How to Paint White Stair Risers & Keep Them Clean

published May 11, 2010
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(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

White risers can do a lot to brighten a staircase, as evidenced in the entryway above. However, like white floors, pretty and bright doesn’t always equal maintenance-free…but it doesn’t have to equal nightmare either. Here’s how to make them work.

I recently completed the risers in our entry hall, and I can tell you first hand that like most painting projects, preparation and the right paint is everything. Being a little impulsive about a year ago, I lightly sanded the risers, grabbed a can of self-priming latex semi-gloss and went to town…only to find my supposed-to-be-flawless steps bubbly and peeling. What ensued was messy and involved a lot of paint stripper burns and maybe a few choice words, but eventually my steps made it back to their original, all-wood state. Onto round two!

For the second go around, I sanded properly, applied kilz oil based primer (some fumes and not the easiest to use but super adhesive) with a natural bristle brush in the direction of the wood grain, then topped with two coats of oil-based white paint using a foam brush. The result was night and day from my last go around. I’ve heard lots of success stories from people who have opted for high-gloss latex paint over the rather than the oil based, however I’ve always had best success with oil based in my heavy use areas— just be sure to wear a mask and have proper ventilation.

Painting the stairs is half the battle, and keeping them clean is the other. Don’t believe anybody who says white risers are just as easy to maintain as their wood stained counterparts in a high traffic home. They will inevitably get scuff marks. Sometimes a simple wipe down will do the trick, but most often the only product that restores them to their original loveliness with minimal effort is Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser— worth every penny!

What other cautions or tips do you you have for painted risers?