Most people think that wallpaper is just for walls. But you can wallpaper almost anything—including a staircase that needs sprucing up
How to Wallpaper Stairs
Thomas J. Story


  • 1 roll (or 1 double roll) of wallpaper, pre-pasted or unpasted
  • acrylic wallcovering primer with sizing
  • clear strippable wallcovering adhesive, labeled for all wallcovering types (if wallpaper is unpasted)
  • matte or gloss clear acrylic, 1 quart


  • ruler
  • drafting triangle
  • pencil
  • sticky notes (Post-Its)
  • scissors
  • household cleaner, or deglosser
  • if existing paint has a gloss finish
  • rubber gloves, bucket, and sponge
  • synthetic-bristle brush or sponge brush, 2 inch
  • wallpaper sponge and wallpaper brush
  • wallpaper smoothing tool
  • painter’s masking tape, 1 inch or wider
  • newspaper (optional)


1. Measure and cut. With the ruler, measure each stair riser separately, as there may be discrepancies in height or length. Using the ruler, drafting triangle, and pencil, lightly outline the rectangles you will need on the face of the wallpaper. Use the sticky notes to indicate the order of the risers, and which edge faces up. Cut the wallpaper exactly to fit each riser.

2. Prep. Wearing gloves, wash the steps with water and the cleaner or  deglosser. Let dry. With the wallpaper brush, apply a thin, even coat of wallcovering primer with sizing to each riser. (This helps the wallpaper stick to the slick surfaces common on stair risers, such as lacquer and gloss paint, and it makes the wallpaper easier to remove later.) Wipe away any drips with the wallpaper sponge. Let dry.

3. Apply the wallpaper. If you’re using unpasted wallpaper, brush a thin coat of adhesive on one stair riser. Use enough to cover the riser completely but not so much that it drips. If you’re using pre-­pasted paper, brush water onto the back of the paper, and wait the recommended “booking” time. In either case, press the wallpaper onto the first riser, starting at one corner and working your way across. If you see that the paper isn’t aligned properly, slide it gently into position. Smooth the paper with your fingers as you go. Then go over the sheet with the smoothing tool, working from the center toward the edges. Sponge off any excess adhesive with the wallpaper sponge. Repeat for the other risers.

4. Press the edges and complete. About 15 minutes after you’ve applied each sheet of wallpaper, press around the edges with your fingers one more time. Wipe off the surface again with the wallpaper sponge.

5. Add the glaze. After the wallpaper adhesive is completely dry, you can add a glaze of clear acrylic to protect the wallpaper and make scuffs easier to wipe off. First, apply the painter’s masking tape just outside the edges of each riser to protect the adjoining surfaces from the glaze. For extra protection, position sheets of news­paper on the stair treads. Using the synthetic-bristle brush or sponge brush, apply the clear acrylic over the wallpaper; it will look milky at first but will become transparent when it’s dry.

Alternate method

If you want to avoid using water or messy adhesive, you can use permanent double-faced tape. The downside is that the tape is harder to remove than the wallpaper paste if you change your mind later.

First-timer tips

A staircase is usually wider than a wallpaper roll, so choose a pattern that looks good sideways. This way, you’ll need only one strip per stair. Also, some designs will produce wildly varying effects on each stair, so choose your wallpaper with this in mind.

Unpasted wallpaper is recommended over pre-pasted wallpaper for this project because it calls for a gel adhesive rather than water to apply the paper to the surface. This is helpful if you don’t want to drip water onto your stairs, which might damage the finish on the treads.