Painting Stairs: DIY FAQs and Tips

ugly stairs beforeWhen we first looked at this home (before we bought it), I was rather turned off by the staircase. It was carpeted in dirty gray berber carpet which wrapped around the edges, suggesting mere yellow pine underneath. It was almost a deal-breaker.

Because the stairs are clearly visible from the foyer and family room, we had to do something, but without breaking the bank. So I got busy (understatement).

Here was the plan:

  1. Remove carpet (yellow pine underneath)
  2. Paint treads espresso and rails to match (I went with “Stealth Jet” from Behr)
  3. Paint risers and spindles white to match trim in the house

Note: I should mention, the gray berber was also in the upstairs hall…we added hardwood to the upstairs hall and the stair landing.

I’m thrilled with the results, and it has truly changed the heart of the home.

DIY painted stairs before and after

If you’re considering doing this in true DIY fashion, hopefully these before and after shots will inspire you. And after the pictures, I’ve included some FAQs and practical tips to help you along.

Before and After Shots

So first, the before and after shots, then on to the pictorial evolution of this labor of love!

stairs before with berber carpet

DIY painted stairs after shot

Note: the art is a placeholder…a chalkboard wallie adorned w/my 10 year old’s original work. 😉

DIY Carpeted Stairs Before

DIY Painted Stairs After

upstairs hallway before

upstairs hallway after

I should also mention that we changed the foyer light. And by “we” and mean hubby “McGyver” Smith who made his own scaffolding. Nerves!

DIY Scaffolding to hang foyer light

foyer light before

foyer light after

Here’s a quick slideshow of the project:


Q. What kind of paint should I use?

  • For the risers and spindles, use white semi-gloss with primer already in it.
  • For the treads and rails, use a porch and floor paint. For the first coat, tint primer with your selected color. I opted for “low luster” rather than glossy to show less dust and be less slippery.

Q. What prep work do I need to do?

  • Start with a light sanding, and then wipe down with a damp microfiber rag.
  • Be sure to tape before you paint – and skip the stuff on sale, I like the nice blue Scotch painters tape.

Q. What order should I paint in?

  • I did the steps first since I didn’t want the naked boards to get scuffed up while I worked on the more time-consuming spindles (plus it made me feel like I was making  progress a bit faster).
  • Start with the white paint on the risers.
  • Next, do the dark paint on the treads. Timing is key here – you’ll need to let the treads dry at least 8 hours between coats. I found that 2 coats covered it well.
    • TIP: Paint every other tread until complete, then switch and do the others.
  • Then move on to the white paint on the spindles. Put on your favorite music and go for it. It’ll be awhile.
    • TIP: be sure to put an old towel or drop cloth over the stairs as you paint the spindles to avoid splatter.
  • Once the spindles are done, pat yourself on the back. Or better yet, treat yourself to a mani/pedi.
  • Then tape the top of each spindle and paint the rails and posts.
  • And finally, go back over your work to do a little touch up as needed.

Q. What is the best way to clean the stairs after they’re painted?

  • I found that quickly wiping them down with a damp microfiber rags works much better than my stick vacuum. It’s faster, and easier! That was an unexpected bonus.

Q. How well will the paint hold up over normal use?

  • It’s hard to say at this point since I just completed the project, but the steps were done about a month ago with just two coats, and they’re holding up just fine so far. I’ll let you know if that changes. 😉

Q. How long did it take?

  • I won’t lie to you. It took some serioustime and a persistent attitude:
    • 14 treads: about 1 ½ hours
    • 15 risers: about 1 ½ hour
    • 98 skinny spindles: about 25 hours (no, that’s not a typo!)
    • 5 posts: about 1 hour
    • Handrails: about 2 hours

Do the math…that’s about 31 hours.   Plus add a little extra time for taping and touch ups. Yes, that’s a lot of time, but (now that it’s over) well worth it.  So, anyone else game to try this? Any questions I didn’t yet address? Ask away!

Next? Three bathroom makeovers. Stay tuned!

I love reading comments and yes, I read every one!


  1. Tara says

    AWESOME! I am SO inspired! only thing holding my back right now is having to put flooring in the upstairs hallway like you did. great work!

      • Ben says

        how was it walking up and down them after? obviously the carpet would add noise insulation.. did they sounds too hollow and bare without any cushioning>? I want to do the same thing, but I cant imagine just painting whats existing without adding any kind of underneath insulation

      • Elizabeth Pandelis says

        I painted my stars and I am very happy with the result. I used matt exterior water based paint in a medium moss green and it has worn well, dogs, no children. I used the same paint on the hand rail, but with a top coat of clear high gloss to lift it and the banisters and risers are gloss white. It was the preparation of removing perished underlay and staples that took the longest and was hardest. The stairs are not slippery, whether bare feet, sock or shoes. The stairs are noisier tha when carpeted, but much easier to clean. Reading your information was a great help. By the way, perished underlay is easiest lifted with the scraper attachment on an all purpose tool.

  2. Pinkifairy says

    would you mind sharing what color you used for both the white and dark brown/black and brand?  I really liked the stairs and wanted to try doing it but very afraid I end up buying the wrong color

    • says

      We used Behr paint – stealth black jet on the treads, and white on the rest. The dark was very espresso, almost black.

  3. jen says

    I’m curious about the cure time of the paint. Were you able to not use the stairs for a week to let the paint fully cure? Or did you allot an entire week after doing every other step and then returned in a week to do the rest? My steps are the only means to the second floor of my house (where the bathroom is) so I have concerns about how to break up this kind of project. Plus I have cats whose nails could dig in to the uncured paint.

  4. says

    Hi Jen,

    I allowed 8 hours between coats on the treads. I did every other step so we could still get up and down. This was a little trickier on the 2nd coat, so I put post it notes on the stops that we were allowed to step on.

    Not sure about the cats…but they don’t weigh much and I doubt they’d cause a problem. It dries pretty quickly initially.

    Good luck!


  5. says

    I am thinking about doing this in our new home…. Can you PLEASE email me and tell me how yours held up?!?!?!??!?!? I would really appreciate it.

    • says

      Ok, it’s been a few months now. So far, it’s held up pretty well, except for a few dents in the treads where we moved furniture. Yellow pine is not a very hard wood, so dents can happen. However, a few swooshes with the brush and you don’t notice it.

      That said, I may still add a runner going up the middle to mitigate any additional nicks.

  6. says

    i’m so glad i found this. i hate, hate, hate the carpet on one of my stairwells & when someone mentioned the idea of painting the stairs i was intrigued. because this will be by our main entry way, i think i can do this & keep hopeful that the paint will keep with the wear & tear of everyday use!
    thank you! now, i need to pick my color(s) for the treads!
    thank you!

  7. says

    Thanks for the tips, I’m planning to do my stairs at the weekend. thankfully I don’t have as many spindles so it shouldnt take that long. 31 hours is an epic effort, worth it by the looks of it though!

      • says

        I’m going to do both my stair cases in total white…however the one stair case has peeling paint
        one staircase I have a runner for it!!! The other staircase I have threads of carpet for. .How did your husband create that scaffold?
        your work looks beautiful. It has given me the incentive to move forward.

      • says

        The scaffold was completely DIY and a little scary (for me). Not entirely sure how he pulled it off lol. Good luck with your project!

  8. Marc says

    Hi Susan,

    For the railings, did you sand them down? If so, what grit number did you use.


  9. Michelle says

    It looks brilliant! I am doing it this weekend, my carpet is truly horrible, I am re decorating and it doesn’t go with anything so this is a great solution to my problem with less outlay than putting down more carpet. Just dreading the challenge of keeping my 3 kids off the stairs for 8 hours! …,.. Night painting it is then!

  10. Hazel says

    I’ve been looking for a good solution to my under carpet wood stairs! I didn’t want to replace the wood or try to finish it either. I needed a visual of what different colors would do though! Thank you!!!

  11. says

    Hi Susan … I’m so glad I came across your posting,I have the exact same staircase, And had the same vision , it’s so nice to see a finished project, the only thing I was going to do different was a Espresso stain , did you consider a stain, I’m asuming it will be a bit more work, but I also think it may last longer and look more natural… What do you think ?

    • says

      I did consider a stain, but because the wood was just yellow pine, there wasn’t much to show off. If it had been nice wood, I would have probably used a stain.

  12. says

    Looks great! Did you have a lot of little holes to fill from the carpet staples. If so did you just use wood filler or something else?

  13. Donna says

    So you didn’t totally replace the steps and risers? I’ve been wanting to pull up the carpet on our stairs for a while, but I thought it would be entirely too expensive. I’m not sure what ours looks like underneath the carpet. All the time put in would be worth the end result. The carpet was not installed that great to begin with, and now it has had 12 years of dirt, pets, and general wear. I’m ready for it to GO!!!!

  14. TexieLevy says

    Hi Susan. Stairs look great. I’m just wondering, are they hard to keep clean? Seems like they would show the dust and dirt really easily. Would love to do it because it looks so sharp, but don’t want to drive myself crazy feeling like I need to dust the stairs daily.

    • says

      They’re surprisingly easy to keep clean – because I used the low luster paint, dust doesn’t show as much. And I can also just use a swiffer duster or microfiber rag to quickly wipe them down. Much easier than a vacuum!

  15. Rachael says

    Hi! Thanks so much for posting this… my husband and I are in the process of repairing our 1890s ‘first home’, and I LOVE the effect that you achieved here. though our staircase is a little more modest, I think the effect would be just as nice. I have 2 questions: did you poly the paint or just do 2 coats? And 2, we have scroll molding on the outside staircase wall besides just regular molding. We are going to do a very dark blue…should the molding be blue or white? We don’t want to lose the nice molding effect, but *I* think it would be weird blue…..anyway, thanks again, your pics are beautiful!

  16. Courtney says

    I am currently in the process of painting my staircase. I have been wondering whether or not to use a top coat. Has your treads held up to high traffic? Even when the guest that neglect to remove their shoes; walk in the door and head up the stairs?

    • says

      We did not use a top coat (didn’t want it to be slippery). The 2 coats have held up pretty well, except for a couple nicks from carrying furniture up the stairs. But easy to fix with a quick flick of the brush.

  17. Melissa says

    Beautiful job! I came across your site after sifting through page after page of staircase pics, websites etc. My staircase quandary has honestly been keeping me up at night. My staircase is similar to yours, the stairs overlook the main foyer of our home. I think you did a fantastic job of detailing your plan! You said the treads were the yellow pine but I am wondering what material the risers were? My risers look like some type of press or particle board and I am unsure how they will cover. Also I am having trouble with paint selection for rails, treads and posts. I would like your opinion. My foyer floor is a dark gray tile (looks similar to polished concrete) and three of my walls are a cappaccino color and one is more of a chocolate brown with white trim. What color would you choose? Closer to black or brown? Thank you in advance for your time.

    • says

      The risers were yellow pine as well. I did a bit of spackling and sanding, but not too much. Based on the colors you already have, I would opt for a very dark almost black brown. Will play nice with everything. Good luck!

  18. Helen says


    Love your project and am looking to do something similar. Only issue is that we have chipboard on the half landings and on the landing at the top of the stairs. How did you overcome this?

  19. Laura says

    Hi Susan,
    Your pics are beautiful. I just did the same thing only I stripped the wood with a citrus stripper. This definitely ended up being more labor intensive, but I’m so happy with the finished product. The previous owner had painted everything white and it wasn’t done properly so I felt this was the best option for us. We also installed wood floors and home depot was willing to mix a custom stain to match our wood sample. Our stairs were originally light oak with a varnish over coat. I’m not an oak fan so I was skeptical of staining but it came out beautifully because the stain was dark and with varnish sealer its easy to maintain. Very nice job on your project. Thank-you for sharing pics.

  20. Ray says

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for these pics and all this information. We are living in a great loft with really outdated colours, will be trying this out to make it look more modern, I will send you photos when we are done.
    Once again, thanks a lot!

  21. Louise says

    This is awesome. I started pulling the carpet from our staircase and it is nice wood underneath so I will try the stain first but I think I will end up doing exactly what you did. Thank you for sharing. I think it will take me longer to do though. If this project works out well, I am going to attempting painting my old piano. Louise

  22. MikeG says

    Hi Susan. I know that oil is being phased out, but maybe they still use it for floor and porch paint. Did you use latex or oil paint?

  23. Mary says

    Did you pull out the carpet yourself? If so, did you have to pull out the spindles and handing railing in order to pull out the carpet. The carpet on my stairs also wraps aound the edge and the spindles were anchored on top of the carpet (similar to yours). Looks like its going to be a huge undertaking, but I’m hyped and ready.

  24. says

    This is STUNNING! I have an ugly, all-white staircase (including the scuffed wooden treads) in our office building, which is 100+ years old. You’ve inspired me to give it a facelift!

  25. lynn says

    Stairs look gorgeous. I was thinking of doing this in my home but was wondering if the outer edge of your stairs were finished. I have about six stairs that jut out. The stairs are pressed wood and pretty rough on the ends where the carpet wraps around. what would you suggest.

    • says

      Ours had berber carpet that wrapped around yellow pine stairs. Not pretty, but came out in pretty good shape after the carpet was removed. We had to do a little spackling and sanding, but after painting it, you can’t tell.

  26. Helen says

    Ok, you’ve convinced me to paint my yakky pine staircase!!!!!

    I just have to convince himself now 😉

  27. Frank Black says

    I was contemplating doing this and decided for sure after seeing your results. Tedious but well worth it! Thanks for the inspiration!

  28. Renu says

    Hi! Your stairs look f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c! We just bought our new home and will be moving in sometime in May. What I really wanted was the dark floors with the dark stairs but realized after seeing many houses that I couldn`t keep rejecting houses due to the floor color. Finally, the house we ended up buying has brown oak floors with a reddish tint and my goal was to only paint the risers and the spindles white. But after seeing your project I`m now really tempted to do the steps and rail a dark color! My only fear is that it won`t match with our flooring. I would love to send you a photo of our stairs and get your feedback! Let me know!

    • says

      We used a paint, not a stain so it didn’t fight with our wood floor. Contrast is good! Send a pic of your project to susan (at) yourhomeonlybetter (dot) com! I’d love to see it!

  29. Freeda says

    Hi Susan,
    This is absolutely gorgeous!!!!!!I
    I’m in the process of doing my stairs, was wondering what color paint did you use on the walls..I dont know if you mentioned it already..Thank you!Great job…


  30. says

    I’m in the me too! group. My carpeted stairs are horrible. It would cost over $1800 to put “inexpensive” wood all the way up. I have dark, almost black stain on my kitchen cabinets and kitchen furniture that is visible from the stairs. This would look awesome, I think.

  31. Shelly says

    o.k. soooo our new home has laminate wood floor all upstairs including the stairway (treads are lamintae wood & risers are white, both my bathtooms and laundry are tile) LET ME TELL YOU “laminate wood floor has become my WORST NIGHTMARE” you can see stains and footprints within an hour of just cleaning the floor and stairs I am sooo frustrated ='(
    Also I dont believe the risers were ever finished and have scuff marks that im unable to remove (even with the magic eraser)
    **My question is…do you think I can paint my laminate wood floor with the porch and floor paint to avoid the footprints etc. rather than replacing the floor? AND also what type of paint should i use to finish my risers that will be easy to wipe clean the scuff marks?**

  32. Anita says

    I absolutely love what you did with your stairs, and I’m trying to redo mine now after being inspired!

    I have one question I was hoping you might know the answer to. My stairs are some kind of hardword – – they look like cherry, but I suspect they are stained oak? At any rate, I am wondering if the sanding step is necessary prior to painting? I am in the midst of ripping off the carpet, and the stairs underneath are in very good condition.

    Is the sanding to smooth out imperfections, or is it necessary to help the paint adhere?

  33. Jeff says

    Thank you so much for your post on this project.. Like many of the others I became inspired after reading it..

    My stairs are very similiar in design to yours. My home is newer, when I pulled the carpet, it was not hardwood on the treads, but some sort of pressed wood.. I would need to put a wood tread and riser on them.. I did some research and found that Lowes carries a pre-made, unfinished hardwood riser for a very reasonable price.. I plan on installing these products and then finishing them in a similar fashion to your project…

    I hope it looks as good as yours does…


    • Debra says

      I love the look of Susan’s stairs as well, but was really interested in your comment Jeff. I have the same situation – some kind of pressed wood or particle board on my steps, nothing really to paint, so I’d have to add a tread and a riser. Thanks very much for the info as I would have thought I’d have to spend a lot of money to do this. Also, I was wondering if you could paint the risers and treads before you installed, then just do touch ups where the nails and/or screws went.

  34. Jeff says

    An update,

    I have installed my risers, cutting and installing was very easy.. For the treads, it will take some time to prime the replacement risers and then paint them.. Installation (glue/nail) will be the easy part.

    Lastly, the touch up on your walls will take a little time as dry fitting the treads may scape the walls, requiring touch up after the stairs are fully installed..

    With the correct tools, re-doing the treads is not really that hard…


  35. says

    Ho-ho-ho…the pic of your hubby on the makeshift scaffolding made me laugh. My home is very similar to yours – except, we don’t have the plant ledge in the foyer. My husband’s answer to hanging the foyer light? Place the extension ladder on the TOP OF THE RAILING & RUN IT TO THE WINDOW LEDGE, then slide a piece of plywood onto it for the perfect platform. I was on my knees praying the whole time he was up there.
    I have been trying to convince him that we should paint our railings & steps like this. Thank you for the excellent before-&-afters I can show him. Looks fab!

  36. Jeff says

    One last post on this project,

    I finished the stairs ane plan on doing the rails next..

    I must tell you that the black treads show every spot of dust and dirt.. so I have allready been cleaning them on an almost daily basis.. somthing to think about if you are considering this project.

    Best Regards,


  37. Jeff says

    I painted the replacement treads (stairs) with a roller prior to installing them. I did three coats and some touch up after I nailed them into position.

    The stair paint is thinner than wall paint and rolls on very quickly. I did sand between coats..

    Best Regards,


  38. pookergirl says

    Sheesh why doesn’t anybody ever state whether they used oil based enamel or latex on stairs? I have been to so many websites today but nobody ever says if they used oil-based enamel or latex paint. My husband says you cannot use latex paint, you must use the oil based enamel on stairs or floors because otherwise it will scratch up and wear off too easily. Please email me and tell me which one you used and how well it is still holding up. Thank you!!!

    • says

      lol – just emailed a pic of the actual can of paint. I used Behr porch and floor enamel paint. I selected low luster over glossy so no one would slip and fall on the steps since we did not add a runner. Hope that helps!

  39. Erin says

    Do you have any close ups of the big rail pieces? We have a similar oak railing, but the spindles are white already…debating if it would look bad to leave the oak railing as is (and paint the treads and risers), but not sure I am ready to brave painting it. Any other close-ups you might have would be great to see! Thanks!

  40. Carin Griggs says

    You said light sanding? Did you sand down to bare wood? What about the grooves and intricate details in the wood? Did those need sanding too? Any tips? It seems like it would be a pain to sand grooves and ridges. BTW, it’s looks so pretty. 😀

  41. debbie dandy says

    HI! Looks great, We just finished the risers in white and bought stain the color of the hardwood floor. I was looking at the treads thinking heres some old paint on the edges of the treads thats really hard to get off. And I thought what about black treads. My dining room and living room have black furniture and my foyer does to. Then I saw your remodel and my minds made up. I’ll have to paint my railing and spindles, so did you sand or anything on them?

  42. says

    That is sooo awesome! Love it! We are planning to move and the carpet on the stairs didn’t look that great when we moved in. We need to do something to make them look nice before we put the house on the market but we wanted to do something inexpensive. This is perfect!

  43. says

    Love this! Susan I know this is a ton of work. We recently had some friends undertake a similar project. But from your before and after shots, it looks like it was totally worth it! Well done.

    • says

      Thanks – it truly was a labor of love. Of course, we just moved out of that house, so I guess someone else is now enjoying all my hard work! lol

  44. Maureen says

    Is the wood that was underneath your carpet real hardwood or is it the plain planks of whatever cheap stuff they use when building houses? We have carpet on our stairs, but it’s not considered “hardwood” underneath. I would love to do what you have done!

  45. Becca says

    I have been looking to do something exactly like this. Did the Stealth Jet from Behr turn the railing black or is it a gray? From the pictures it looks black. Also can you still see the grain through the paint?


  46. says

    I am in the process of doing a similar makeover. How did you remove the tackiness of the underlay that had stuck? I am scraping and hoping after a sand it will be fine.

    My stairs are el cheapo mdf, but hopefully paint will hide a multitude of sins. I have a lot of filling and sanding to do, due to the staples from the carpet. It has taken me 5 hours to do five stairs – if I was paying someone, it would be cheaper to remove the stairs and replace them!!!

  47. Chris says

    Our stairs are greatly in need of an update. Unfortunately they are particle board (underneath the worn carpet); any suggestions?

    • Elizabeth Pandelis says

      I have just finished painting mine and I am rapt in the result. My stairs are mdf so probably the same process would work. Pull up the carpet and spend days!!!! pulling out the staples. Fill all the holes and faults. Use a good quality 3 in 1 sealer/primer/undercoat. My friend a professional painter said that you are better off using all paint from the same manufacturer. Then start painting. He also suggested that using a good quality exterior gloss and semi gloss would be just as long lasting and with a greater range of colours than specialist floor paint. They haven’t been done long enough to judge wear, but if they start looking tired, I will just put another coat on. I did the risers, newel and spindles in white, and the bannister and treads in a soft moss green. Looks great, clean, open and fresh. I used a semi-gloss for the treads, to lessen the likelihood of slipping. As my cousin pointed out, if you don’t like it, you can always put in a stair runner or recarpet the stairs, but paint is certainly quicker and cheaper.

  48. Elizabeth Pandelis says

    I forgot to add, you need to sand between each coat. You also need to have a very steady hand for cutting in or use a good quality masking tape. I used 3M blue.

  49. Sarah P says

    Wow – very impressive. Painting my spindles is my weekend project but based on your timeline I think it’ll be a few weekends. At least I only have 58 spindles.

  50. Alison says

    Hi! Would you mind sharing how much this project cost?! Buying a home and considering doing this to our stairwell :)

    • says

      It cost a lot in hours, but not supplies. Just some sanding blocks, paint, tape and paint brushes, and a whole lot of patience!

  51. niki says

    Thank you for the inspiration and how to! This looks amazing! i hope it has held up well! I went and bought some paint and trying two different grays on our steps now. Nothing like starting a project on a sunday night! :)

    Thank you!!!

  52. Lori says

    It’s been a few years now and I’m wondering how well the paint is holding up? We ripped our nasty berber carpet off our stairs and trying to decide what to do now? Did you have any gaps between the wall and the treads?


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