How To Paint Stair Spindles Without Removing Them?

Freshly painted banisters and stair spindles may just give your home the facelift that it needs, especially if they haven't been painted in several years. But what is the most efficient method to paint them without actually removing them? We've done a bit of digging to find the answer to this question for you.

Painting your stair spindles without removing them isn't that complicated. Here is an outline of the steps involved in this project:

  1. Clean the spindles and remove all dirt.
  2. Sand the spindles (manually or with a sander).
  3. Prime the spindles.
  4. Sand the spindles (again).
  5. Apply the second coat of primer.
  6. Paint the spindles.
  7. Paint the banister (optional).
  8. Apply a topcoat (optional).

Now, let's take a closer look at each step. While you're here for the spindles, we'll also recommend painting versus staining options for the stair banister so you won't miss any details of this DIY project to refresh your staircase.

A stair spindle colored with a dark brown varnish finish, How To Paint Stair Spindles Without Removing Them?

How To Paint Stair Spindles Without Removing Them

Painting the spindles can be a fairly lengthy task, depending on your stairwell's length, so be prepared to spend a day or two on this project.

Tools you'll need:

  • Indoor paint primer
  • Semi-gloss white paint
  • High gloss black paint and primer
  • Dishwashing liquid (or other mild soap)
  • 180-grit or 220-grit sandpaper block (or electric sanding pen)
  • Drop cloth
  • Angled and straight-edge paintbrush
  • Masking tape

Step 1. Clean the spindles and remove all dirt

A staircase with a brown carpet attachment and a beige colored stair spindle

Place your drop cloth around the sides of the railing so that it covers the floor and the steps. Next, take a bucket or use your sink and create a solution of soapy water. Take a clean cloth, dip it in the solution, and use it to clean off your spindles.

Be sure to remove any buildup of debris from each banister. This will help your primer to adhere to the surface properly. If needed, use a small toothbrush to get in between the small crevices of spindles; this way, you won't have to do extra work when you start your sanding.

Pro tip: If your spindles are a different color from your banister, be sure to place masking tape at the bottom of the banister where it meets the top of the spindles so that it doesn't accidentally get painted.

Check out this drop cloth set on Amazon.

Step 2. Sand the spindles (manually or with a sander)

Take your sanding 80-grit block and sand down the spindles to remove the previous paint. If you are planning to paint over the paint, use a 180-grit or 120-grit block. It's important to use angled sanding blocks as you will need to get inside the spindles' small corners easily. After you have sanded the spindles down, use a tack cloth or a dampened washcloth to wipe away any dust.

Pro tip: The key to a long-lasting paint job is performing great prep work on the wood before you paint. The better you sand and wash your spindles, the better your paint and primer will stick to the surface, and the less likely it will be to chip.

Check out this sanding block set on Amazon.

Step 3. Prime the spindles

Take an angled paintbrush, and starting at the top of the stairs, paint each spindle from top to bottom. Use short brush strokes to make sure that you cover the entire area. When dipping your brush in the tray, be sure to only dip it about an inch into the paint and then wipe it on the side to remove any access paint. This will help you to avoid any excess dripping when painting the spindles. You should be redipping the paintbrush frequently as you go down the steps.

Check out this primer on Amazon.

Step 4. Sand the spindles (again)

After you've primed all of the spindles, allow them to dry for the appropriate drying time, and then take your 220-grit sandpaper to wipe them down. After sanding, take either a damp cloth or tack cloth and wipe down the spindles once again.

Pro tip: Be sure to only lightly sand the spindles, as the purpose is to remove any paint drips or protrusions, and not to remove the primer.

Step 5. Apply the second coat of primer

Next, apply a second coat of primer and follow the steps again.

Pro tip: If you are painting the banister along with the spindles, it's best always to paint it last so that you won't constantly have to lean over or hold on to the rail as you prime/paint the other sides of the banister (this can be especially helpful if you suffer from back issues).

Step 6. Paint the spindles

Once the second coat of primer has dried, start at the top of the stairs again, painting each spindle from top to bottom. Use careful and short brush strokes to make sure that the paint dries evenly. Again, make sure to only lightly dip your paintbrush in the paint tray not to cause any heavy dripping as you apply it to each spindle. After the paint has dried, apply your second coat.

Pro tip: Even with slightly dipping the brush and wiping access off on the side of the tray, you may still find that the paint will drip. The best way to combat this is to paint using short vertical brush strokes and quickly catching the paint before it trips.

Check out this interior latex paint on Amazon. 

Step 7. Paint the banister (optional)

A modern house with a carpet staircase and a stair spindle colored with a combination of white and brown

If you are painting the banister as well, you'll want to follow up every step used for your spindles and applied to your banister. For example, after priming your spindles, be sure to prime the banister afterward (and the same with applying the paint).

Pro tip: Be sure to take a permanent marker and label your paint cans to know which paint was used on each area of the house. This way, you won't have to guess when it's time for touch-ups or repainting.

Step 8. Apply a topcoat (optional)

After the paint has dried, apply your topcoat to the spindles (and banister). It's best to use a couple of coats to ensure longevity. Wood topcoats help protect the paint's finish and usually dry within minutes. And you're done!

Check out this topcoat on Amazon.

Do I have to sand spindles before painting?

Most painters would agree that sanding the spindles before painting them is the best way to start a paint job. Sanding allows you to smooth out the wood's surface, making for an easier application and adherence of the primer and paint.

If you don't want to deal with the manual labor involved with using a sanding block, you can always use a pen electric sander. These sanders are different than your traditional flat-top sanders, as they contain a small pen-shaped spinner on the tip that rotates. They work best for sanding between small areas, crevices, and gaps in woodwork--which makes them ideal for spindles and banisters. Pen electric sanders can significantly speed up your sanding process and save you a bit of elbow grease as well.

If you don't want to purchase an electric pen sander, you can usually rent one from your nearest home improvement store at a relatively low price.

Check out this electric pen sander on Amazon. 

Are balusters and spindles the same thing?

The term "spindles" and "balusters" are often used interchangeably, and they are, in fact, the same thing--for the most part. You'll hear the word "spindle" more often, however. Spindles are vertical wood posts that are supported by a bottom rail. Whereas balusters typically rest directly on top of staircase footing (instead of a horizontal railing on the bottom).

What is the best paint to use on stair banisters?

One of the most commonly used paint brands for interior wood is Benjamin Moore's primer and paint combo. It's a latex paint known to last for several years without chipping and has minimal chemical emissions.

It's important to keep in mind that stair railings will usually be in high-traffic areas. This means that they will often be leaned on, touched, and if you have small children, possibly used as a jungle gym. So to say, using high-quality, durable paint (such as high-glosses and satins) can be very beneficial if you want to avoid having to repaint or clean them often (the exception being that you use a topcoat such as polyurethane to protect the paint).

Is it better to paint or stain a stair banister?

It really depends on your preference; however, there are a couple of factors that you can consider when trying to determine whether or not you should use paint or stain on the banister. Let's discuss them.

The Amount of Traffic

Painted banisters and spindles tend to have a longer lifespan than those with only stained coats. That being stated, if you are planning to use paint in these areas, it's best to go with high gloss or satin sheens to minimize scuff marks and damage from everyday wear and tear. If the banister is in an area of the home that will not be frequented as often, a quality stain may suffice.

Your Home's Design

Typically, you'll find that older homes may look better with stained stairs as opposed to painted stairs. However, it really is a matter of preference. You can also combine stain with paint by using them in various areas on the stairs (for example, only staining the spindles and painting the banisters).

It's important to consider the elements of your home and the overall look of your stairs. For example, dark stains tend to work better at hiding imperfections in high-traffic areas.

Wrapping Things Up

Painting your spindles may seem a bit complicated at first, but it's actually a pretty simple project it just takes a bit of planning. Just remember to carefully apply your masking tape so that you don't accidentally paint the stairs--this can be tough to remove if they're carpeted!

Painting other areas of your home? If so, be sure to check out our other posts before you go:

How To Paint A Coffered Ceiling? [10 Steps]

Should Ceiling Paint Match Trim? [Design Options Explored]

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