How to Paint Spiral Stairs

Why You Should Paint

Painting your stair can either be an aesthetic choice, a method of protection, or both. The first is personal preference, the second may or may not be necessary depending on the material and location of your stair. Whichever your reason for painting a stair, it’s worth the time to take and make sure you select the right paint for your needs and to make sure you paint your stair properly.

Doing the job properly the first time will lessen the amount of maintenance needed down the road and lengthen the lifespan of your stair overall.


Know Your Material

Getting down to brass tacks, the first step you’ll want to take is to measure out the space you’ve set aside so you know what size you’re looking at for you stair. Is this a wide open space with plenty of room for something on a grander scale? Or is your space a little more limiting?

How wide is your space? And what is your finished floor-to-floor height? This second measurement will help you determine your rise and run for each step, and how it will calculate for spiral stairs vs. straight stairs will be different. So knowing how your space affects the calculation for each is important. Spiral stairs generally have a 30 degree rotation for each tread. So knowing your height and overall rotation will tell you how many treads you’ll need.

With a spiral stair, you’re looking at either wood or metal for your components. Each category can be further broken down. Metal can be broken down into standard steel, aluminum, and galvanized steel. Wood can be broken down into multiple species, which typically include such options as oak and cherry for indoor applications and teak and mahogany for outdoor applications. There are several more species that can be used, but what’s actually available will depend on your chosen manufacturer.

Aluminum:
Aluminum, being primarily for outdoor application, by its corrosive resistant nature does not require a protective coat of paint. So painting it would be only for aesthetic purposes. Keep in mind that aluminum is usually powder coated. Powder coating can come in standard black or white with most manufacturers, but it can also be custom colored according to any color on the Pantone perfect spectrum or RAL color matching systems. So it may not be necessary to paint an aluminum stair at all even for aesthetic purposes as the selection of colors is literally whatever you can think of in the powder coating department.

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Galvanized Steel:
This idea also applies to galvanized steel. Galvanized steel has gone through a hot dip process wherein the steel components have been dipped in molten zinc. This process creates a metallurgical reaction between the steel and the molten zinc which in turn creates a durable armoring for the components. In this case, painting isn’t really necessary for protecting the stair either. It’s more a matter of taste.

Even if for the purpose of personal taste, painting a galvanized stair immediately upon receipt is not wise. The hot dip process causes gases to release slowly from the stair over a period of 6-9 months. Moreover, any paint applied to the surface during that period will bubble and crack. This 6-9 month period is called the “weathering” process. Its effects are visible because a galvanized stair starts out with a shiny appearance that turns battleship gray eventually. When this battleship gray look is apparent, the stair is ready to be painted.

Most, however, find the battleship gray look singular and desirable. It creates an attractive nautical theme. It may be necessary, however, to preserve this battleship gray appeal with a specialized zinc rich paint. Sometimes, through wear and tear, the zinc surface armor can be scratched deeply enough to expose the raw steel beneath. If left unchecked, this will lead to rust. A simple patch job with zinc paint will address that before it becomes a problem.

Standard Steel:
Standard steel, if placed indoors in an a room with moderate temperature, doesn’t really need to be painted. Especially since most manufacturers of quality will prime a steel stair. So, again, if indoors, painting is more for aesthetic purposes than anything else. If the stair is outside, however, then it will absolutely have to be painted. Specifically with a specially formulated rust-prevention paint product. Several coats of this rust-prevention paint and a few coats of sealant to follow will be necessary. These steps should be applied as soon as possible following installation.

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Wood:
Wood covers so many things: pine, oak, teak, alder, cherry, and more. Not all of these various wood species are easy to paint. With some, you’re much better off applying a stain and finish. Some can even be left alone entirely.

Rather than try to provide a complete list of which woods are more susceptible to a coat of paint and which are difficult to paint, we’ll just cover the characteristics that make a wood species receptive to paint.

One thing to keep in mind is the color of the wood. The lighter the wood, the easier it will be to paint to your desired shade because it will require fewer coats and less labor. Darker wood will require more coats before any significant change is visible.

Wood that’s easy to sand to a level surface without raised grain will also be easier to paint. The more level the surface, the more even the distribution of your paint. Most manufacturers of quality will pre-sand/prime any wood components prior to shipping, though. So this likely won’t be a concern.

Plus, some darker woods, e.g. mahogany, just look better without paint when their allowed to be in their natural glory. The same applies to cedar, teak, or any wood suitable for outdoor use. These are purchased for their raw appeal and best left with their natural finish. If you are wondering which woods fall under this category, just think of which woods are used for outdoor decks.

Whatever your wood, though, if you really must paint it, just be sure to clean your surface thoroughly first. If you don’t, just as with unsanded/primed wood surfaces, you’ll have an uneven coat.


When Should You Paint

Besides the points listed above—waiting for galvanized steel to “weather,” sanding/priming wood first, etc.—there are other factors that affect when you should paint a stair for obtaining the best results.

These factors have mostly to do with outdoor settings and opportune weather conditions. Obviously, you don’t want to paint your stair while it’s raining. Not even if it’s just a light spritz. This will make your coat uneven. Plus, you’ll essentially be sealing moisture into your stair surface, which will lead to corrosion. You want to paint on a dry day with zero precipitation. And you want to clean and dry your stair completely first.

You also don’t want to paint when it’s windy. The wind will cause your paint coat to distribute unevenly, which will make it thinner on some sides. Those sides will be prone to corrosion.

Lastly, while you want it to be a clear sunny day, you don’t want it to be too sunny or hot. Otherwise, the side of your paint coat facing the sun will dry quicker than it’s supposed to, which will lead to your paint coat not living up to its protective potential.

So take all of these elemental aspects under consideration when choosing a time to paint. Other than that, just make sure your surface as clean and you paint at the soonest possible time.

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