How To Sand a Stair Railing or Banister [Step by Step]

Uneven and discolored stair railings or banisters make your home look unattractive. Their surfaces can also feel rough and uncomfortable as you move up or down the stairs.

So, instead of replacing them or conducting expensive repairs, you can improve the look and feel of your home by sanding, staining, and repainting stair railings instead.

Sanding and staining stair railings or banisters may improve their aesthetics, particularly on their corners, crannies, and intricate designs. Staining adds an extra layer of protection, making them look new. 

The rest of this article will explain this topic in greater detail. You can learn more about how to refinish and sand stair railings and what are the best grit sandpapers for them. Read on to learn how to sand a stair railing or banister.

man sanding a wooden stair railing

How To Refinish and Sand Stair Railings

Whether you moved into a new house or have stayed in yours for a few years, wooden railings and banisters may show wear and tear over time. The wear and tear can be due to surrounding conditions (e.g., excessive humidity that causes wood rot) or man-made causes.

To return them to their former glory, follow these simple steps to refinish and sand your stair railings:

Prep your space. Before sanding the stair railings and banisters, spread a drop cloth covering the floor beneath the railings. This is so cleanup will be easier later.

Take the necessary safety precautions. Open all doors and windows to improve ventilation. Wear rubber gloves, preferably the Gorilla Grip Slip Resistant Gloves (available on, since they’re designed for multipurpose DIY projects.

Also, don safety goggles and a dust mask to protect your eyes and nose from dust.

Strip the wood railings. Coat the stair railings with a finishing chemical stripper. Use something like the Citistrip Paint Stripping Gel (available on because it removes multiple layers of dry paint and varnish.

Scrape off the old paint and varnish. After letting the wood stripper sit, use a plastic scraper to scrape off the layers of paint and varnish from the stair railings. Repeat this process with the rest of the railings until all of the old paint and varnish come off.

Scrub the wood. Remove any remaining varnish with a scrubbing pad or soft-grade steel wool. Wash off the stripping solution with water and let it dry.

Start sanding. If the stair railings require heavy sanding, run 120-grit sandpaper to remove the dents. Finish with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any splinters, old coats of stain, and bumps, smoothing the surface.

Ensure you sand in the direction of the wood grain. If your railing or banister is intricate or located along a wall or another tight spot, I’d recommend using a mouse or detail sander – here are the best ones (in my opinion).

Clean the area. You can vacuum the area to remove dust and use a damp cloth to clean off the excess before drying and staining.

Apply your preferred stain. If you don’t want to paint your stair railings a different color; consider staining them. Use the Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain (available on, which is easy to apply and pour into a small container.

Dip the cloth into the container and stain the stair railings. Repeat this process on the rest of the railings. Don’t forget to wipe off any excess stains. Allow your stair railings to dry overnight.

Apply a varnish. Choose a varnish that suits your stair railings. You can consider the TotalBoat Gleam Marine Spar Varnish (available on

Apply the varnish in several thin layers and sand the stair railings between applications, letting it dry before applying another coat.

What’s the Best Grit Sandpaper for a Banister or Railing?

A 120-grit sandpaper or sanding block is best for sanding a banister or railing in most cases. However, if your stair railings and banister have rougher surfaces, consider 40 to 60 grits of sandpaper for more irregular surfaces.

(Source: Homedecorbliss and HowStuffWorks)

sandpaper with different types and grit

What To Look For in Grit Sandpaper for Banister or Railing

Having smooth, shiny varnished stair railings is possible as long as you use the right kind of sandpaper.

As a general rule of thumb, you should check for the following:

  • A rigid backing material. These materials should be strong enough to withstand rips or cracks at the slightest bend.
  • Grits that stick. High-quality sandpaper should have grits that stick and stay for effective sanding.
  • Price. You should consider buying affordable sandpapers that come in at least a few sheets so you can use them for longer.

For example, consider the Hook and Loop Sanding Discs (available on These come with various sanding grits ranging from 40 to 800-grit hooks.

So, with a pack of 70 pieces per purchase, you are assured of a smooth finish and durability (source: Woodsmith). The one downside is that they’re pretty fragile.

To achieve an elegant look for your home, don’t shy away from sanding and refinishing those stair railings. Make sure you buy the best sandpaper and stain for the job to achieve that smooth, professional-looking finish you want.