Learn how to easily paint your stair railing with a brush and roller. This is a simple way to update your staircase for a modern look.
Painting your stair railing is an inexpensive way to give your entryway or hallway a brand new feel. Here are the steps we took to easily paint our oak stair railing and banister with a roller and brush.
The Before Oak Stair Rail
A theme in our blog and life is that one DIY project always leads to another home improvement project. This was the case for the ugly oak banister and handrail.
Because we were getting around to doing a cheap DIY bathroom makeover upstairs, we also knew we had to update the railing right outside the door. Our oak banister and handrail were the LAST (I think) pieces of oak trim, molding, and cabinets left in our house.
How do you prep stair railing and spindles before painting?
Due to the nature of railings, they get touched a ton. It is important that you properly prep the railing and banister before painting. The area needs to be cleaned and degreased well. We also like to use fine sandpaper to scuff up the surface before priming with an adhesion primer.
How to paint stair rails on carpet?
This is annoying but not a total pain anytime you are painting something over the carpet. You can see in this image below how I was able to push down the carpet and tape under the base of the stair railing.
When you are done you simply take the tape off and fluff your carpet. Just be careful you don’t drip on your carpet when painting.
What paint do you use on a stair banister or stair railing?
The most important thing is to choose a paint that is meant for moldings or cabinets and make sure to properly prime and prep your stair railing.
Here are a few options:
- Behr Latex Enamel
- Sherwin Williams Proclassic
- Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel
- Benjamin Moore Pro Advance
At the time of our DIY painting project, we used Behr Latex Enamel and Sherwin Williams Proclassic line.
Our Current Paint Recommedation
However, we recently just discovered Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel paint. If I were painting my oak banister and railing today, I would be using the SW Emerald paint instead of the Proclassic or Behr latex enamel.
You can see our cheap kitchen makeover and how we used this newer Sherwin Williams Emerald line to paint oak cabinets and why now would use them for our oak railing.
Why did we use Behr and Proclassic paint on the railing?
Honestly, we had leftover paint from the bathroom vanity painting to help with the two-toned banister look I was going for. I have seen banisters with more of a black or darker gray top and bottom. I knew I wanted ours to be a little different. Therefore we chose to use this colored latex enamel paint for the banister.
In the future, I may repaint the colored parts with a darker color. That is the fun part about painting projects: you can always change the color.
SW Proclassic in Pure White was our favorite white paint for kitchen cabinets and moldings before we discovered SW Emerald paint. We have even painted our old oak mantel using these painting steps to help get rid of the honey oak and update our living room.
Read more: Check out 11 other DIY projects that helped us get rid of that honey oak!
Painting Stair Spindle Tips
- Use the brush to do all the grooves in the spindles
- Carefully make sure that there are not any drips
- Continue to check periodically to see if there are any drips to wipe away
- Use a small foam roller to do the flat areas
- Look at the spindles from multiple angles. There are so many nooks and crannies that you want to confirm you are completely covering everything
- If you have a drip, use fine sandpaper to fix it before painting your final coat
- Painting anything in your home doesn’t have to be intimidating, just go for it!
What about those crazy Tik Tok videos where they paint with a sock?
We did not do this, nor do we think it would work super well. However, we have even seen on an HGTV post about using a sock on your hand to help you paint the spindles. I only see this as being super messy but thought we would share that idea if someone wants to try.
If you are considering this, you would want to put a protective glove on before you put the sock over your hand. There are even painting gloves meant for easily painting spindles.
- White Enamel Latex Paint- SW Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel is now our favorite
- White Latex Primer*
- Latex Enamel Paint in the color of your choice-Here is the paint we used.
- 220 sandpaper or block
- Deglosser- This large jug will last you for a lot of DIY projects.
- Painter’s Tape-My favorite brand and type that I use for all of my projects including my detailed accent walls
- Paint Brush-I was so happy that I bought a new Purdy brush for this project.
- Small Foam Roller (if you want)
- Small Paint Tray Liners-these make life so much easier when doing smaller paint jobs
- White Paintable Caulk (optional)
- Dropcloth or old towels (something to protect your floor as your work)
- Old Rag
*Some professional painters will recommend oil-based primers such as this one, as they do a better job blocking out color. However, we have always had great success with Sherwin Williams Latex Primer or this Zinsser water-based one. I love that I don’t have to worry about the smell especially because I was doing this painting project outside my children’s rooms as they were napping.
Do you need help deciding what color of paint to use?
We recently just tried Samplize and it totally beats having to buy individual paint samples. These 9″ x 14.75″ samples will get shipped directly to you and save the hassle of clean-up (we loved that).
You can also check out our post, see our review and hopefully get the answers to those frequently asked Samplize questions.
Step 1: Lightly Sand Surfaces
Lightly sand the oak banister and handrail with the 220. This is just to rough it up a little. You really do not need to spend a ton of time on this.
Step 2: Wipe Down With Deglosser
Use an old rag and wipe down the surface with a deglosser.
Step 3: Prep Areas Not Being Painted
Start taping out to help protect your walls and flooring. You can see that I had to try to push my carpet down and get the painter’s tape under the edge of the banister’s base.
Optional Step: Repair Any Damaged Wood
If you have some gaps or uneven spots in your woodwork, you may even want to use white caulk or wood filler to give it a more finished looked after painting.
Step 4: Use Primer
Use a brush and small roller to prime everything. This will take time. Let dry.
The most important part when using any type of primer is that you fully cover the surface. It might not look that pretty, but you are trying to give your new paint a surface to stick to.
Step 5: Paint 2 Layers Of White Paint On The Spindles
Begin painting primed stair spindles white following the same steps as the primer. I was able to actually use the small foam roller on more parts of the railings than I initially thought.
Paint Another Layer Of White
You will need at least 2 coats of white enamel on the railings. I spent a few hours during the week completing this project. You do not want to get lazy and have a ton of drips or start spraying paint around on your carpet, etc.
Step 6: Let The Spindles Dry Completely
Step 7: Tape Our Handrail
Once the white railings are done and dry, begin to tape (use this brand) out the areas so you can have a darker outside.
HUGE PAINT PREP TIP ALERT!!!
I was pretty impressed with myself when I came up with this easy idea. Use Press and Seal around the railing that was closest to the side so that the colored enamel paint does not get on the railing.
It is such a simple and easy way to protect your white-painted spindles from accidentally hitting the finished part. Just make sure that you completely cover the railing.
Step 8: Paint Color
Using a roller and brush begin to put your first coat of colored enamel paint.
Step 9: Paint At Least Two Coats
You will also need at least 2 coats. I think I ended up doing 3 coats with this paint, especially because I knew the surface would be touched a lot.
Step 10: Let Dry & Remove Tape Carefully
Let dry and remove the tape.
Step 12: Do Touch-Ups
Some of my paint lines were not as clean as I would have liked. I used white caulk to try to help some of the lines (especially the bottom edge in that groove) and a smaller painter’s brush to do some touch-ups. I do not blame the painter’s tape, just that the railings have so many little grooves and uneven surfaces that it was hard to get everything perfect.
Step 13: Clean-up
Clean your brushes and area and enjoy your updated banister. Now would be the perfect time to clean your carpeted stairs for a whole fresh look.
The Before and After
Finished Painted Oak Railing & Banister
I just love looking up the steps and seeing a fresh banister and look. While I would not say this was the easiest painting project, it definitely gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
And now I can honestly say, bye-bye to all the old oak items in our home. It is so crazy how just simply painting honey oak can really modernize your home without breaking the bank.
If you love this painted makeover, you have to see how our oak kitchen cabinets were redone!
Oak Handrail Makeover
Before DIY makeover
While I was painting the railing, I was also priming and painting the handrail that is on the other side of our steps.
We followed the same painting steps outline above and you can see how we were able to easily update our handrail as well.
It has been over two years since we painted this in our upstairs. The only spot that has wear on it is the cap on the newel post. It is the round part that the kids touch all the time.
We now know we should have used Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel and this would not have happened.
I do plan to repaint the wood sometime soon because of this and my color choices have changed a little.
My current go-to paint is Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel for cabinets, trim and handrails. Because the surface will touch frequently, using semi-gloss will allow you to easily clean while being durable. You will be amazed at the self-leveling abilities of this paint and the smooth finish you can achieve.
We found that using a brush and a small foam roller gave the smoothest finish. You can even use the small foam roller on the flat areas of the spindles.
With a little elbow grease and hard work, we were able to cheaply update our stairway, by painting the stair railing, banister, and handrail.
How To Paint a Stair Railing and Banister
- 2.5″ Paint Brush
- Painter’s Tape
- Press and Seal
- 220 Sandpaper Block
- Small Tray Liners
- Old Rag
- Use 220 sandpaper or block to lightly scuff the surface.
- Wipe down with the deglosser with a lint-free rag.
- Start taping out areas you do not want the paint to get. Lay down a drop cloth on those areas as well.
- Optional: Use white paintable caulk to fill in any gaps in woodwork before priming.
- Use a paintbrush first to start to apply a primer in small grooves. Work in sections doing a few spindles at a time.
- Use a small foam roller to prime flatter areas of your stair railing and banister. Keep checking for drips. You only need to worry about covering the surface (it may not look too pretty, yet).
- Let the primer dry. Some primers will be ready to go in an hour and others will need longer. Make sure primer has fully adhered to your surface. You can scrap your fingernail to see if it is ready.
- Repeat steps with brush and roller with a white latex enamel paint. You will need 2 coats.
- Allow the paint to dry (overnight would be great). Tape out the top and bottom railings. Consider using Press and Seal to protect that last stair spindle.
- Use a paintbrush and roller to paint the top and bottom railing with colored latex paint. Paint at least 2 coats.
- Take the tape off and touch up any areas.
- Take your time. This painting project is best if done over a few days to allow the different coats of paint to dry.
- Use Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel or Benjamin Moore Pro Advanced in semi-gloss or gloss for a smooth finish.
- Use a small foam roller on all flat areas.
- Sand and paint in the direction of the wood grain.