Nash Painting | How To Paint a Staircase Railing

How To Paint a Staircase Railing

calander Jan 31 , 2023 user-icon Nash Painting

There are VERY few surfaces in your home that experience as much wear, tear, and traffic as your staircase. Without exaggerating, we can safely say that they take a true-blue beating.

The bad news might be that your surfaces get scuffed and damaged quickly, but the good news is that this means when it’s time to paint or refinish your stairway, the transformation will be drastic and super satisfying.

You just need to do the job right.

As a Nashville painting company, we really try to drive home the value of not skipping any steps or cutting any corners during a house painting project. Our clients know and have seen firsthand just how committed we are to the details. And now we want to pass that detail-driven approach on to you. Because if you try to just speed this process up and get to the finish line, it simply won’t last. It might look good for a month or two, but you’ll be disappointed.

We should also add that many of these steps apply to refinishing and staining your staircase railing too, not just painting. Alrighty… Ready to dig in? Let’s take a closer look.

How to prepare your railing for painting

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Drop cloths (we recommend fabric, not plastic)

  • Painter’s tape (and lots of it)

  • Degreaser

  • Fine sandpaper (you can use an orbital sander rather than work by hand, if you’d like)

  • Tack cloth

  • Primer

  • Paint

  • Brush

  • Short nap roller

Prepping the workspace
Working clean will make your life easier and help avoid any messy surprises or mistakes. Take the time to spread out your drop cloths and tape them in place.

Cleaning the railing surface and spindles
Before anything else, we need a deep clean. Dust and wipe down the surfaces you’ll be painting, then wipe them down again with a degreaser. No matter how clean they look, there’s still residue that needs to be thoroughly removed.

Next up you’ll need to lightly sand the surfaces. A 220 grit sandpaper should do. Again, the purpose here is not to strip the old finish completely or reshape the wood, but to scuff the surface and make it more receptive to your primer and paint. And, “more receptive” translates into better grip and adhesion, which in turn translates into better performance overall.

After you finish sanding, run the tack cloth over everything to make sure there’s no dust left behind.

Prime time
With your trusty brush and roller, start applying the first coat of primer. The goal here is to continue building the strong foundation for your topcoats of paint, add durability, plus cover the existing finish more thoroughly and easily. Primer is a specialized product designed to ease transitions and secure your paint - both are important when you’re painting such a high-traffic surface.

And last but not least, it’s time to paint. Be SURE that your primer is thoroughly dry before painting, and let each coat dry as well. Not tacky to the touch, but completely dry. Otherwise you run the risk of mudding the paint and leaving brush marks.

Tips for painting a staircase railing and spindles

Keep these pro tips in mind as you work:

  • Don’t apply the paint too lightly. Do you want pooling and dripping? No, definitely not. But you also don’t want to be too stingy in the name of caution. Load your brush about ⅔’s of the way up your bristles, wipe the excess off on the side of your container, and then apply smooth, confident strokes.

  • Use a roller with a short nap. As a reminder, the “nap” doesn’t refer to a quick snooze, but rather to the length and texture of the material on the roller cover itself. If you use a longer nap on a surface like a wooden railing, you’ll get an ugly texture across your paint, while a short nap will roll out smoothly since it’s made for smooth, untextured surfaces.

  • Sand between coats of paint. It can feel a little scary, but sanding with very fine paper between coats of paint is a real pro move. Just be certain that the paint is 100% dry!

Choosing the best paint for a wooden railing and spindles

In a nutshell? Choose the highest quality paint you can afford. You can’t afford not to! The bargain brands at your big box store might look enticing, and some even guarantee one-coat coverage (don’t believe it!), but you can’t skimp on quality when you’re painting such a hardworking surface.

Keep in mind too that you need a paint that will cure to a very hard finish. That means you might need a higher sheen (satin or semi-gloss), and also paint specifically formulated for cabinets, trim, and doors. Sherwin-Williams Urethane Trim Enamel is a really good one to check out, offering beautiful coverage, durability, and that hard finish you’re looking for.

It also resists yellowing (ideal for white spindles, risers, etc.), plus it’s easy to clean. So the next time your muddy dog charges up the stairs or your teenager scuffs a railing with their backpack, no sweat.

How do you care for your painted railing?

The first step is to simply let the paint fully cure. Leave it alone as best you can for several days.

After that, keep it clean. Especially if you painted with white, or any other light color. Avoid harsh cleaners too, sticking with a gentle water/detergent mix and a soft cloth. The longer scuffs and stains are allowed to sit the harder they are to remove.

Lastly, keep up on any touch-ups. Maintenance goes a long way, and investing a little time here and there can delay the need for a substantial repaint. After all that sanding and scuffing, you’ll be glad for as long a break as possible!

What’s the takeaway?

Take your time.

Invest in prep.

Get top-shelf products.

Take care of your work.

If you follow these steps you’ll be WAY ahead of most do-it-yourselfers. And, of course, if you get stuck you can always call us at Nash Painting. We’d love to put our expertise to work for you and save you a whole lot of time.