Step-by-Step Guide to Painting an Old Wooden Ladder

How to Paint an Old Wooden Ladder

Want to give your ladder a new look? Painting an old wooden ladder can be easy and inexpensive, and it can help to protect your ladder from the elements, giving it years of extra life. 

By following these step-by-step instructions, you’ll soon have your ladder looking like new in no time!

Can a Wooden Ladder Be Painted

Yes, a wooden ladder can be painted. Like most projects around your home or business, prepping your ladder is essential before you paint it. 

Although painting a wooden ladder is easy and requires few materials, there are some things you should consider before applying any paint. 

Start by cleaning and sanding off all old paint or varnish using a pressure washer if possible. Once your ladder has been cleaned and lightly sanded, it’s time to apply primer and finish coats of paint using brushes or rollers.

What You Need to Paint a Wooden Ladder

Painting can be a tricky endeavor, but certain tools simplify even difficult tasks. Invest in these essentials and save yourself some time and trouble when it comes time to paint. Here’s what you need: 


If you have any furniture that needs painting, brushes will help ensure your surface is smooth and even. 

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a quicker (and cheaper) alternative, use newspaper. It’s not as precise as bristles, but it can be just as effective – especially if you want a textured finish. Just fold up newspaper into sheets and dab paint onto it. 

Let dry before moving on to another section of your project.

Sand Paper

Get rid of any splinters or jagged edges. (You can sand your ladder before or after you’ve stripped it, depending on what you prefer.) 

Using fine grain sandpaper, carefully sand your wood until there are no rough patches left and you have a smooth finish. 

Be sure to do several light passes rather than one heavy one; you don’t want to burn through your wood. Start with 100-grit and work up through 150-grit until all signs of old paint are gone.


Painting an old wooden ladder can be a time-consuming, difficult process. But first things first. Start with a primer that’s designed for wood. 

If you don’t, your paint will just flake off! Prime your ladder thoroughly and let it dry before moving on to the next step.

Paint for Wooden Ladder

To make your wooden ladder safer, consider painting it with enamel paint. This protective coating can prevent splinters and extend its life substantially.

How to Paint an Old Wooden Ladder

Painting a wooden ladder may seem like an intimidating task at first, but it’s quite simple. 

A few supplies and some careful attention to detail will make sure your painted ladder is as sturdy and beautiful as the day you bought it. Here’s how to paint an old wooden ladder.

Prep Your Ladder

Sanding your ladder will give it a smooth finish and make it easier for paint to adhere. Remove any hardware that might be attached, like hooks or brackets, and then use medium-grit sandpaper or a power sander (if you have one) on each rung.

Remember, this step is optional, but since wooden ladders can splinter and crack when exposed to water and moisture, it’s a good idea if you want your ladder to last as long as possible.

Prime the Wood

Clean your ladder by sanding off all old paint and varnish. This allows your new coat of paint to stick well to the wood, making it less likely that it will chip or peel over time. 

Wipe down with a damp cloth; you’re now ready for primer. Apply two coats of primer and let dry completely between each coat (about 30 minutes). Let dry overnight before moving on to step three.

Finish the Wood

If you’re painting an old wooden ladder, use a belt sander or sandpaper and gently remove any old paint. Make sure your ladder is dry before you start painting it. 

If it gets wet, wait for it to dry again before applying any new coats of paint. Apply two light coats of primer instead of one heavy coat; that way, you’ll avoid buildup. 

A second option is to fill in holes with wood putty and then apply a final coat of paint.

Paint the Wood

Start by sanding down any rough spots on your ladder and give it a good wash. Then it’s time to prep for paint, which means covering up your ladder’s rungs with masking tape (if you want a crisp paint line). 

When that’s done, it’s time to start painting.

Since all you’re painting is a ladder, any paint should do. I used a semi-gloss white because it dries quickly and covers well.

As soon as you finish one coat, your ladder should be ready for a second coat. 

The longer you wait, however, the more likely it is that your paint will start to peel off (something I learned from experience!). This means you’ll need another sanding session before applying another coat of paint.

Once you’ve applied two coats of paint, you’re ready to let your ladder dry for about a day before reattaching it to whatever it was previously holding up. 

And, if I can recommend one thing, wait at least 24 hours after putting your ladder down before climbing up on it. Not only will your paint be at its stickiest then, but your fingerprints will show on any new paint job as well!

Final Touches

A professional painter will tell you that all touch-ups must be completed once your painting project is finished. 

The end of a job is actually when it’s easiest to spot imperfections and nicks in your paint job, because there aren’t any other colors covering them up. 

This means you have plenty of time to fix them now, and don’t have to pay a rush fee or deal with high costs for re-doing a whole wall or ceiling area.

The Pros of Painting a Wooden Ladder

Painting a wooden ladder is not particularly difficult, but before you do it, there are some things you should know. 

For instance, painting a wooden ladder is typically cheaper than buying a new one – but only if it’s done correctly and professionally. 

Moreover, painting a ladder can add years of life to your existing rungs and railings; however, wood tends to absorb paint unevenly over time. These issues call for careful consideration on your part.

On balance, it’s fair to say that painting a wooden ladder is cheaper and easier than replacing it – but only if you get high-quality materials, prepare properly and execute a thorough paint job. 

We recommend all homeowners follow these guidelines when considering painting their wooden ladders.

The Cons of Painting a Wooden Ladder

Painting a ladder can be an easy task or a very challenging one, depending on its size and materials. 

A wood ladder is likely made of natural wood with minimal paint already applied. 

While it’s quick and easy to apply fresh paint over older ones, some cons come along with painting a wooden ladder: 

First, latex paints work best when applied over other latex paints; applying them over oil-based paints can cause cracking and peeling in time as they dry out.

Second, painting a ladder can be tricky because wood expands and contracts depending on humidity levels. 

Depending on where you live and store your ladder, you may have to sand and re-paint it every few years. If that’s not something you want to deal with, choosing a different material might be best for your needs.

Third, painting a ladder may seem like a very easy task. However, if you’re painting something that weighs several hundred pounds and is up against a wall, it can be tricky to paint without dripping and making mistakes. 

Applying multiple coats of paint is also difficult because of splatter – you want your ladder to look nice for as long as possible.

Related: How to Remove Paint from Aluminum Ladder


It may seem simple, but painting a wooden ladder is a lot more difficult than you might think. You can’t just slap on some paint and call it a day! 

I found that my old ladder was made of oak, so it needs special attention when being painted.