using poly over the paint would be fine to do if you are getting a lot of marks. I would use a water-based poly so the white color will not yellow. Minwax Polycrylic is what I would use or look for any brand that says water-based on the label.

  27. Yes! I’m procrastinating on finishing painting all the trim on our lower level. The upstairs two levels are done! Yay!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Connie – You are almost there…at the finish line of trim painting. I bet you will be smiling when the last level is completed. What will you tackle next?

      1. What to tackle next? Not much for now after the trim’s all done ;-) LOL! We’ve painted pretty much every room in the house in the 4 years we’ve lived here. I’m going to enjoy watching the transformations on your lovely home. If we move someday, I’ll be in the same boat you are because so many homes around here have dark oak trim, kitchen/bath cabinets, etc. Almost every house we’ve looked at will make me a painting fool! Hahaha!

  28. Laura at Duke manor farm says:

    Looking good…so far. Will you hand I paint or spray the balusters?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Laura – I am going to use a brush. Masking everything in prep to spray would be too time consuming since it is such a large and open space. Tiny particles of overspray in the air would get on everything on both levels of the space.

  29. Diane, I feel your pain……..we just finished painting our deck and screened porch – 73 balusters and 5 posts! But what a great feeling when it’s finished. Your stairway will look wonderful!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Sally – Wow! That is a lot, but I bet your deck looks fabulous now and worth your efforts. I hope you get to relax and enjoy the space this weekend.

  30. Mary Heicher says:

    I love the black and white in the photo above. No stair cases in our house, thank goodness,
    or I’d be adding more to the never-ending list I already have. Lol
    Can’t wait to see which way you decide to go and the finished product.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Mary – That black and white staircase is a stunner. I would love to see the rest of the house that goes with it.

  31. Melissa Leach says:

    Looking good! Time well spent since it is ridiculously hot and humid outside. I’m making fabric tassels for my daughter since we can’t go outside to play!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Melissa – Fabric tassels? I am intrigued? Do you use strips of fabric? It is super hot in SC too. It has been over 90 degrees everyday for weeks. Thank goodness for AC. :-)

  32. TerriC\Houston Lady says:

    Looks great so far ? your stairs are going to look so beautiful when you get done with them!!!

    Have a great day

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Terri – thanks – I hope it is not too hot and humid in Houston and you get to enjoy the weekend ahead.

  33. Lookin’ good! You are making great progress!
    BTW, I vote for stain on the newel post.
    Just another little contrast with the stained treads and
    painted balusters and side trim. IMHO.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Pat – I to agree with you about the post. Once I get the all the balusters painted I know I will be better able to decide. Happy weekend!

  34. Great improvement! Love the wood trim!

  35. We just redid our steps also and have stained them a dark color. The problem we are having is seeing the end of the step when you are descending especially when the light is off.
    Do you have any suggestions of what to put on the steps to make it easier to see the edge?
    Most of the suggestions we’ve been given work for going up the steps.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Susan – Are you not seeing the bottom step before you land on the floor, or every step? I am not sure other than using a strip of tape along the steps or to add a piece of carpet to each step or a runner.