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How to Paint a Door

Tuesday September 21st, 2021
You may have heard the expression, “nothing a fresh coat of paint won’t fix,” and they were right—adding a fresh coat of paint, whether it’s just a touch up of your existing color or switching to an entirely new color, can really transform your home and give your space a fresh, updated look.

If you’re interested in learning how to paint a front door, exterior door, or interior door, there are a few things to consider

How to Paint a Door

  1. Gather Supplies
  2. Prep Door
  3. Strip Old Paint
  4. Clean
  5. Paint
Your front door is the first point of contact someone will have with your house and you want to make sure you’re making a great first impression. Don’t be intimidated though—you don’t have to leave door painting to the professionals. With the right tools and materials, you can learn how to paint a door on your own and have the entire project completed in a single afternoon!

How to Paint a Door

There are five steps to painting doors: gathering supplies; prepping the door; stripping old paint; cleaning, and painting and sealing.

How to Pick a Door Color

Choosing the paint color itself is typically the hardest part. It can be helpful to start by creating a mood board of door color inspiration for the paint color on Pinterest. By searching the color that you want, you are able to see how that paint looks on multiple houses and in different lighting. Even black interior doors don’t all look the same, so it’s important to dive deep and test out what color will look best with your house.

It’s also recommended that you buy a sample of the paint and either paint a test strip on the door itself or paint a piece of board or cardboard and lean it up where you want the color to be so you can physically see how it looks in your particular space. Once you have the color nailed down, it’s time to get to work!

1. Gather Supplies

Here is a shopping list of what you will need to paint a door. Look it over and decide what to buy based on your particular needs. For example, if your door is in good condition, you can skip buying a paint stripper. This is just a comprehensive list of the most common items: 

Prep Supplies:

Painter's tape: for taping off hinges if you decide to paint the door while hanging.

Brush or paint sprayer: whether you should use a paintbrush or a paint sprayer is entirely your preference—just use what you have on hand, or what is within your budget. Paint sprayers will give more of an even coating, but are more expensive and come with a steeper learning curve, so unless you are painting every door in your house, it is likely more efficient to go with just a brush and a small roller.

Dropcloth: to protect wherever you decide to paint.

Sandpaper: you can use any sandpaper, sanding sponge, or sanding block, just pick whatever is most comfortable to hold. You will want different grit strengths, starting with a medium 120 grit and a 220 grit.
Utility knife: let’s be honest, who doesn’t have a use for one of these?

Tack cloth: to remove excess dust after sanding.

Putty knife: if you have knots or holes in your door, you will need to fill them before painting.

Paint roller: a paint roller will work best on the flat sections of a paneled door, and will make it so you don’t wind up with brush strokes.

Paint stripper: you will only need a paint stripper if you have a door with chipping, old paint that needs to be removed first.

Cleaner: TSP or another all-purpose cleaner to remove all dirt and grime from your door prior to painting.

Paint rags: these are great for cleaning the piece, catching paint drips, and having somewhere to wipe excess paint while working.

Paint Supplies:
You will need a gallon of the paint of your choice. Your paint options include:
  • Spray paint
  • Latex paint
  • Oil-based paint
  • All in one paint

2. Prep Door

First, decide where you are painting the door. If you are painting it hanging as-is, tape off all hinges and remove or tape off the door handle as well.

If you are removing it, you’ll need a hammer and a screwdriver. Put the screwdriver in the joints against the hinges and gently tap with the hammer until all the hinge pins are removed. Then, carry your door to a dropcloth and prop it up a bit to paint. You can use saw horses, other paint cans, or cardboard boxes to prop the door up. You just want enough room between the door and the drop cloth so you can paint to the edges without the door sticking.

3. Strip Old Paint

You may have a door that already has to chip and peeling paint that needs to be stripped. It is possible to strip paint off both wood and metal doors, just be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle of paint stripper until you get it down to the bare wood of the door, and then clean. Use your medium 120 grit sandpaper to get the bigger sections of paint off, and the finer 220 grit until the piece feels smooth to the touch. Finally, wipe with the tack cloth to remove the dust.

4. Clean

Now it’s time to clean your door. You want to make sure you have a clean, even surface for your new paint to adhere to. There are a variety of cleaners on the market; however, TSP is a painter’s favorite due to how well it works at removing dirt, dust, caked-on grime, scuffs, and all other dirt and debris from your surface (fun hack: use this to clean your walls! It is an amazing, all-purpose cleaner that will help with your yearly deep cleans.) Just be sure to wear gloves and take proper safety precautions, as it is a pretty powerful chemical.

Dilute TSP in water, per the instructions on the box, and use paint rags to scrub your door. Continue washing until the rags come back clean. You may need to replace the TSP/water solution a few times to accomplish this, especially if you are painting high-touch areas, like sliding barn doors, or exterior garage doors that get dirtier faster.

This is a great time to putty any gaps, holes, or significant scratches. Then, sand the putty smooth once it dries.

5. Paint 

Once you have the door sanded, cleaned, and puttied, it’s painting time!  

If you are painting over a different color, apply one coat of primer and then gently flip the door and apply the same. Follow the curing time on the primer to know when it's safe to touch/move or paint your chosen color. It typically is less than an hour.
Once the primer has dried (or if you’re painting a new door), you can apply the paint you picked in the beginning. Use an angled brush to “cut in” around the paneling or any detail work. Then, use a foam roller for the panels and edges. Let the door dry before flipping to paint the other side.

Be sure to step back as you work and check for paint drips or uneven brush strokes. Use a painter's rag to wipe them up and re-paint over them if necessary. Two coats are recommended for proper coverage, but if you are using a bold color or covering a prior color, you may want to add a third.
Most exterior paint will come with a sealant mixed in so you don’t have to do a clear coat of any polyurethane, but be sure to factor in time for that if you decide you want to use one.

Frequently Asked Questions About Painting a Door

Should I paint the door or trim first? 

It actually doesn’t matter! It really comes down to personal preference, even for the pros. Some prefer to paint the door and then the trim, while others prefer to tape and paint the trim and then paint the door afterward.

How long does it take to paint a door?

You’d be amazed how quickly you can paint a door. Once you have all the cleaning and prep work done, it takes an average of 15 to 20 minutes per side to paint a door.

That said, you will need to factor in the time it takes to paint on primer, let that dry/cure, paint one to two coats of your chosen paint, and then a sealant as well. This will vary widely based on the brand or type of paint you choose, so be sure to read the label on the paint can or ask the professionals at the paint counter for advice.

 All said you should be able to have a primer, two coats of paint, and a sealant on a door in four to six hours total. 

What is the best paint for interior doors?

The paint type needed will vary based on the location of the door (if you are painting an interior door vs an exterior door, for example) and what your door material is.

If you have a wood door, the type of paint you choose doesn’t matter as much as the finish: you will want something with a gloss or semi-gloss sheen on it. The more matte the paint finish is, the more fingerprints and scuffs will show. You have more freedom with the type of paint—acrylics, oils, latex, and even chalk paints have all been used with great success, so you definitely have a lot of color and brand options to choose from for your interior doors. That said, if you are specifically looking for front door paint, make sure the brand is rated for exterior use so you get paint created to withstand sun, rain, and all the other elements.

If you have a metal door or a fiberglass door, you will want to use exterior paint. These are typically latex-based or acrylic resin and will be more rust-resistant, fade-resistant, and the chemical compound helps prevent cracking and chips over time.

Can you paint a door without removing it?

It’s generally recommended that you remove the door and all door hardware prior to painting. However, if removing the door isn’t feasible (such as a heavy front door that you don’t have someone to help you move or if you don’t have anywhere to move it to for painting), you can definitely still paint with the door hanging on the hinges.

Be sure to use painter's tape and carefully tape off all doorknobs and hinges. You will need to remove this tape immediately after you finish painting. Do not let the tape remain until it dries or it can pull the paint up.

Painting a Door is a Great DIY Project for Beginners

Painting a door is a great project for those wanting to dip their toes into DIY projects. You can easily do the project by yourself in an afternoon, and the end result can make a dramatic difference to your space.

And, if you end up deciding your space needs a more dramatic makeover, we can help with that too! Shop for our full catalog of interior barn doors and exterior doors, and don’t hesitate to reach out to an Artisan Hardware designer if you have questions about the color, hardware, or design.


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