How To Paint Your Stair Rails Black No Sanding No Stripping

Today I am sharing how to paint stair railings black without sanding or using chemical strippers. This will cut down a ton on all of your prep work and you are going to be left with an updated and modernized space, bonus, it’s a pretty simple DIY, just takes a little time.

I have done this in our rental and a year and a half later they have held up perfectly so I was ready to tackle our stairs at home. I completed this right before the holidays and I still have the rest of the banisters to complete that wrap around the whole upstairs, That section is going to be a little tricky as I will need a very tall ladder. If you are new here, let me share a little about the history of our stairs.

When we moved in 20+ years ago the builders put in an oak banister and it had been stained what looked to be honey oak, our whole house was covered in honey oak. I can’t believe this was 16+Years ago

Eventually, we hired out and had them sand off the old stain to bring it down to the bare wood and restain with a darker color, I believe we used dark walnut. We tore the carpets out and installed wood stairs, and used white paint on the risers, this was about 15 years ago.  Today, I am ready for a change, it is definitely showing its wear and tear. The kids used to love sliding down the rails with their hands if that makes sense, as you can see the stain is almost gone in many places.

Let’s get into all of the details!

When you need to sand:

There are several variations on how to paint over stained wood. I would NOT recommend this if your wood is peeling or chipping, if it is you will need to sand the surface down to a smooth finish first.

What type of paint?

You want to make sure your primer is a bonding primer, there are many of them, and I’m sure most of us have heard of Kiltz.
The paint and primer I used, has a bonding primer in it. If you don’t use the product I used make sure you purchase a bonding primer and then follow it up with your choice of paint making sure it is enamel paint.
I used Behr ultra scuff defense paint and primer interior semi-gloss enamel Tricorn Black.

I was originally going to use Sherwin-Williams paint but forgot that Home Depot does not carry that brand. Not wanting to make another stop they recommended Behr scuff defense for the handrails, It went on smoothly and the coverage is amazing, I used 2 coats of paint. The best part, it stands up to scuffs with a premium scuff resistance, perfect for a stair rail.

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NOTE: I painted the railing and the outer string of the staircase, so when I refer to the railing I’m also painting the outer string at the same time in this tutorial.

Is cleaning really important?

Yes, you must clean the railings very well using a chemical cleaner. It is REALLY IMPORTANT to use a chemical cleaner because there is likely a greasy residue that has built up over time. You could use borax or dawn but I can’t guarantee the paint won’t peel over time.

Deglossing the stain

This is when the liquid sandpaper comes in, you need to get rid of the protective layer of varnish so your paint will stick to the surface.

Does it matter if your stain is oil or water based?

Most say If the stain is water-based you can paint over the stain as long as you use a primer. Others will say you can’t paint over the oil-based stain, HOWEVER, I have done it without any problems using this method, I’ll list those projects at the end of this post.
You can determine which type of stain you are dealing with by sprinkling a tiny amount of water on the wood. Give it about a minute, if the water begins to bead up, the stain is oil-based.


All-Purpose Heavy Duty Cleaner TSP
Liquid Sandpaper
Foam Paint Roller
Purdy Angular Trim Paint Brush 1 or 2 inch
Painters Tape
Sanding block
Drop Cloth
Sponge Brush
Clean, dry lint-free rags
Small craft brush
Paint Stick
1 quart Behr ultra scuff defense paint and primer interior semi-gloss enamel Tricorn Black
I had them color match Sherwin Williams, Tricorn Black.

Why Tricorn? Tricorn Black does not have any obvious undertones in it, giving it a classic yet sophisticated look. Exactly what I had imagined!


STEP 1: Clean and prep the entire surface that you will be painting. As with any DIY project, preparation is the key to success!
Place your drop cloth down to protect your flooring.
Clean thoroughly with a degreaser, TSP is my go-to! Using a microfiber or tack cloth, to remove any dirt and grime, I went over the whole staircase twice.
I did not want to deal with a mess so I used a Liquid Sander, it does the same thing as light sand. This will not take off the paint or stain like sanding does but it roughs up the surface enough so the new paint will stick.
Make sure to wear gloves, and apply the liquid sandpaper to a lint-free cloth. Rub it on the whole railing in a circular motion. Allow the liquid sandpaper to sit on the surface for the time specified in the directions. I repeated this process twice, did I actually need to do this? Most likely not, I just wasn’t seeing much of a difference other than the texture of the railing so I was a little concerned. But guess what, the paint stuck perfectly!
Use painter’s tape to cover the spindles, floors, and all the corners. I know it can be a little tedious but it is worth it in the end.

Step 2: Paint

Using a foam roller I painted the top and sides of the banister, rolling in the direction of the grain for my first coat. Using the roller will also prevent brush strokes. I used an angled brush for those little grooves in the railing, around the and. Next was the underneath which was kind of a pain. I used a 2-inch angle brush and a sponge brush for all of the tricky areas.

Allow to dry overnight and add your second coat.

 Step 3: Use a Sanding Block

Let’s face it, dust particles will end up on wet paint, Using a sanding sponge (block) I went over any area that had a rough feel, and it instantly gave the rail a smooth surface.  Touch up with paint where the sanding block was used.

 Step 4: Remove tape and touch up

 When I removed the tape, I could see the little areas where my taping was not perfect. I used a small craft brush for touch-ups.






I also painted the trim that leads into the wine cellar under the stairs.

Such an inexpensive upgrade that makes such a big difference and adds value to your home!  It is amazing how just simply painting the stair rail can really modernize your home without breaking the bank.

Other options that are easier than using a power sander or paint stripper are general finishes gel stain and chalk paint.

Rental Stairs Painted

How I painted the bathroom cabinets


Thank you so much for stopping by, drop any questions you have in the comment section.

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  1. What a difference a coat of paint makes. I love the style of the stairs. I recently painted my whole house inside and out and used the deglosser, saved me so much time and mess.

  2. Wow, what a game-changer! I’ve always admired the look of black stair rails, but the thought of sanding and stripping has deterred me from attempting it. The step-by-step instructions and helpful tips make it seem so achievable. I can’t wait to give it a try. Thank you for sharing this!

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