Painting over wood stairs may sound like a bad idea, but there are circumstances in which it's really the best option.
- In many older homes, especially those meant for middle- or working-class residents, stairs may not have been made from the best woods, or even from the same wood throughout. The steps themselves may be oak for durability, but the risers some other, cheaper wood. Therefore, staining would give an uneven result.
- If a staircase has been covered with carpeting or linoleum during the course of its life, the adhesives used, which may consist of tar-like substances, may have rendered the wood unsuitable for staining. In this case, your best bet is to clean the steps as well as possible, prime them and add a coat of paint.
- If the stairs have had a lot of wear and tear, including nail holes, gouges or cracks, they will require considerable wood filler and other repairs which will be visible even with the best match of filler to wood. A coat of paint under these circumstances conceals a lifetime of abuse.
- If you are planning to use stair runner, painting rather than staining can save you a lot of labor on steps that will be largely concealed. You shouldn't just stain or paint the area that shows, however, in case you later change your mind and remove the runner!
Note: Keep in mind that bare painted steps can be slippery; consider using stair treads or rubberized strips on the stairs to prevent accidents.