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How To Prep and Paint Basement Stairs

Hello Friends,

How to Prep and Paint Basement Stairs is Part I of a two-part makeover series.

The second post, How to Buy and Install a Staircase Runner, is posted with the One Room Challenge Week 2.

Hope you’ll join us.

How To Prep and Paint Basement Stairs

Part I of II in the Basement Stairs Makeover

Remove Carpet:

If your staircase makeover starts with carpet on the stairs, please click over to one of my earlier posts that explains how to handle all that goes with this step. 10 Tips for a Successful Staircase Redo

Once the carpet is removed, meet me back here.

BEFORE: A staircase makeover begins here | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

  • The staircase should be carpetless, nailless, stapleless and squeaky clean.

  • Each tread should also have been sanded smooth.

  • In some cases, this is only a light buffing, but with others, it’s a heavy sanding.

My stairs were pretty clean, so I just had to smooth down places where the tack strips and nails were removed.

During: Stairs are stripped and cleaned. Now they are makeover ready | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

How to Fill Gaps

Three product choices are available, depending on the size of the gaps.

During: How to fill gaps | A choice of three products | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

How to Fill Large Gaps

DURING: How to fill large gaps | Basement staircase makeover | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

A foam gap sealant works great.

First, read and follow all of the directions (including protective wear) on the side of the can.

Then, simply stick the application wand as deep into the crevice as possible.

Gently squeeze the applicator trigger. Do not pull and hold the trigger.

Kinda puff pulling the trigger…move the wand an inch or so deep inside the crevice…..wait 30 seconds or so…..then puff again…move the wand another inch or so…wait again. And so on.

How to fill gaps | See tips and tricks on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

The reason extreme patience and a soft touch is needed when spraying the product is because it takes time for the gap filler to expand. And the more minutes it sets, the more it will expand.

I did a deep crevice application. Let it set 30 minutes or so and then did a second application on top.

This is how it looked the next day.

During: Gap filler before cutting | See the tutorial on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

After about 24 hours, a sharp utility knife was used to cut away the excess pouff. Try to cut the gap filler as close to level with the tread as possible. And better to have the gap filler a little lower than the tread than higher.

Don’t worry about the tiny spaces left in the gap filler or in small crevices. 

During: Gap filler in a cut-away | See the tutorial on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

How to Fill Small Gaps

The second step or the first step for small gaps is to fill them with either wood filler or caulk.

Which one to use is your choice. I tried both and found that the spaces I needed to cover were so small, the caulk did just fine.

However, I still did a first application of caulk and let it dry.

Remember caulk cannot be sanded and may shrink as it dries.

So I waited until the next day to determine if any crevices needed a second coat.

Touch ups were applied here and there, but for the most part, the caulk was perfect after one application.

Learn how to fill gaps | Tutorial is on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

How to Fill Wood Knots, Nail Holes and Nail Heads

Wood Knots and Nail Holes:

See that big black round thing on the stair tread (photo below)? That’s a wood knot. And yes, it has to be filled.

This time, using wood filler is a must.

Add wood filler and smooth the surface with a flat edge tool. Allow the wood filler to completely dry. It will take several hours, maybe overnight.

Then sand the wood filler smooth with the wood. If the wood filler cracked during the dry time, a second light coat should correct it.

Again…allow plenty of time to dry. And then sand it again.

Use this process to cover the small holes left from nail removal, too.

Nail Heads:

If nail heads are riding too high and about 99% will be, nail them deeper into the wood. This is called counter sinking. 

Then cover the divet with wood filler.

Let it completely dry and sand smooth.

During: How to fill wood knots tutorial is on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com


I painted the baseboards, risers and part of the treads (Behr Arcadia White) in semi-gloss. When the white was completely dry, the sides were taped down and portions of the treads were painted black (Behr Porch paint). I had the porch paint on hand, but since the runner will take the abuse from traffic, porch paint isn’t an absolute necessity.

But if you don’t add a runner, I do recommend using porch paint. For more information about porch paint, please check the post I linked at the beginning. It explains how to get your paint to stick and stay. Here’s the link again.

During: How to paint treads and risers tutorial is on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

Once all of these processes are complete, we have super-clean, lightly sanded and partially painted stairs.

These stairs are ready for a runner.

During: These stairs are prepped and ready for a runner | See the tutorial on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

How to Buy and Install a Stair Runner

Part II of II Basement Stairs Makeover

This post is now live and linked to the Fall One Room Challenge – Week 2. Click here to see.

#prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #staircaserunner

After: Basement staircase makeover tutorial is on the blog | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

In the meantime, to save this post for later, please PIN the image below.

DIY Staircase Makeover explains how to (1) prep and paint, and (2) buy and install a runner | #prepandpaintbasementstairs #staircasemakeover #orc #oneroomchallenge #bhgorc | www.thechelseaproject.com

As always, thanks so much for stopping by…


  • Reply Susanne October 8, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    Great tutorial my friend! I would have never thought of using foam sealer to fill in gaps….genius!! And I just love that runner!!

    • Reply theChelseaProject October 8, 2019 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks Susanne!! The tutorial for the runner is long, too. I had to break them up….otherwise…..slooooooow load. LOL…

  • Reply Marie October 9, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Your tutorials are ALWAYS so well written and informative, Susie! Pinned 🙂

  • Reply Denise - Salvaged Inspirations October 9, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Great tutorial Suz, and I had NO idea could fill stair gaps with the foam! And that runner… simply gorgeous! XO

    • Reply theChelseaProject October 9, 2019 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks Denise. That foam has just been amazing. So glad I discovered it!

  • Reply Tonya Moore August 17, 2020 at 1:42 am

    Where did you get the stair runner? I see you talk about how to buy one, but I can’t find the pin for it.

  • Reply Barbara February 18, 2021 at 11:20 am

    Hi, Susie! I am so glad I found you! I just finished ripping out yucky carpet off my stairs, and now I face stairs that look very much like yours. I love the look of the black painted treads, and I intend to use porch paint for durability. I am wondering – is the porch paint you used gloss or low-lustre?

    • Reply theChelseaProject February 18, 2021 at 3:41 pm

      Hi Barbara,
      I sent the paint info via email, but will repeat here just in case you didn’t get it. I used Behr Porch Paint in Gloss Enamel.
      Good luck!

    Thanks so much for your comment!

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