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Paint Your Basement Stairs Black for a Modern Look

Last year I updated our unfinished basement, but I skipped the basement stairwell. Our basement makeover turned out beautifully, but going down the unfinished steps was such an eyesore! I decided to do a zero-dollar basement stairs makeover using materials we already owned for a modern look.

Here is what our basement looked like before the makeover:

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

And here is that same view after the basement makeover. You can see the unfinished stairs (and unpainted wood) in this image.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

When we brought the furniture back into the basement, the couch became stuck in the stairwell and we had to remove a few stairs to get the couch into the space. The stairwell has always had drywall, but it needed a fresh coat of paint. The basement stairs are wood and were painted gray sometime before we purchased the property. Along with the steps needing to be cleaned and painted, the repaired stairs needed to match!

Here is what they looked like at the beginning of this project:

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird
How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

How to Paint Your Basement Stairs

Using materials that we already owned, I was determined to give our basement staircase a fresh and modern look. Our updated basement has a clean and crisp look with black ceilings, white walls, and light gray floors. The plan for the staircase was a fresh coat of white paint to the walls and clean, black stairs. This clean color palette works perfectly with the style of the basement makeover. To add some personality to the space, I created a gallery wall with frames and photos in storage. My goal was to complete this DIY project spending zero dollars!

Step 1 | Paint the Walls & Ceiling

If you are planning on painting the ceiling and walls, tackle this before painting the steps. If you don’t need to paint the walls and ceiling, skip to step 2. To prepare the walls for paint, I used spackle to fill any holes in the walls. When the holes were filled, I sanded the area for a smooth finish. Using a rag and spray cleaner, I wiped down the walls to remove any dust and dirt. This ensures that the paint will adhere properly to the walls.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

We have a good amount of flat ceiling paint leftover in storage so I decided to use it for the walls. Normally I prefer eggshell or satin finish on the walls for easier cleaning. For this project, I used the flat paint for the walls and ceiling to stick to my zero dollar budget goal. Flat paint sheens are harder to clean compared to the glossier paint sheen options, but it’s just the basement stairwell, so I am ok with it!

I painted the gas line at the bottom of the stairs to provide a little camouflage. If you paint a gas line, make sure to avoid the levers so that it can turn properly. Here is the gas line before.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

And here it is after being painted. It definitely helps to blend it into the wall a bit more.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

Step 2 | Clean the Stairs

When the walls were dry, I swept the basement stairs and scrubbed the floors with cleaner.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

I used a putty knife to scrape off any hard to remove dirt.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

Step 3 | Trim the Edge of the Stairs

In our storage room, I found leftover black paint that is specifically for floors. A few years ago I painted the old linoleum in our laundry room in a black and white pattern and had plenty of paint leftover! Using an angled paintbrush, I painted the edges of the steps. Once the first coat was dry to the touch, which was basically the time it took me to trim the entire staircase, I went back and gave it a second coat of paint.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird
How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

The handrail for the stairs needed a little love too. I used the paintbrush to give the handrail a fresh coat of black paint. I applied a second coat once the first coat dried.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

Step 4 | Roll the Steps with Black Paint

For this part of the project, I recommend painting in your socks. You will have to walk on paint that has not completely cured to hit all of the treads. Determining how to paint the stair treads so that I didn’t get stuck in the basement was a little challenging. I began at the top of the staircase and used the roller to paint every stair riser and every other tread.

How I updated our basement staircase and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

After 30 minutes, I went back to the top of the staircase and began applying the second coat. I painted all of the risers and stair treads and did my best to stand on the unpainted stairs. As I worked my way down the stairs, I also applied the first coat of paint on unpainted treads. I waited another 30 minutes and gently walked on the painted stairs to give the second coat of paint to the remaining treads.

Step 5 | Apply the Clear Matte Top Coat

The product I used for the staircase requires a final clear topcoat to make the floor paint extremely durable.

How I updated our basement stairwell and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

I let the black paint cure for 24 hours and then applied the clear matte topcoat. The matte topcoat only requires a single coat. Unfortunately, the clear coat did not age as well as the black paint while sitting in storage. I shook the can vigorously and stirred it as best as I could, but it was still pretty chunky.

How I updated our basement stairwell and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

Because I couldn’t get rid of the chunks floating in the can, I only used a paintbrush to apply the clear topcoat (no roller). I couldn’t find a stir stick so I used chopsticks to stir the can before I dipped the paintbrush! Like I said earlier, my goal was to spend zero dollars and use only what we had in our home. I had to get scrappy, ha!

First, I applied the topcoat to the handrail, then I tackled the stairs.

How I updated our basement stairwell and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

I started at the top of the stairwell again and applied the coating evenly.

How I updated our basement stairwell and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

When I got to the bottom of the stairwell, I let the topcoat dry for 30 minutes. I gently stepped on the recently painted stairs and applied the topcoat to the remaining stairs. The Rust-Oleum HOME product recommends three days for the clear coat to dry. I walked on it a few hours after painting the topcoat and it held up just as well! However, I would not recommend wearing shoes or letting dogs scratch up the stairs for those three days.

How I updated our basement stairwell and painted the steps black for a fresh and modern look | Building Bluebird

With the entire stairwell painted, it was time to add the gallery wall. To create a cohesive look, I tried to only use black and light wood picture frames. I played around with the layout on the floor before hanging the frames on the wall.

Our zero-dollar makeover to update our dingy basement staircase | Building Bluebird

I included sweet photos of our kids we already had printed and peppered in a few posters of places that we love. Our friend owns a print shop (D&W Elements) and sent us awesome city prints for Toledo (where we live) and Denver (where we used to live). It all came together perfectly!

Our zero-dollar makeover to update our dingy basement staircase | Building Bluebird
Our zero-dollar makeover to update our dingy basement staircase | Building Bluebird

I am so pleased with how this zero-dollar makeover turned out! One project that I have added to my list, however, is installing a rug runner. I have realized that all-black stairs can be intimidating for some people to walk down. My little black dog also gets quite scared walking down the black steps!

Our zero-dollar makeover to update our dingy basement staircase | Building Bluebird
Our zero-dollar makeover to update our dingy basement staircase | Building Bluebird
Our zero-dollar makeover to update our dingy basement staircase | Building Bluebird
Our zero-dollar makeover to update our dingy basement staircase | Building Bluebird

I hope you enjoyed hearing about this project as I reused items found in storage! You can easily recreate this using your own paint or purchasing various items at your hardware store.


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