What Do You Cover Stairs With When Painting?

When painting stairs, protecting both the stairs themselves and the surrounding area is crucial to achieving a successful and professional-looking finish. Painting stairs can breathe new life into your interior space, but it requires careful preparation and the use of appropriate materials to avoid damage and ensure clean results.

To cover stairs when painting, use either drop cloths or painter’s plastic. Drop cloths, made of thick, absorbent fabric, are excellent for protecting the stairs from paint drips and spills. Painter’s plastic, a lightweight and easy-to-handle option, also provides effective coverage.

Both options are readily available and can be purchased at hardware stores or online. Securing these coverings properly will prevent paint from staining or damaging the stairs, ensuring a pristine finish.

Choosing the Right Drop Cloth or Painter’s Plastic

Selecting the appropriate drop cloth or painter’s plastic is essential for efficient coverage and protection. Drop cloths come in various sizes, from small to large, and are available in standard or heavy-duty options.

Standard drop cloths are often made of canvas, while heavy-duty ones consist of multiple layers of fabric for enhanced durability.

For a small set of stairs, a medium-sized drop cloth should suffice, but for larger staircases, opt for a large or multiple drop cloths to cover the entire area adequately.

Painter’s plastic, on the other hand, varies in thickness, typically measured in mils (thousandths of an inch). For stair painting, a plastic thickness of around 1 to 2 mils is usually sufficient. Thicker plastic may be required for heavy-duty painting projects, but it might be less manageable during the application process.

Securing the Drop Cloth or Painter’s Plastic

To prevent accidental shifting or movement of the drop cloth or plastic during painting, secure it in place using painter’s tape or masking tape.

Painter’s tape is gentle on surfaces and is ideal for protecting delicate stair finishes. Apply the tape along the edges of the cloth or plastic, adhering it to the stair railings or walls.

This will create a tight seal, ensuring the covering remains in place, even during extended painting sessions.

1. Masking Off Areas

Before beginning the painting process, identify areas you want to avoid painting, such as handrails, balusters, or trim.

Use painter’s tape to mask off these sections, providing clean and crisp edges for your painted stairs. Ensure the tape is applied securely and pressed firmly to avoid any paint seepage under the edges.

2. Consider the Type of Paint

The type of paint you choose for your stairs can also impact the coverage process. For interior stairs, latex paint is commonly used due to its fast-drying properties and ease of cleaning.

Latex paint is also low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds), making it a more environmentally friendly option.

Oil-based paints can also be used, but they require more drying time and may emit stronger odors. Exterior stairs, which are exposed to harsh weather conditions, may benefit from using acrylic or oil-based paints that provide added durability and weather resistance.

3. Ventilation and Safety Precautions

Proper ventilation is essential during any painting project, especially when using oil-based paints or working in enclosed spaces.

Open windows and use fans to ensure adequate airflow, reducing the concentration of paint fumes. If you’re sensitive to paint fumes or have respiratory issues, consider wearing a respirator mask while painting.

4. Post-Painting Cleanup

Once you have finished painting the stairs, allow sufficient drying time for the paint to cure before removing the drop cloths or plastic.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for drying times, as they may vary depending on the type of paint used.

When removing the coverings, do so gently to avoid any accidental smudging or damage to the newly painted surfaces.

Can I Paint Over Stairs Without Covering Them?

While it might be tempting to skip the step of covering stairs during painting, it is strongly advised against.

Painting stairs without proper protection can lead to paint drips and spills, which can damage the stairs’ surface or stain adjacent surfaces.

Moreover, it can be challenging to remove paint from stair materials such as wood or carpet, resulting in additional cleanup and repair work.

Taking the time to cover stairs adequately before painting is a small investment that ensures a smoother and more successful painting process.


In conclusion, covering stairs with drop cloths or painter’s plastic is essential when painting to protect the stairs and surrounding areas.

Both drop cloths and painter’s plastic are readily available and offer effective coverage against paint drips and spills. Properly securing the coverings and masking off areas will further enhance the painting process, ensuring clean and crisp results.

Remember to choose the right type of paint based on your needs, provide proper ventilation during painting, and allow sufficient drying time before removing the coverings.

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