How to paint indoor stairs

Updated February 21, 2017

Your indoor stairs take a beating and are often neglected. Take a look--the treads are probably worn at the edges and the paint dull and scuffed. Almost any type of flooring material can be painted if you use the correct product and procedure. Previously painted stairs may need some scraping and sanding, and unpainted stairs will probably have to be primed. Whether you have dingy concrete steps going to your basement or a soaring wood staircase in your foyer, you can rejuvenate and even decorate them with paint.

Scrub the stairs clean with warm water and detergent. Use a scrub brush to remove grime from gaps between the treads and the risers and along the edges of the stairs. The best paint or primer won’t adhere to a dirty surface, so cleaning is a critical first step.

Scrape away loose paint with a chisel-edged paint scraper. Use a hammer and nail-set to pound in nails that have popped above the surface.

Sand the surface of wood stairs, or previously-painted stairs, especially if the surface is glossy. An electric palm sander will make the process much faster if you have a lot of stairs. Use 80-grit sandpaper. You don’t have to sand concrete or masonry.

Caulk gaps between the stair treads and the risers (the vertical portion of each step) and along the edges where the stairs meet the wall or baseboard. Caulking results in a cleaner-looking job and eliminates those “dust catching” spaces. Use paintable silicone caulking.

Choose high-quality porch and floor paint for stairs. You have several choices, including latex (water-based, usually with a blend of acrylic or urethane hardeners), alkyd (oil-based) or epoxy. Latex paints are the easiest to use and dry quickly. Oil-based paint dries more slowly, has stronger fumes and is trickier to apply, but is very durable. Epoxy paints are the most durable, but expensive and probably overkill for residential stairs.

Prime the stairs with the appropriate primer—visit a good paint store and ask them for a recommendation. Some paints—particularly masonry paints—don’t require a primer but will require two coats of paint for a durable surface. Use a 3-inch brush. If you have a lot of stairs, a 6-inch roller will be faster on the flat areas. Allow the primer to dry according to the label instructions.

Paint the stairs with at least two coats of paint. Even if they look OK with just one coat, two coats will be more durable.


Use decorative painting to "dress up" the stairs. Choose several colours and paint stripes or other patterns. If you're creative, you can even do a faux finish to make your stairs look like marble or granite.


Open windows and use fans for ventilation to dissipate fumes, especially when using alkyd primer or paint.

Things You'll Need

  • Detergent
  • Scrub brush
  • Hammer
  • Nail-set
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Power sander
  • Caulk
  • 3-inch paintbrush
  • Roller (6-inch recommended)
  • Primer
  • Paint
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About the Author

Stevie Donald has been an online writer since 2004, producing articles for numerous websites and magazines. Her writing chops include three books on dog care and training, one of which won a prestigious national award in 2003. Donald has also been a painting contractor since 1979, painting interiors and exteriors.