How to Paint or Restain Stair Railings

Applying a fresh coat of paint or stain to your stair railings can give them a fresh new look and help them to last longer. If you have been looking for an easy and quick way to do this, you've come to the right place. We researched how to apply a new coat of paint or stain your stair railings using the most efficient method.

Here are the basic steps to paint or stain your stair railings:

  1. Wipe down the railings
  2. Sand the railings
  3. Prime the railings
  4. Sand the railings
  5. Apply masking tape
  6. Apply an additional coat of primer
  7. Paint the railings and apply a topcoat

Knowing how to complete each of these steps is essential to a perfect stair railing. Keep reading for all the details!

A wooden staircase with a wooden stair railing, How to Paint or Restain Stair Railings

How To Paint Stair Railings

A wooden staircase of a house

The best way to paint or stain your stair railings is to first detail how you'll go about tackling each section. Not only will this help you be more efficient, but it can also save you a lot of leg work. In this section, we will cover how to paint your stair railings, which can also be applied to paint stains as well (and we'll include notes where different methods will be used for stains.)

Tools you'll need:

  • Wood primer
  • Wood paint
  • Wood stain
  • Masking tape
  • Dish soap
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Drop cloths
  • Dishwashing liquid (or other mild soap)
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Angled paintbrush
  • Straight-edge paintbrush

Step 1. Wipe down the railings

Before applying a new coating to your railings, they must be cleaned off first. Over time, railings can become grimy from dust, debris, and oils left behind by constant touching. The easiest way to clean your railings without making a mess is to first lay down a few drop cloths on both sides of it. Next, use an all-purpose cleaner or everyday dish soap to create a soapy water mix and add it to a 5-gallon bucket. You can also pour the solution into a spray bottle. Then use a clean microfiber cloth to wipe down the railing's spindles and banisters.

Pro tip: Clean it well. Remember, the better you prep your surface, the better your finished results will be. Be sure to remove any dirt or grime that may be on the stair railings, as it can pile into clumps when you begin to apply your paint or stain.

Check out this drop cloth set on Amazon.

Step 2. Sand the railings

Next, take your sanding paper or a fine-grit sanding block and sand down the banisters and the spindles on the railing. Typically, a 120 or 180-grit block will work. But if you are applying a stain to the railing you may want to use a rougher sanding block such as an 80-grit block to remove any previous stains. If you're painting the railings, the sanding will help to remove any chipped or peeled layers of paint from them.

Pro tip: When sanding the stair railings, be sure to only do a light sanding (unless you've used a wood filler).

Check out this sanding block set on Amazon.

Apply masking tape

Once you have sanded the railings, use a damp cloth to wipe them down and remove any dust that has accumulated from the sanding. Next, apply your masking tape to railings making sure to wedge it between the area where the bottom of the spindles banisters meet the top of the stair tread. Also, make sure that the areas are dry after wiping them with a damp cloth before you apply the masking tape or it will not stick.

Step 3. Prime the railings

Now that your masking tape is in place, use your angled paintbrush to paint each spindle starting from the top of the stairs and working your way to the bottom. Be sure to always wipe the brush on the side of the paint tray, to minimize the amount of paint applied to the spindle. This will reduce dripping. If you plan on applying a second coat of primer, sand down the railings after the first coat using fine-grit sandpaper (400+). This will help to remove any paint bubbles from the surface of the railings.

If you are applying a stain, you will skip this step.

Step 5. Apply an additional coat of primer

Once the primer has dried, apply another coat to the spindles and the banisters making sure to use short brush strokes. After, lightly sand the surfaces again to remove any paint bubbles from the primer.

Check out this primer on Amazon!

Step 6. Paint the railings

After the primer has dried, head to the top of the stairs and begin painting the railings, starting with the spindles first. After you have painted all of the spindles, paint the banisters. Be sure to use long straight brush strokes when painting the spindles and banisters to help minimize paintbrush strokes. Once the first coat of paint has dried, applied an additional coat or a top coat to the banisters and spindles.

Pro tip: It's always best to paint spindles first and the banister last so that you won't have to bend over to paint the other side to the banister.

If you are applying a stain, you'll follow the same steps. However, you'll want to make sure to apply a small amount of stain to the brush and use consistent brush strokes to ensure an even finish without blotchy areas.

Pro tip: When applying the stain, be sure to watch the amount of stain that gathers on the brush (only dip it in an inch or two), as it will drip easily, causing unwanted stain spots on the stair railing.

Check out this wood stain on Amazon.

Pro tip: It's always a good idea to label your paint or stain cans with the date that they were applied in the area of the house in which they were applied. It'll make it easier when you need to use them for touch-ups.

Can you paint over stained railings?

Yes, you can definitely paint over railings that have been stained previously. However, before doing so it is strongly recommended that you either sand the surface or use a liquid sander. If you don't, your new coats of paint will not have the best adhesion to the railings, and you will find that it will begin to peel fairly quickly.

You can also rough up the surface a bit and using an electric sander or a sanding block. Next, you need to apply a primer or a stain sealer such as Kilz (which will help to avoid any bleed through). The main thing you want to prevent is the peeling of the new paint coats and any blotchy areas where the stain may seep through the paint.

Check out this electric sander on Amazon!

Do I need to seal stain?

A man painting a wooden wall with varnish

Most hardwood floors require some type of sealer to help prevent damage caused by daily foot traffic, spills/drops, and changes in humidity. It's common to use one coat of sealer and at least two coats of protective finish (such as polyurethane, which is the default finish on most home projects) on hardwood surfaces such as floors and railings.

Check out this topcoat on Amazon.

How do you paint spindles without brush marks?

Use a paint sprayer

Using a paint sprayer is probably the best way to avoid brush marks. Paint sprayers work relatively easily. However, you will need to first thin the paint before adding it to the sprayer. If not, the paint will clog up the sprayer gun, causing it to malfunction. Not only can a paint sprayer help you prevent brush strokes, but it's also a much easier and faster method to paint the railings, which includes a lot of bending and reaching.

Check out this paint sprayer on Amazon!

Consider a different type of paint sheen

You can also try using different paint sheens if you want to help minimize brush strokes. Milk and chalk paints are great for this type of job. These paints are thick and when applied, they offer a smooth and even finish with minimal brush marks--which also means they work great for novice painters. The only downside to these paints is that they are typically more expensive than latex and oil-based paints. There are also fewer brands available that offer these types of paints.


Use different painting techniques

Here are a few quick tips for using the best techniques to minimize brush strokes:

  • Always paint in one direction, and be sure not to "stretch" the paint on the paintbrush.
  • When applying your first coat of paint, use short brush strokes, and when applying your final count use straight long strokes.
  • Don't press too hard when applying the paint. You'll know your present too hard if fibers on the brush began to fan out.

Wrapping Things Up

We hope that this post has provided you with an efficient and simple way to paint you are stair railings. Before you go, be sure to check out our other posts:

Enamel Vs. Latex Paint: What Are The Differences?

How To Remove Paint From Tiles [4 EASY Ways]

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