How to Paint A Stairwell

A stairwell is definitely one of the main focus points of our home. When our stairwell needs attention, we should attend to it properly – and safely. Care and attention should apply to preparation, method, materials and how we actually go about the task.

This article takes a look at the art of painting stairwells: how to do it and the kinds of materials, tools, and equipment needed to complete the job well.

Can You Use A Ladder On Stairs?

Most of the time, painting stairwells involves working at heights. This means we’re going to need either a ladder or some kind of scaffolding.

You can use a ladder on stairs, but it must be the right ladder and it must be used correctly. Using the wrong ladder (or the right ladder the wrong way) can result in some really awful injuries.

If you’re going to use scaffolding, the same principle applies. Scaffolding made quickly (and which looks stable) out of whatever you’ve got lying around can result in damage to your staircase, and at worse, injury to you.

If you’re going to work at heights, investigate the correct scaffolding and ladders you need. Learn how to use (and construct) them safely.  

Fortunately, there are some new tools on the market for painting heights safely and effectively from the ground. With these, it’s possible to work without either scaffolding or ladders.

How to Paint A Stairwell Without Scaffolding

Perhaps you’ve assessed your task and decided that you don’t need scaffolding. But you don’t want to purchase any more painting equipment. That’s fine, but you will need a ladder at the very least.

The best type of ladder for painting a stairwell is the combination ladder. But also consider utilizing equipment from the range of ladder aides or accessories.

Using a ladder aide gives you added safety.

All of these items are designed to help you complete the task of painting a stairwell safely, conveniently, and effectively.

Tools And Materials For The Job

Here’s what you need. To ensure work on the job without interruption, make sure you have enough of everything.

  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint roller, extension pole, roller tray 
  • Scrap cardboard
  • Drop cloths
  • Painters tape
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • The correct ladder equipment 

Here’s What You Do

Follow these steps and don’t be tempted to skimp on the preparation. Also, remember that professional painters usually start at the top and work down.

Step 1

Assess the condition of the surfaces you’re going to paint. Staircases are high traffic areas and become worn and grubby. Clean and lightly sand any obvious marks, scratches, dents, or scrapes. Check the walls for marks, holes and cracks. 

Step 2

Protect the steps and floor with newspaper/ butchers paper, masking tape and drop cloths.

Step 3

To cut into ceilings and wall corners, extend your combination ladder fully so the bottom of the ladder rests on the stairs. the top should lean against the headwall. 

When you need to move the base of the ladder further up the stairs, fold down the top part of the ladder. It should form a 90-degree angle. This will hold you away from the headwall so you can cut in along the ceiling lines. 

Finally, fold the ladder down to a short A-frame with one side being long, and the other short. Make sure the rubber feet are firmly on the stairs.

Once the cutting in is completed, use this system to paint the walls using the roller to reach the highest areas.

Step 4

To paint the staircase, start at the top of the stairs. Use a 2-inch trim brush to paint the handrails. The small brush enables you to reach every crevice and curve evenly.

Step 5

Paint the balusters. If you are using a different colour, remember to mask them off where they meet the steps. Use a damp cloth to wipe away drips and spills.

Carved balusters can be difficult to paint. Some renovation enthusiasts recommend the use of painters mitts for balusters and other difficult surfaces.

Step 6

Begin painting the steps at the top of the staircase. Paint the underside of the first nosing, or the protruding edge of the stair, followed by the first riser. Finally, paint the tread.

Continue down the steps painting in this order. Some painters complete alternate stairs only so that the unpainted steps can still be used (if necessary). 

When the paint is dry, complete the unpainted stairs, using a marker to indicate which stairs can still be used by family members.

How to Paint A Stairwell Without A Ladder

It’s possible to paint a stairwell without either a ladder or scaffolding thanks to the invention of new painting gadgetry like paint edgers, paint sticks, painter extension poles, and corner painters. 

Tools For The Job

Your materials and equipment are pretty much the same except minus the ladder and scaffolding. And you’ll need extension poles and painting aides to match the height and surfaces you’ll be dealing with.

Here’s What You Do

Step 1-2

Complete the same painting surface assessment and protection. You can use your extension pole to dust and clean high surfaces.

Step 3

To cut in ceilings, disengage the wheels of a paint edger and load the centre with paint. Re-engage the wheels and move back and forth slowly and steadily along the top of the wall. 

Choosing painter extension poles of the correct height is crucial here. If in doubt, go for too long (rather than too short), or you’ll end up needing scaffolding anyway! 

To cut into corners, use the corner painter the same way. Again, work slowly and steadily to ease the paint right into the corners. 

Use the paint roller and extension pole to complete painting the walls.

Steps 4-6

Complete the staircase painting using the method detailed previously.  

Final thoughts

Painting a stairwell is often left for the experts simply because of the height work involved. Solving height problems too creatively can be dangerous. Luckily though, there’s a range of tools and devices designed to allow you to paint all areas of a stairwell from the safest place possible – the ground!

Safety Disclaimer: when safety is concerned, it’s always best to call in a professional. Use our helpful quote tool to find local tradesmen near you if in doubt.