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How to Stain a Staircase in 3 Steps!

If you have an ugly orange banister railing then you need to read these tips on how to stain a staircase. No need to remove anything or spend a ton of money to dramatically improve the look of your staircase.

Staircase Makeover for Beginners

I couldn’t live with an orange banister railing, especially with recently installed floors that didn’t match. To save money, I decided to stain my railing instead of replacing everything.

Since I recently installed Pergo flooring in the color Java Scraped Oak, I went with the stain color Kona by Varathane because it matched perfectly.

how to stain a staircase

Items Required to Stain a Banister:

  • 1 quart of Varathane stain with poly in the color Kona Semi-Gloss.
  • Wooster Brush for Stain and Varnishes
  • Lots of rags and drop clothes
  • Painters tape
  • Mask
  • Gloves
  • Fine sandpaper

Items Required for Painting Spindles:

  • White Semi-Gloss Paint
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Paint Brush
  • Painter’s Mitt (Optional)
how to update an orange staircase railing

Step 1: How to Prep a Staircase for Staining

Clean: Before staining a staircase, make sure to wipe down the banister with a damp sponge to remove any residue or dust from any areas that are going to be sanded and stained.

Dry: After wiping all areas with a damp sponge, dry the staircase then place drop cloths under the areas that would be sanded,

Sand: Use light pressure and fine sandpaper to gently roughen the surface of the staircase. The sanding does not have to be down to the wood, just enough to etch the surface.

Remove Dust: Grab a dry cloth to remove all of the sanding dust before staining the railing.

how to stain a staircase

Tip: Wrap painters tape around the top and bottoms of the spindles to prevent stain from splattering on to the spindles.

Prep the Floor and Stairs: Protect your surrounding areas with a drop cloths to prevent stain splatters.

Time to Stain: After putting on gloves, dip a dry cloth or brush into the stain then apply a thin even coat onto the stair railing.

Make sure to stain with the grain of the stair railing and allow the first coat to dry for several hours. After the first coast has dried completely you can begin applying the 2nd coat of stain.

Continue to follow these steps until you have achieved the color you are going for.

Painting Spindles

The spindles on my staircase were already white, so I only had to touch up the spindles with a quick coat of white paint.

After staining, I freshened up the spindles with white semi-gloss trim paint and a paint brush.

If your spindles aren’t already white, you may want to use a painter’s mitt to apply the paint quicker.

how to paint stair spindles
Tape the railings

Step 2: How to Stain a Staircase

I preferred to use a brush when applying the stain to the banister, but I know some people would rather use a rag or an old t-shirt to apply the stain.

Either a brush or a rag will work great to apply this stain, it is all preference here.

Begin applying the first coat of stain with a Wooster brush made for stain and varnishes.

I lightly applied the stain with my brush in the same direction of the grain of the wood.

Make sure to go with the grain or your stain will look really sloppy when it dries.

The first couple of coats of stain looked very streaky, so don’t panic it will look better after another coat of stain.

DIY stained staircase

Before applying the second coat, make sure the stain feels dry to the touch.

After I applied the second coat of stain, the staircase railing already looked so much better.

I used a total of three coats of stain to complete the staircase railing.

If you are using a different color stain, it might take more or less coats of stain to cover the orange banister.

Tips for Staining a Staircase Banister

  • Wear a mask
  • Stain in a well ventilated area
  • Wear gloves
  • Reuse your brush multiple times by placing it in an airtight bag

Step 3: Protective Top Coat for Banister

Since the Varathane stain has polyurethane mixed in with the stain, there is no need for a top coat.

You cannot go wrong with Varathane stain with poly because this product really lasts!

I have used Varathane on so many wood projects throughout my home.

how to stain a staircase


Even with crazy toddlers running around beating up everything in my home, the stain holds up great! I stained this staircase a few years ago and it still looks amazing! It’s really that’s easy to get rid of a cheap looking banister. This staircase railing dramatically updated the whole look and feel of my home!

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Friday 1st of December 2023

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