Painting Your Hardwood Stair Risers

Distinctive hardwood stairs say a lot about a property’s quality and painted risers can make a lasting impression and actually emphasize the quality and natural beauty of the stairs better than solid hardwood risers. Homeowners and business owners primarily choose to paint risers for aesthetic reasons but regardless of the type of wood used for the stair, the painting process remains the same.

Respiratory and Other Safety Precautions

Carefully select the type pant to be used on the riser. Look for paints with low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) content. To ensure safety of the worker and family members, insist that workers wear protective respiratory equipment such as a painting respirator.


The purpose of sanding the risers is to remove any existing paint or stain and prep the risers to receive the new paint. Painting will roughen the riser. When finished, use a good primer to fill and bind the small but noticeable irregularities in the riser. New paint can make minor flaws more apparent so this is an important step.

After sanding, wipe each riser with a damp cloth to thoroughly remove dust and/or any residue. Because applying the primer to a damp surface may trap moisture that might appear later, be sure the surface is clean and dry before applying the primer.

Protecting the Steps

Many do-it-yourselfers trust old newspaper to cover the step for protection of the hardwood finish. We do not want to drip paint on our hardwood step, the very item our white riser is designed to highlight. Plastic sheeting is another popular protective cover but whatever you use, make sure it extends from the base of the riser to the step’s nose. When working on the steps, tread lightly to ensure the covering does not rip.

Apply the Primer

Now that the steps are covered, prepare to apply the primer by placing a baby gate or similar barrier at the top and bottom of the stairwell. Ideally, these will eliminate children, pets and bystanders from crossing into the work area. When applying the primer, use natural bristle brushes and be sure to deploy your respirator. Each primer stroke should be in the same direction as the wood grain. After meticulously applying the first coat, allow it to completely dry prior to commencing the second coat. Along the way, it is a good idea to inspect your protective covering.

Paint the Riser

Use a foam brush to apply your high quality white paint of choice. Plan your painting so that you end on the stair level where you wish to spend time until coats dry. In most cases, white risers will require a second finished coat, which should not be applied until the first is completely dry. Check your work being careful not to rub against wet paint.

Touchup Details and Cleanup

After your paint has dried, check each riser. Make any necessary repairs. Allow repairs to dry before beginning your cleanup and final detail work. Carefully remove tape and then the protective layer. Use a small detail brush to touch up any surprises after the protective layer is removed. Voila! You have a spectacular, better than new stairwell.

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