Painting Bannisters and Staircase Spindles [Definitive Guide]

Painting staircase bannisters and spindles can be a rewarding and satisfying task once finished, but painstaking and time-consuming to complete. Unfortunately, it’s a task that takes care and time.

Fortunately, painters and hobbyists (who have all learned through trial and error) have been collecting and sharing ideas and tips online for some time. This article gathers some of the best ideas and suggestions: how to prepare, what to do, and what to use.

Should You Paint Your Bannisters With Eggshell or Satinwood paint?

Experts recommend satinwood paint as the best coating for bannister and spindles because staircases are notoriously high traffic areas, and satinwood paint is more durable, more cleanable and more “shape-enhancing”.

Eggshell paint and satinwood paint essentially describe how you want your paint finish to look. Eggshell and satinwood are the most commonly used interior paints. They are neither super “matte”, nor super “glossy”, which refers to how efficiently a paint reflects light when it dries.

Spindles painted with satinwood

Satinwood paint is always recommended for areas and spaces that experience a constant flow of traffic, and where surfaces are touched, bumped, held, and gripped – such as a staircase. In fact, a staircase is probably one of the most touched surfaces in your home.

Eggshell paint is not so durable or resistant to dents, scuffs, scratches or stains, and as it reflects slightly less light, it does not enhance the contours, curves, and patterns of a typical staircase.

What’s The Difference Between Eggshell Paint And Satinwood Paint?

Eggshell and satinwood are both classed as ‘low sheen’ paints, which make them usual to cover interior surfaces. The main difference between them is that satinwood has a slightly higher sheen level than eggshells.

This makes eggshell paint good for living and dining rooms, where it will reflect and bounce light throughout a room, creating depth and smoothness without shine.

The higher sheen satinwood paint can revive dull areas by reflecting light and enhancing contoured architecture, such as a staircase and its components.

Eggshell is named for its smooth eggshell finish. Satinwood is known for its satiny or velvety finish, which is actually a very slightly “textured” surface.

Satinwood paint seems to retain its colour over long periods of time, and is also easier to clean – this is especially useful when a surface is a supportive one, in other words, a handrail, which supports balance, receives constant layers of fingerprints which are applied under pressure.

Can You Paint A Bannister Without Sanding?

Sanding or not sanding a bannister is completely up to you, however, most advice favours a close consideration of the state of the surfaces you’re about to paint before making this decision.

Most advice that starts with “no sanding needed” will often recommend sanding anyway if the surfaces you are painting are in poor condition. Sometimes the amount of sanding needed is minimal and can be omitted altogether, but end results do have a habit of advertising our attention to detail.

Sanding staircase spindles and bannisters is always recommended.

Sometimes the surfaces of your bannister only need a little “roughing up”, or light sanding – this applies to small nicks and chips, scratches, splinters, scrapes, or obvious oil marks.

Some painters only spend about twenty minutes doing this: a light removal of all gouges and marks that are obvious, rather than a thorough sanding of every spindle surface.

Your bannisters will need to be cleaned though. Removing any loose dust and dirt can be done with a vacuum cleaner or damp cloth. Some people use a vinegar and water solution for this.

Try to remove any obvious stains and marks. Those that cannot be removed this way (texta marks, for example) may need a light sanding.

How can I prepare my bannister and spindles if I don’t want to sand them?

A popular recommendation for treating bannisters (instead of sanding them) is the purchase of a liquid deglosser or liquid sander, which will help get rid of the glossy layer from the wood. The main purpose of a liquid deglosser is not to strip the wood, but to get rid of the shiny surface and leave it smooth and ready for painting.

A deglosser will dull the old paint, varnish, or gloss and prepare the surface for a new coat of paint by helping it bond without lifting or chipping.

A liquid deglosser is applied to a sponge or cloth and wiped all over the surface of the bannister. It isn’t a quick process, especially applying the deglosser to spindles, but it is quicker than sanding and considerably less messy.

How to Paint Bannisters and Staircase Spindles

Here’s a simple guide to preparing and painting your bannisters and spindles, including a few available options around surface preparation.

Step 1: Preparation

Decide whether you might clean and lightly sand or treat the surfaces with a deglosser, and then place protective sheets and/or newspaper across surfaces you need to protect. Remove carpets and runners and secure edges with masking tape.

Step 2: Cleaning

Clean the bannister and spindles with a soft damp cloth, and then scrape the bannister handrail with a paint scraper to remove any bubbled, loose or chipped paint. You can apply wood putty to any significant holes or dents, but this will then need to be left to harden overnight,

Step 3: Sand (or de-gloss)

Lightly sand any areas which need it, or apply the deglosser instead. If you choose to sand, you’ll need to wipe all surfaces with a damp cloth again.

Step 4:  Time to prime

Apply a specialist wood primer: an application of this will help the paint adhere to the surface and increase the durability of the paint. When this is dry, it is time to paint.

 Step 5: Time to paint

If you’re painting by hand, experts recommend the triangular and round ended brushes, which have a better paint reach for intricate and curved surfaces. However, other painters have achieved great results on bannisters with paint mitts or paint gloves.

Final Thoughts

Faced with the task of painting or restoring staircase bannisters and spindles can be daunting, but by taking a thorough step by step process which includes assessing the surface quality of your project, you can achieve fine results without too much trouble.