Need some opinions on painting stair rises white or staining them

bothSeptember 30, 2010

We are finally getting our first floor sanded and stained. Along with this is the oak staircase that is original to this 100 year old house. I am having such a hard time making a decision between painting the rises for a more traditional look or staining the runs and rises. My husband wants the rises painted white as the trim in the whole house is white. I am just worried about cleaning the white rises to keep them looking great. The stain we are using is English Chestnut--thanks to this forum with great pictures!!!! Thanks Amy

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My 90 year old risers in my house are not painted. When I put in a new main staircase this year I did the same. Personally the white would get so scuffed up in my house. I will put a runner down the main stair case (which could help protect the white if you go that route). The other 3 set of stair cases have stained risers.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 8:12AM
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Hi Amy:
The stairs to our bonus room (sorry, no pic) have stained risers and treads. I much prefer the look of painted risers, and, if the stairs were open to the first floor, I would paint them. In our former house, the risers were painted green with oak treads, and I don't remember any problem with keeping them clean. Were yours originally stained? I'm not sure I would change them in a 100 year old home. Do you have a picture?

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 8:13AM
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My basement stairs were already painted (just your basic builder grade stairs)I recently repainted and did the risers in an off white. I love the look, but my son with size 15 feet does mark them up when he's home from college (his room is in the basement). But with semi-gloss paint, they clean up fine. I just wipe off the scuffs as needed.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 8:29AM
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Painted risers look more finished and refined. They also follow the convention, which is subtle but significant, that things that are in the same plane have the same the risers, which are in the same plane as doors and walls, are painted, while the treads, which are in the same plane as the floors, are stained.

Stained risers, particularly with a lovely dark shade like English Chestnut, make the staircase look massive, and fill the space visually, as though it were a huge piece of furniture. Painted risers settle it into the space, and emphasize only the treads, which some people think is actually safer, as it gives a stronger visual clue to each step up.

Scuffs? Two things. Good quality semi-gloss paint, and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 10:15AM
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laura mcleod

you could also wallpaper the risers :-) I did this last month and it was a fun project. A coat of Krylon Crystal Clear poly on the paper before application keeps them totally scuff free.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 11:00AM
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Echo what bronwynsmom put so well

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 12:20PM
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Thank you for all your advice. Yes I guess I should paint them. We are going for a more refined look. Bronwynsmom, I think if you are not an authur you should become one. You can write about stairs to the point that they sound romantic. You could frame that and hang it above the stairs. Amazing!!!
I do plan on using a high grade paint on the rises. I will post when we are done. We have been stripping them all day with marine stripper-- and yes we have heavy duty 20 dollar each masks.
Thank you Everyone

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 1:45PM
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Well, thank you, are too kind.
Of course I think you're making the right choice.
And if Scarlett O'Hara is any example, a staircase can indeed be romantic!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 3:35PM
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Ours are painted--and I prefer the look of white painted risers. BUT....they constantly get scuffed. Yes, magic eraser will take the scuffs off--but it also takes the finish off a bit and dulls them. I find that as fast as I clean them, they get scuffed again.

I don't have the option of staining them at this point, but, if I knew what i know now, I would have given staining them some more thought.

My husband has size 13 feet and is not careful at all--so maybe it wouldnt be an issue with other people.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 3:54PM
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My house came with white-painted I didn't have a choice. I HATE them. They are perpetually scuffed. It's gotten to the point that I just don't bother trying anymore...luckily they are the stairs down into the finished basement and no one but family (and friends of my sons when they are home from college) sees them. If I had a choice I'd have 'em stained the same medium oak as the floor.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 6:05PM
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I have white risers because I liked the look and I have painted trimwork. I have a runner now so I don't have any issues with scuff marks. Here are a few pics:



    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 7:59PM
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What a lovely transformation - looks like a different home

NICE JOB!!!!!!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 10:07AM
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Good question! I am in the process of painting the risers and sanding the steps in my 1920's home. It took FOUR coats of Kilz primer to cover the orangey wood, and I just started putting on the white semi-gloss. Next up, we'll be sanding.

I stripped them, then used a palm sander and mouse sander, but that wasn't even enough to prepare for sanding! :( So we're going to have to use a belt sander. I'm also stripping/sanding the upstairs hallway. Looks great now that I've torn up the 9-year-old carpeting, but what did I do? This is so much work. But it will be so worth it, and hopefully add value to this house.

To answer your question, I love the look of white-painted risers. I think the upkeep of scuff marks will be worth it, because it looks so nice! Good luck!


    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 10:24AM
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I had white risers in our last house and knew they'd get scuffed in time. I did a stencil on each step and it helped hide any scuffs. I would clean up as needed and touch up paint as needed over the years.... We had it this way for 7 years in a very high traffic area and it help up well.

I'd do a different design now, but it worked at the time.
This is also not a great pic of it and you can't see the detail, but you get the idea. I had to copy this from our old listing 4.5 years ago, lol....

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 11:42PM
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We just refinished our wooden floor too which was a natural red oak and got stained darker, so it was time to redo the staircase too.

bronwynsomom had a great comment about the heaviness of a completely stained staircase, which is what ours was before. Our risers were painted the same BM Linen White as the rest of our trim. I really like how it has added interest to the entrance way and lighted up the feeling (still working on some art work for the walls though.)

We also did the same thing on our basement stairs, which have narrower treads. So, I haven't noticed scuff marks on the main stairs, but definitely on the basement stairs. Magic erasers are the key!

Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 7:11AM
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I much prefer the look of painted risers.

I have found that scuff marks seem to depend a lot on the kind of paint you use. In our last house, we pulled up carpet and painted the risers with a latex semi-gloss paint. They scuffed horribly and I was constantly repainting them (because they scuffed so bad I couldn't get them clean). In this house, which was painted with Ben Moore OIL based semi-gloss, the stair risers hardly ever scuff. Same people, same shoes -- only difference is the paint.

Now, we can no longer get oil paint in our state and our stair area really needs repainted (the walls are wood paneled and painted in the same paint as the risers) so I started putting Zinsser 123 over the oil paint in preparation for repainting it with latex. I got interrupted, so only a few steps have the 123. They too are scuffing horribly. They're only primer, so I wouldn't expect it to hold up, but still - it's amazing the difference between scuff level after just a few days.

I'm planning to repaint with Cabinet Coat by Insul-X, which is the toughest latex trim paint I have found. It has held up well on my baseboards so I'm hoping it will be good on the risers. If not, I guess I could make an out-of-state trip to smuggle in some oil paint, LOL!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 8:57AM
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I should have mentioned this before, but have been able to use oil on my projects for risers.

You can handle the scuffiness of latex paint (which does in fact scuff more easily, and does break down more readily under the Magic Erasers), is with paste wax.

Wait until the paint is cured...latex dries faster but cures more slowly than oil, so ask your paint store what the curing time is for your paint. Then give the risers a coat of good quality paste wax. I like Butcher's wax for this, but there are other favorites. I do this on bookshelves and open kitchen shelves as well to prevent the scuffing they take.

The wax keeps the scuffing to a minimum, gives a little extra depth to the paint finish, and is much easier to touch up than paint. You just have to remember to strip off the wax before repainting, but for a smallish job like risers, it's absolutely worth the reduced maintenance, and in my experience means you hardly ever have to repaint.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 9:10AM
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brownwynsmom...The pastewax idea sounds interesting. What does one have to use to strip them before repainting?

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 1:39PM
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My last house had painted risers which looked lovely when freshly painted, and were impossible to maintain...and I was always careful when I climbed up/down the stairs. But there are all those other people (including houseguests, who drag their suitcases up the stairs) who marked up the stairs. I really hated the way they looked when they became scuffed....and they just didn't clean up so they looked "right".

Here's a photo when I first moved in, when the risers were freshly painted.

So, when I moved into this house and replaced all of the flooring in the house (except bathrooms) with finished on-site hardwood floors, I had wood risers installed....And love, love, love the look of my stairs. Five years later, they still look gorgeous, with no work other than vacuuming. Not sure if this is an option for you, but it might help you decide to stain them.

I don't have any head-on shots of these stairs, but you can get an idea of how this treatment looks from these photos.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 3:55PM
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I like Liberon Wax & Polish Remover. If you use fine steel wool, make sure it is oil-free. Some people use mineral spirits; I don't like to. I have also used Naptha, which is great for cleaning off all kinds of dirt and gunk, and though it is a solvent, it dissipates very quickly, so I am willing to use it in a well-ventilated room. You need to respect the waiting period after using a remover before you paint, and on latex I like to give it a light wash with a cloth soaked in a mild dish soap solution and followed with a clean wet rag.

This sounds like a lot of carrying on, but working your way up a staircase is not such a big job, and in my view, worth it on both ends of the job.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 4:03PM
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Paint the risers white. We have alot of traffic here and they always look great.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 9:35PM
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I had painted in last house - plan to use paint again. I love the idea of stencling them - but I'm not creative enough.

Mine never got any scuff marks - though I never shoes in my house.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 12:36PM
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