Are you looking for a budget-friendly way to give your home an update? Paint the stair railing. This project takes some time and prep, but the payoff is worth it when you see that fresh, new look.


Here’s the list of supplies you’ll need:

  • Painter’s tape
  • Plastic sheets or drop cloths
  • Wood cleaners, like liquid TSP or mild soap
  • Hand sander (for the flat parts of the railing)
  • Sandpaper, 100 grit and 220 grit, for the spindles and curves
  • Tack cloth
  • 2-inch paintbrush or small sponge brushes
  • A primer that will cover stain and varnish
  • Latex paint
  • Protective finish like Polycrylic (won’t yellow like polyurethane)

Step 1: Prep the Railing

Whether you have metal stair railing or wood, prepping is the bulk of the work – and it guarantees your project will succeed. While it’s time-consuming and detail-oriented, the final product will make the time upfront worthwhile.

  1. Lay the drop cloths on the floor around the railing to catch splatters.
  2. Tape where the spindles meet the floor and the rail meets the wall. If you’re only painting part of the structure (for example, if you’re painting the rail but leaving the spindles their current color), tape where the spindles meet the rail.
  3. Clean the rail. Stair rails can carry a sticky coat of dust and dirt. Clean them with a cleaner like liquid TSP. If they’re not very dirty, mild soap and water will do. Let them dry before moving on to step 4.
  4. Sand, using 100-grit paper, to remove the top layer of paint or gloss. Wipe with the tack cloth, then sand with 220-grit paper. You want the surface to be smooth, with the gloss from the previous paint or stain removed. This will help the paint adhere.
  5. Wipe again with a tack cloth to remove any sandpaper residue.

Step 2: Apply Your Brush to the Rails

In this section, you’ll use your brush to apply coatings from primer to finish.

  1. Paint on the primer. (See below about what order to paint the rails and spindles in.)
  2. When the primer is dry, apply two coats of latex paint, letting them dry as recommended on the can in between coats.
  3. Once the paint dries (we recommend waiting 48 hours), apply a protective finish to prevent chips and fading.

What Order Should You Paint In?

You may be wondering whether you should paint your stair railing in a certain order with all those pieces. Our pros recommend going from the top down:

  1. First, the top and sides of the top rail.
  2. Then the bottom of the top rail.
  3. Next, one side of the spindles.
  4. And then the other side of the spindles.
  5. Finally, paint the bottom rail (if you have one)

And if you’re wondering about other rails, like chair rails, you can apply the same technique in steps 1 and 2. That project is less labor-intensive but still requires good prep techniques to make sure paint adheres and doesn’t get on surfaces around it.

Paintzen offers interior house painting services, including painting stair railings. We also have a unique Color Tool that allows you to order free 8” x 8” paint swatches, browse trending colors and get a free online estimate.

Kelley Rebori

Kelley Rebori has written for national brands like Paintzen, HGTV, the DIY Network and Trulia for more than a decade. She loves home renovation projects, chocolate icing and small poodles. She and her husband split the year between their homes in Tennessee and Italy.