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How to paint staircase banisters

Updated November 22, 2016

If you want to give new life to an old staircase, often just putting a new paint job over the banister can do the trick. No matter if the wood of the banister is bare, stained, or already painted, the time it takes to paint staircase banisters is worth the effort in the results you will see. Plan to take a weekend to work on your project to allow enough time for cleaning, painting, and allowing the paint to fully dry.

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  1. Mix half a teaspoon of mild washing up liquid with 2.25 litres (1/2 gallon) of warm water. Use a sponge to wipe down the banister and each individual spindle. Don't get the banister overly wet as you work, but use enough soapy water to clean any gummy or dirty areas. Wipe down the railing with a soft cloth to dry away excess water.

  2. Apply masking tape around the base of each spindle, as well as anywhere where the banister contacts your walls or floors. Spread a dust sheet or newspaper out around the floor and stairs to protect from drips.

  3. Use primer on the banister if the wood is bare and raw. If there is existing paint or wood stain on the railings, then no primer will be needed. Allow the primer to dry for two to four hours, or longer if recommended by the manufacturer. If any existing paint is peeling away or chipping, sand down with sandpaper until smooth before painting.

  4. Apply a gloss or semigloss paint in the colour of your choice in even strokes along the railing of the banister from the top of the railing toward the bottom. Allow the paint to dry for two hours or longer before applying a second coat. Allow the second coat to dry overnight.

  5. Paint each spindle of the banister starting at the top of the stairs and working downward. Brush the paint from the top of a spindle toward the bottom evenly on all sides. Let the first coat dry for two hours or more before applying a second coat. Let the spindles dry overnight.

  6. Remove your dust sheets and painter's tape after all of the paint is completely dry to avoid kicking up dust around wet paint.

  7. Tip

    To create a decorative two-color banister, apply masking tape to the underside of the railing to protect it from being painted with the spindle colour. Use a third coat of paint on the handrail of the banister if the staircase is in a high traffic area where multiple people will be using it frequently.


    Use caution working on the stairs to avoid falls, especially with dust sheets or newspaper put down.

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Things You'll Need

  • Mild washing up liquid
  • Bucket of water
  • Sponge
  • Soft cloth
  • Masking tape
  • Dust sheet or newspaper
  • Paint primer, if needed
  • Paint brush
  • Gloss or semigloss paint

About the Author

Amma Marfo
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