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How-To Prep and Paint Stained Stairs White

Are you looking for ideas on updating your staircase and painting the stained risers white? Here’s you guide prepping, choosing the right paint, and painting stained stair risers.

Painted staircase before and after photos are the best! A fresh coat of paint to update the risers makes staircases look fresh and new highlighting architectural details.

After living with my all wood staircase for 9 years, it was time to prep and paint the stained risers white for a whole new look.

Learn how-to prep (and how NOT to prep) stair risers for the most durable paint finish that will last!

Avoid This Disaster When Painting Stair Risers

DO NOT USE a water based de-glosser / liquid sandpaper! I repeat do not use a water based de-glosser / liquid sandpaper to prep your stairs or stair risers for painting.

Why? Well, stairs when stained are coated with MANY layers of polyurethane which make them durable.

dont use a liquid sander or deglosser when painting stair risers

Paint will NOT ADHERE TO POLYURETHANE because it is slick and will peel right off!

In order to create a surface the paint can adhere to, it must be “roughed up” by chemical or physical means.

Technically, a de-glosser should be able to handle this task. But what I found is the water-based version just didn’t remove enough of the polyurethane.


A DISASTER ensued, where all of my hard work and paint peeled off the minute I removed the tape. This is the FIRST time I tried this method of preparation.

Yes, even DIY bloggers make mistakes and have Pinterest fails like everyone else 🙂

I am now here to tell you I wished I would have used my normal process and didn’t try the easy prep method of liquid sandpaper on my stairs.


Now we are going to talk about how to recover if your paint peels off the risers and how to PROPERLY prepare your risers for painting!

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Learn How to Properly Prep Stained Stair Risers for Painting

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Before and After Stair Riser Makeover with White Paint

Here is what my stairs looked like originally.

After making over my foyer and powder room during the One Room Challenge, the stained stairs just looked off.


They were hunk of brown in a sea of whites and blues.


The easiest and cheapest update was to paint the stained risers white!

Here is what they look like now…and I spent about $100 including tools.


I love how the new white paint on the risers cuts the red in the stain and improves the look of the tan paint at the top of the stairs.


The new white stair risers even look better with the rest of the foyer including the newly painted credenza. 


Mick fits right into the white stairs. Now you can see how truly little he is 🙂


As you enter my home everything looks so much brighter, new and fresh with all of the brown toned down.

Shop the Look

Sorry the artwork on the staircase is no longer available. 

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How to paint wood stained stair risers white before and after staircase makeover

Like the before and after? Now it’s time to tackle painting the stained stair risers in your home!

Best Paint Type and Sheen for Stairs

Many people ask me for what I recommend for paint options and sheen types by application. Stairs are really straight forward.

You want the most durable surface that can be cleaned.

Obviously with all of the foot traffic and vacuuming the risers will likely get scuffed at some point.

Click Here for a Comprehensive Interior Paint Sheen Guide 

The best and most widely used paint for stairs is a Semi-Gloss paint. 


Semi-gloss paints dry to a harder finish and have enough of a gloss they can be easily cleaned.

Then I MUST recommend Valspar Signature Paint in Semi-Gloss at Lowe’s, if you are painting the risers white.

I used to work at Valspar and know that this paint has the MOST titanium dioxide, which is what makes the paint white. 

It covers better than any other white paint I’ve tried. Fewer coats is better, right!

Prep and Paint Supplies for Stairs

First let’s talk about supplies, so you are ready to jump right into this project.

Invest in a battery operated sander – you won’t regret it!

This is the one that I used during this project that saved the day. It pulls much of the dust in and creates less of a mess.

  1. Battery operated sander
  2. Portable vacuum with brush attachment
  3. Frog tape – it really is the best!
  4. Paper towels
  5. Medium grit sandpaper
  6. Baby wipes
  7. Small angled brush
  8. Foam rollers
  9. Craft brush
  10. Small paint tray
  11. 1 Qt. Valspar Bonding Primer (available at Lowe’s)
  12. 1 Qt. Valspar Signature Paint Semi-Gloss – I used Blanched Pine 7005-15  (available at Lowe’s)

I know it seems like a lot, but most of these you likely have and to buy are not very expensive!

Want to know more about bonding primer? When Bonding Primer is a Must Before Painting

How-to Prep and Paint Stained Wood Stair Risers White

Now onto the tutorial! In one day, you can transform your staircase. 


How-to Prep and Paint Stained Stair Risers

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 2 hours
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium
Estimated Cost: $100
Are you looking for ideas on updating your staircase and painting the stained risers white? Here's your guide to prepping, choosing the right paint, and painting stained stair risers.


  • 1 Qt. Valspar Bonding Primer from Lowe's
  • 1 Qt. Valspar Signature Semi-Gloss Paint from Lowe's
  • Frog Tape
  • Paper Towels
  • Baby Wipes
  • Medium Grit Sandpaper


  • Battery operated sander
  • Portable vacuum with brush attachment
  • Small angled brush
  • Foam rollers
  • Craft brush
  • Small paint tray


  1. Tape off tread just below the bottom of the riser. I had a nice edge to paint under, but if you don't tape off the top of the riser too. Make sure tape is STRAIGHT and secure to ensure a nice clean line. tape-stair-treads-with-frog-tape-to-create-a-clean-edge
  2. Using a battery operated sander and medium to coarse grit paper, sand down the polyurethane or existing paint so a rough surface is present on the ENTIRE riser. It should look dull. sand-off-polyurethane-from-stair-risers-with-medium-to-coarse-sand-paper
  3. If you are sanding off chipped or existing paint, FEEL with your hand to make sure the surface is smooth between the paint and the wood.stand-down-any-remaining-paint
  4. In areas you can't reach with the sander, use medium grit sand paper to rough up those areas.hand-sand-any-areas-on-the-risers-you-can't-reach-with-the-sander
  5. Vacuum ALL sanding dust with a brush attachment.vacuum-up-all-sanding-dust-throughlyThen wipe down each riser with a damp paper towel to remove any remaining sanding dust.wipe-risers-with-a-damp-paper-towel-to-remove-any-debris
  6. Fill the tray with bonding primer. Working top to bottom of staircase use a brush to apply primer around edges or fully paint the riser. using-a-brush-prime-and-paint-edges-of-stair-risers If just painting edges with brush, roll on remaining areas. using-a-foam-roller-apply-paint-or-primer
  7. While primer is still wet, pull up tape at a 90 degree angle. first-prime-stair-treads-using-a-brush-and-foam-rollerIt is a good test to see if the primer will adhere and prevent pulling up paint later!Remove-tape-while-primer-is-still-wet
  8. Let primer dry a minimum of 1 HOUR. Carefully, tape the treads again matching the primer line.
  9. Working top to bottom of staircase apply white paint as you did the primer using a small tray, brush, and roller.using-a-foam-roller-apply-paint-or-primer.
  10. Apply 2 to 3 coats to completely cover the primer. I found that once I completed the bottom step, I was safe to start painting the top step again.
  11. Pull up tape and use a baby wipe and your fingernail to clean edges, so they are straight.use-baby-wipes-to-clean-up-paint-spills-and-scuffs Baby wipes can be used to wipe up any drops of paint or errors.
  12. Use a craft brush to touch up any areas that may have been damaged when removing tape to get a straight line. touch-up-any-areas-with-a-craft-brush
  13. Let paint dry overnight, before any real foot traffic. Paint will cure to it's full hardness in 1 week, so BE GENTLE!


  • Make sure to work top to bottom of the staircase to avoid touching newly painted areas.
  • It is CRITICAL to make sure all sanding dust is removed, before priming. Dust won't allow the primer to adhere properly creating a weak spot, where the paint could chip.
  • If you feel more comfortable using a tack cloth to remove dust, that is an option too. I've had success with just a damp set of paper towels.
  • You may want to use a utility knife and run it along the edge of the tape and paint before removing to ensure a clean edge and no paint is peeled off with the tape.
  • IMMEDIATELY clean any errors or areas that drip of bonding primer, since once it dries it will be adhered!

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Are you up for painting your stairs? I’d say this wasn’t the easiest project, but with proper prep it goes really smoothly!

In reality, you are painting a very small area so you can tackle this stair makeover in one day.

If you want more paint project tutorials and helpful hints, click on my paint resource guide.

As my FREE GIFT to you, with email sign-up a detailed paint sheen project guide! 

You will know the right sheen for every project…


Please consider following me on Pinterest and Instagram for daily inspiration.

Until next time…

Porch Daydreamer


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  1. I am about to remove carpet from my stairs, any advice about the best product for filling small holes that will be left by tack strip? Also, the trim pieces on the side of the stairs are all matching the steps, which are 1980’s oak. I am leaving the treads alone, but keep debating about painting only the risers or all of the side trim also.

    1. Hi, Rose! I address this in the post and show a picture of how if you let the paint and primer dry it can pull up all of the layers ruining the job. You should always pull up tape when the product is wet.

  2. Your stairs look great! How well do the risers have to be sanded? I bought the same sander you used and it seems a little weak. It has definitely taken off the shine (poly), and feels smooth but doesn’t necessarily look perfect as far as being completely even in color. Just want to know if I should try to re sand again or try the primer. Your stairs look great!!

  3. Thank you for the easy to follow tutorial. My stair risers are not stained. Last year when we had hickory floors/stairs installed we went with white risers. They were installed white, but never painted by us or the painters. Do I need to use the bonding primer on these?

    1. Hey, Berta! If they are white now, that may mean they are pre-primed? You wouldn’t need to invest in bonding primer, but a general purpose primer as a safety net. If they are pre-primed then you should just be able to paint. The way to tell is if the finish is flat or matte then you can paint right over that finish without issue.

  4. This tutorial was amazing! I just finished my stairs and they came out beautiful! They look professionally done. Thank you for giving me the courage to try this on my own. 🙂

  5. I am sorry, but I laughed out loud when I read this. I can relate so well to your frustration. Great tutorial and it’s always nice to know what doesn’t work! Now, how will you keep scuff marks off the nice white stairs? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Cecilia, laugh away! If I didn’t laugh I would have cried 🙂 Seriously, I don’t want anyone to have the same trouble I had and am happy to put my mistakes out there to help too! My plan for scuffs is to touch up the paint every so often. BABY WIPES are my friend and I’ll use those to remove the surface scuffs on an everyday basis.

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