Learn how to paint stair railings with this step-by-step tutorial. Painting your railing is a budget-friendly way to give it an amazing update!
One of the biggest changes we made during our home remodel was painting our oak stair railing white. Here’s the railing in all of it’s orange oak glory before we painted it.
I love how the railing looks painted white, especially with the wood floors!
How To Paint Stair Railings
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I will earn a small commission. The great thing is, it won’t cost you a penny more! Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
I’m not going to lie, it takes some work to prep and paint stair railings. There’s a lot of parts to prep, prime and paint, but I’m glad we did the painting ourselves. I didn’t get estimates for a professional painter to paint the stair railing, but I’m sure it would have been very expensive.
Please read and follow all of the instructions for the following products and tools. It’s best to do this project when you can have the windows open in your house.
- Blue Painter’s Tape – Use blue painter’s tape to tape off any parts of the wall and floor that you don’t want paint to get on.
- TSP Liquid Substitute – This is a liquid form of TSP. Used to clean the wood before priming and painting.
- Paint Sanding Respirator – I wear this mask whenever I’m sanding my projects.
- Black and Decker Mouse Detail Sander – This palm sander works great for the flatter parts of the wood.
- Sandpaper – 100 grit for 1st sanding and then 220 grit for second sanding. I used regular sheets of sandpaper on the curved parts of wood that the Mouse Sander could not get to.
- Tack cloth – To clean off sawdust from sanding.
- Wooster Shortcut paintbrush – I LOVE this paintbrush! The soft rubber handle makes it comfortable to use for hours.
- Zinsser Allprime Oil-Base Sealer and Stain Blocker – This is a good oil primer to cover the wood stain and varnish.
- Benjamin Moore Advance paint – A latex paint in Benjamin Moore’s color White. This paint is awesome when you want a very smooth finish, and it’s very durable. We haven’t had any paint chipping in the 3 years since we painted the railing. It has a slow dry time, so it levels out very nicely.
- MinWax Polycrylic – This is a protective finish that you can apply to the painted stair railing to help protect it from scuffs. It will not yellow over time like a polyurethane finish will.
- Ladder or scaffolding for over the stairs.
1. Prepping the railing – The prep is the most important part because you want to make sure that the paint will adhere well to the railing.
- Set up a ladder and boards or scaffolding for over the stairs so that you can paint the parts of the stair railings that you can’t reach from the floor.
- Using blue painter’s tape, tape off any areas around the walls and floor that you don’t want to get paint on. I used lots of small pieces of tape to cover the wall area around the end of the railing. Use drop cloths to help cover the floors and stairs.
- Clean the railing with TSP liquid substitute to remove oils and dirt.
- You need to sand the railing to scuff the finish so that the paint will adhere better.Sand the railing 1st with a grittier sandpaper, like 100 grit. Then the railing again with a 220 grit sandpaper to smooth the wood. Use a palm sander for the flatter parts, and sheets of sandpaper for the curvier parts.
- Remove the dust from sanding with tack cloths.
2. Prime the railing –
- Using a paint brush, paint the railing first with the oil-based primer. This will help the paint to adhere better to the wood. I highly recommend and oil-based primer like the one listed in the materials. Below, in step #3, you’ll find a diagram showing the order of how I primed and painted the railing.
- Lightly sand the railing after the primer has dried the recommended amount of time the directions say is needed. I use the 220 grit sandpaper for this step. It will give you a smooth finish.
- Clean the dust from sanding the primer with a tack cloth.
3. Paint the railing –
- I recommend using the Benjamin Moore Advance paint to paint your railings. It cures to a very durable, smooth finish. Paint one coat of paint with the Wooster Shortcut paintbrush. Let the paint dry the amount of time recommended on the back of the paint can.
- Here’s a diagram showing the order that I painted the railing:
- Start at the top and paint top and sides of the railing.
- Paint the bottom of the railing.
- Paint one side of all of the posts and spindles.
- Then paint the other side of all of the posts and spindles.
- Paint the bottom base of the railing.
- When the first coat of paint has dried, apply a second coat of paint to the stair railing. Using the same method as first coat of paint.
- After the second coat of paint has dried the recommended amount of time, you can apply two coats of the MinWax Polycrylic with a paintbrush to help protect the paint finish.
UPDATE: I’ve created a video that shows HOW TO APPLY POLYCRYLIC OVER PAINT. You can find it here:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial for how to paint stair railings!
I’m sharing here: