How to paint a staircase – expert guide to transforming hallways by painting wooden stairs

Find out how to paint a staircase to give hallways a new lease of life – 'step by step'

Painting a staircase is a relatively quick DIY job that can totally transform your space. Good news if you're on a tight budget, as paint ideas are always a great, cost-effective way to make tired hallways feel more loved.

And as the stairs are often the first thing you see when you walk in (particularly in Victorian homes), they definitely deserve some TLC. Learn how to paint a staircase that'll look good for years to come with our guide.

How to paint a staircase

Our handy step-by-step DIY and decorating guide will show you how to paint stairs using specialist floor paint to give your own lobby a new lease of life with a splash of colour.

Freshly painted wooden stairs can look stylish just as they are. Or alternatively can provide the perfect fresh canvas on which to lay a striking carpet runner. Either way, a fresh coat of paint on the stairs is a simple yet effective staircase idea that will elevate the decor.

before and after stair case with grey basket and yellow flower

(Image credit: TBC)

Top tips before you get started:

  • Start early or when the rest of the household are in the garden or busy downstairs and don't need access for a while. Or make a start once the kids have gone to bed for the night. This means you may have to paint over the course of a few days.
  • Factor in time to ensure the paint is fully dry before anyone walks on it. Because the longer you leave it to dry, the more hard-wearing it will be. If your only loo is upstairs, you’ll need to plan around it.
  • Paint in order, so start at the top and work your way down. Or vice versa depending on where you want to finish – you don’t want to get stuck on the wrong floor. This may sound obvious, but it can be easy to get caught out.
  • Ronseal recommends painting every other step, then marking the remaining steps and coming back once dry to complete them. 'Or, if you want to use natural wood, be sure to apply a coat of Ronseal Diamond Hard Floor Varnish (opens in new tab). This product is touch dry in just 30 minutes and can come in a satin or clear finish.'

What you’ll need

  • Rust-Oleum Chalky Finish Floor Paint
  • Sander / Dust mask
  • Paint scraper
  • Wood filler
  • Paint brush
  • Cleaning solution / Cleaning cloth
  • Masking tape
  • Paint roller / Paint tray

1. Prepare the steps

wooden staircase with white wall

(Image credit: TBC )

Remove any old carpet from your wooden stairs. You need to make sure the surface is in good condition before you start. Repair any loose or broken areas, fill any dents with wood filler and sand any rough patches to prepare the floor for painting.

The bonus of a specialist paint nowadays is that it can be painted straight over old paint or varnish, so no need to fear hours of more sanding ahead of you.

Once complete, vacuum up any dust and clean with a cleaning solution and cloth.

2. Choose the correct paint

wooden stairs with white floor paint

(Image credit: TBC )

Whether you’re sticking to the same hallway colour scheme all over or painting a striking stair runner, choose the right paint. Rust-Oleum Chalky Finish Floor Paint is ideal.

The hard-wearing, water-based paint resists knocks and scratches. Plus it can be applied directly to wooden floorboards or concrete flooring, and directly over old paint or varnish with no topcoat needed.

Top tip: Tape off areas if needed. If you’re painting stairs in different colours or painting a runner, mark out your design using decorator’s tape.

3. Start painting

wooden staircase with white paint and foam roller

(Image credit: TBC)

Apply the Chalky Finish Floor Paint ensuring there are no drips. Use a brush for any details and angles where stair riser and tread meet. You can use a small foam roller for any larger, flat surfaces.

Don’t be tempted to apply thick coats of paint. The coverage will last much longer if you paint a few thin coats rather than one thick coat. Wait until each coat is fully dry before applying the next one. Aim for a minimum of two coats but more may be required.

4. Take off the tape and clean

white staircase with potted plant and black long boot

(Image credit: TBC )

Remove any decorator’s tape. Once completely dry, give a final brush or vacuum. Then stand back to admire your handiwork!

For a thoughtfully painted staircase, mix colours to give the look more depth. Paint the rises in the same colour as the edging and bannisters (in this case white), while adding a subtle splash of colour to the step itself (in this case light grey).

painted hallway staircase with a grey bag of flowers

(Image credit: TBC)

A freshly painted staircase makes all the difference, especially in hallways where first impressions count. Of course due to the heavy footfall on the stairs they will require a fresh coat of paint every few years, depending on how well they are looked after to prevent excessive wear and tear.

And that's how to paint a staircase. Happy decorating to one and all.

When painting stairs, what do you paint first?

Helen Shaw, UK Director of Benjamin Moore (opens in new tab), recommends painting the handrails and spindles first. Then you can cut in on the stairs with a small paintbrush, before switching to a roller. Start from the top and work your way down.

Crown (opens in new tab)'s senior designer, Justyna Korczynska says, 'Decide at the start whether you want to try to make your hallway look lighter and brighter, or if you want to go for a dark and dramatic scheme. The lighter the colour, the more it reflects available light – the darker the colour, the more it will absorb the light. So if you want to make a hallway seem larger you will need to go for lighter shades.'

painted stairs with flower vase and white wall

(Image credit: Crown Paints)

Should you paint the stairs with a brush or roller?

To paint your stairs, you will need both a brush and a small roller, available at Amazon (opens in new tab).

Do you need to sand stairs before painting?

'Yes, use a fine-grit sandpaper (220-grit) and a sanding sponge,' says Helen. 'Sand the spindles, handrails, and any other wood surfaces to smooth them before painting. Vacuum up any sanding dust and wipe down your sanded surfaces with a damp cloth.'