What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Interior Stairs?

Slippery stairs are a design and safety no-no, making slip-resistant paint a good choice -- but color and stylish details matter too. The large zigzag of numerous treads and risers impact the home's design, so arm yourself with at least a few stair painting basics before you load your roller.

Oak and white stair case home interior
credit: jodiejohnson/iStock/Getty Images
Paint only the risers to define the treads aesthetically and visibly.

A Slippery Topic

Durable, slip-resistant porch and floor paint is ideal for stairs. If you plan to use standard latex paint, however, top it with a few coats of water-based to increase its durability. Comparatively, oil-based polyurethane is longer lasting, but yellows with age, takes longer to dry and typically contains more chemicals -- meaning more fumes. After painting, wait at least a couple of days before using the stairs. If you can't wait, finish only every second step the first week, and the remaining ones the second week; mark the usable treads with painter's tape, and prepare to carry any young children and pets up and down, as needed.

Shine Equals Durability

Paint sheen matters about as much as color. High-gloss paint is more washable and durable than matte finish, but it highlights imperfections. Unless you plan to sand the stairs smooth and protect them from high-heel dents or pet-claw scrapes, go with semigloss paint. If you aren't using floor paint, add rubber grit that's designed for paint traction; mix the grit into the paint or sprinkle it on each step between coats. The sand-like rubber is easier on bare or socked feet than other types of grit, such as aluminum oxide.

Color Counts

Dark treads help to hide wear and dirt, while light risers create visual definition. Look to the railings for color cues, such as matching the treads to a handrail and the risers to spindles. Or scan surrounding decor colors, opting for black and white, dark gray and pale gray, or brown and beige stairs to blend with the room's existing flooring or color scheme. If you like, blend open-design stairs -- the kind without risers -- into the background by painting them to match the surrounding wall color, or put an attractive stairway on display with a contrasting hue.

Stepping Up in Style

If your design preferences include bright colors, wildly vivid abstract art or hipster edginess, think of the stairs as a blank canvas. Paint the treads and risers a fitting base color after planning stairway artwork that fits your style. Set your inner artist free on just the risers, stenciling or painting meaningful words in an attractive font, for example. Or, give the entire stairway an artsy update, using three, four or more standout colors to create a floral cascade, geometric "waterfall" or scenic pathway. Stencils and stamps make it easy for anyone to be an artist.