How To Prep & Paint Stair Risers White

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Today I am sharing how to prep and paint stair risers white as part of our staircase remodel. Updating and modernizing a staircase with white paint is an easy homeowner project that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Our curved staircase is fairly large with traditional stair rails and wrought iron balusters. The dark stained risers and handrails were a bit too orange toned for our taste and we decided it was time to update the look.

dark orange toned stained front door and staircase,

If you have been following our Mediterranean home remodeling project, you know that we recently updated all of our stained trim and doors with white paint.

The staircase and front entrance is now so much brighter and updated!

white painted front door, white painted stair risers with stained treads and white painted handrail

Question: Can You Paint Over Stained Wood?

Yes, you can absolutely paint over stained wood. You must prep the stained wood properly with primer before applying a paint color. Click through this post, how to paint wood trim white and if you are looking for the perfect neutral white (with a little warmth), read this review, Sherwin Williams Westhighland White.

How To Paint Stained Stair Risers

In order to stay on budget, we have decided to keep the existing traditional handrails and wrought iron balusters.

Painting Risers Tips

  • START AT THE TOP – Start taping off the risers and treads from the top and work your way to the bottom. If you are painting your treads the same color, you will only need to tape off where the wood stairs meet the wall
  • SANDPAPER TIPS – Be sure to use fine grit sandpaper so you do not make deep scratch marks on the wood risers. The scratches may show through and top coat and be visible
  • USE A QUALITY PRIMER & PAINT – Don’t skimp on the primer or paint. Personally, Zinsser Cover Stain Primer worked perfectly and Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams are great choices for your paint color. See all of the paint materials used on our Amazon Store Front.

Painting Stair Risers White

Pondering how to paint a staircase? I say do it! If you are living in a home that has an outdated or dark staircase and you are longing for a lighter more modern feel, considering painting your stair risers white.

We decided to paint our stair risers white to not only brighten up the staircase but to also provide contrast with the stair treads.

curved staircase with stained risers and treads with wrought iron balusters

The overall goal was to create a seamless and cohesive look throughout the house by painting the trim and interior doors white as well as updating our staircase.

If you are painting over stain, be sure to apply 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of paint.

What color should I paint stair risers?

Stair risers are typically painted white (same color as trim) in new construction homes but it’s your house, paint them whatever color coordinates with your home! If you like bold colors, search google for stair riser ideas. You will be amazed at some of the amazing staircase makeovers.

The best paint for stair risers should be durable and clean easily. Keep in mind, the risers will occasionally need to be wiped clean from shoe and boot markings.

We painted our stair risers Sherwin Williams Westhighland White Emerald Interior which is the same color as our walls.

taping off stair risers with blue painters tape and painting white

Staircase Handrail Dilemma

You will notice that we also opted to paint the existing handrails white as well.

The handrails and wrought iron balusters pose a “budget dilemma” as replacing the rails, posts and balusters are not in the budget at the moment (maybe someday!) so for now, we decided painting the handrails and posts was the best option.

white painted stair risers with stained treads and white painted handrail

In a perfect world the rails and posts would match the floor stain.

We are having the floors sanded down to the natural wood in a couple weeks so we will see what stain color we end up going with and if the white doesn’t look good, we may end up trying black.

More to come on this topic in a few weeks!

Here is the before and after of our back staircase with white painted risers.

This is a picture of painted stair risers is the only picture I have right now because this room is being used as storage while we move everything out for the flooring crew.

I know all of you stained wood lovers out there are cringing right now but but for me, the lighter modern look is amazing and pleasing to the eye.

dark orange toned stained front door and staircase,

How To Prep And Paint Stained Stair Risers

Print Instructions
Learn how to prepare and paint stained stair risers with oil-based primer and white paint
Author Jessica Bruno
Cost Cost of Supplies plus labor if you are hiring a painter

Supply List:

  • 1 fine grit sandpaper fine sandpaper to break stain seal
  • Scotch blue painters tape
  • 3 gallons Zinsser Cover Stain Primer
  • brushes do not reuse brushes for latex paint
  • foam roller + frame
  • paint thinner
  • 2 gallons Paint We used satin Sherwin Williams Westhighland White

Instructions: Step by Step

Tape off riser at bottom near stair tread and any walls

  • Start at the top and apply painters tape along the stair tread where it meets the riser. Be sure to run your hand along the tape to ensure there are no air pockets or gaps. This will allow you to get clean crisp paint line when you remove the painters tape.
    taping off stained stair risers with blue painters tape

Lightly sand the stained riser

  • Sanding the stained riser will help break the poly seal and allow the primer to adhere better to the riser.

Apply 1 coat of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer with a brush or roller

  • Be sure to apply the Cover Stain in even strokes and as evenly as possible.
    Zinsser Cover Stain primer 5 gallon bucket

24 hours later, apply 2nd coat of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer

  • Do not apply the 2nd coat of primer under the first coat is completely dry and not tacky.

Sand any rough primed areas

  • If the primer feels rough in spots, you can lightly sand with a fine sandpaper. Just be sure to not remove the primer in doing so. The goal is to lightly sand and remove any rough imperfections.

Apply 1 coat of white paint with a brush or roller

  • Preferably, cut in along the tread and wall with a brush and use a roller for the remaining riser. A foam roller will give a smoother finish.
    taping off stair risers and priming with oil-based zinsser primer

Apply 2nd coat of white paint

  • Apply a 2nd coat of paint to the riser once the first coat is completely dry and not tacky.
    taping off stair risers with blue painters tape, priming stained stair risers with oil based zinsser cover stain

Remove painters tape

  • Once the paint is dry on the riser, preferably 24 hours later, slowly and gently remove the painters tape.
    white painted stair risers with stained treads and white painted handrail

Remove any paint from stair treads

  • Painters tape is not foolproof but will 95% of the time give you a clean crisp paint line. Clean any excess paint that may have bled through the painters tape on the stair tread with a razor knife or warm water on a painter rag.
    white painted front door, white painted stair risers with stained treads and white painted handrail


  • Oil-based products do require extra clean up vs water based. Clean paint brushes with paint thinner and be sure to not re-use the brust with regular latex paint.
  • Use Scotch Painters Tape or a high quality paint to prevent pulling off existing paint or bleed through. Some knock off tapes will only make a mess.
  • Be sure to clean your work area prior to priming and painting to remove any dust or debris
  • Start at the top of your staircase and work your way down to the bottom

Note: You can find all the paint supplies we used on our Amazon Storefront

Once the hardwood floors are refinished, we will re-install the existing wrought iron balusters. Painting our trims, interior doors and risers white has been a game changer!

We are planning to remove all of the furniture in the next week to prepare for the flooring crew so I will share more before & after pictures of the painted trim soon. In the meantime, there are a few after pictures on the Sherwin Williams Westhighland White review post.

white painted front door, white painted stair risers with stained treads and white painted handrail

Meet Jessica

What started as a hobby, Jessica’s blog now has millions of people visit yearly and while many of the projects and posts look and sound perfect, life hasn’t always been easy. Read Jessica’s story and how overcoming death, divorce and dementia was one of her biggest life lessons to date.


  1. Oh wow, this looks absolutely amazing and such an improvement! Congratulations on what is essentially a brand new day in your home! I have decided to paint my stair risers black after many touch ups on my currently white stair risers. I think your stair rails may have looked better being painted black as well, just my 2 cents. Still, I know you will enjoy it just the way it is right now as it truly is beautiful!

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