How to Paint a Door – Step-by-Step Guide

One quick and easy way to spruce up your entryway is to apply a new coat of paint while learning how to paint a door. Knowing how to paint a door ensures that you can quickly and easily refresh the look of your space without having to go out and purchase all new doors, and you can paint both interior and exterior doors using the same method. 

For many people, learning how to paint a door with paneling and getting professional-grade looks is a huge challenge. Luckily, we’ve experimented a little and tried different tools, materials, and techniques so you don’t have to. Instead, you can take what we learned and use it to learn how to paint a door with this easy step-by-step guide. We’ll even list out all of the tools and materials you should gather and have in one space when you learn how to paint a door so your project goes smoothly from start to finish. 

Required Materials and Tools

  • Bucket
  • Dust mask
  • Foam brushes
  • Orbital sander
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • Paint drip remover
  • Paint roller
  • Paint scraper
  • Primer
  • Putty knife
  • Rags
  • Roller sleeve
  • Roller tray
  • Sandable filler
  • Sanding block
  • Sanding sponges
  • Sandpaper
  • Shop light
  • Shop vacuum
  • Tweezers
  • Utility knife

1 House Painter
Knowing how to paint a door can help you breathe new life into your old doors instead of going out and buying new. It can also help you quickly and easily update your design aesthetic or your home’s look.
House painter – Portugal by Alain Wibert / CC BY-ND 2.0

How to Choose a Paint Color and Type

Before you start this project and learn how to paint a door, you have to pick the correct exterior or interior paint color, depending on the location of said door. There are many types of paint available, but you want to think about sheen. If you choose a paint that has a flat finish to it, handprints and scuff marks are very difficult to keep off the door, especially around the handle. 

If you choose a high gloss paint, you’ll get something that is extremely easy to clean when it get scuffed or smudged, but it will highlight any tiny flaw in your paint job. So, the prep work and the paint job itself would have to be perfect, and this is a scary thought when you’re first learning how to paint a door. Instead, go for a semi gloss or satin finish as a compromise.

  • Tip – You should set aside a minimum of three to five hours when you’re learning how to paint a door to complete the project. The time will depend on how exact you are and the door’s condition. When you add in the drying time, this easily turns into a full day project. So, if you’re painting an exterior or bathroom door that you absolutely need done ASAP, start early in the morning so you can have it ready to hang by dusk. 

You should pick out a paint that comes designed to give you a very smooth finish. These types of paint usually get labeled as “door and trim” or “enamel” paints. A super smooth paint can cost as much as $25.00 to $30.00 a quart, but it’ll give you excellent results. 

In particular, water-based alkyds are an excellent paint to invest in when you’re learning how to paint a door. These paint types do dry slowly, so this will extend your painting project time. However, they do level out just as well as oil-based alkyds. Once you apply them with a roller, they usually allow you to skip the brush-out steps in this guide and get gorgeous results. Cleanup with them is very easy, but you do have to wait between 16 and 24 hours to apply a second coat. So, if you’re in a hurry, this isn’t the paint for you.

How to Set up the Perfect Work Station 

You can set up  your workspace before you sand the door, but you’ll have to go back and clean it to get rid of stray sanding dust. When you’re ready to prime and paint, make sure that your working station is very clean and well lit. You shouldn’t rely on overhead lighting for this project. Instead, get a work light and position it four to five feet above your floor. This will give you a low-angle light that will highlight any ridges or drips as you paint, and you can correct them before they dry. 

You also want to get rid of any stray sawdust in the area. Any sawdust that ends up on the workbench will end up on your brushes. Any airborne sawdust will create whiskers in your paint and stop you from getting a completely smooth finish. Try to minimize your air movement in your space. This will slow down the drying process, but it’ll also reduce the chances of dust getting into your wet paint. Close the windows and doors, and turn off your forced-air cooling or heating system. 

How to Paint a Door – Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you have the perfect paint color to match or stand out from your current house color and you choose the correct sheen, it’s time to dive in and learn how to put it to good use and learn how to paint a door. We’ve broken the process down into several easy-to-follow steps that will guide you through the project from start to finish, no matter if you’re painting an interior or exterior door. 

Step One – Clean and Remove the Door

The first thing you want to do when you learn how to paint a door is remove it from the current hanger. You may be tempted to paint it while it’s hanging, but this is a surefire way to get uneven results. Working on a flat door in your garage, basement, or workshop will give you much better control of the drying conditions and lighting to ensure you get an even finish. Additionally, laying the door flat will help minimize running in the paint as you apply your coats. 

To start, get a nice household cleaner and clean the door before you remove it. You can use almost any cleaner for this part of the project as long as it’ll cut through grease. Pay close attention to cleaning the area right around the doorknobs because they are very prone to greasy buildups. Once it’s clean, remove the door from the hinges. 

Step Two – Clean and Remove the Hardware

We’re all about making learning how to paint a door as easy for you as humanly possible, so the next step involves removing all of your door’s hardware. This includes the latches and hinges. Unscrew all of these parts and store them safely off to the side. 

You may notice that there are old paint splatters on the hardware, and you can easily remove this using a paint stripper. Just be sure that it won’t strip off the clear coating on the hardware. If you’re worried about it, you can soak the hardware in warm soapy water until the paint chips peel off. Dry them thoroughly. 

While these parts are drying, start inspecting your door. If you see holes or dents, you’ll fill them using a sandable wood filler. If you have particularly deep dents or gouges, you might have to fill them twice to make up for shrinkage. The goal is to get as flat and smooth of a surface as possible so your door looks as good as it can when you learn how to paint a door. 

Step Three – Sand the Door Smooth

When you’ve filled all of the holes and gouges and waited for the wood filler to dry, it’s time to sand the door to give yourself a smooth surface and remove any old paint. Start by getting a 180 or 220-grit sandpaper or sanding sponge and working over the door. This grit is enough to roughen your door’s surface so your primer sticks much better. 

Using the same sandpaper, carefully smooth out any imperfections or chipped paint left over from previous jobs. This is easily the most tedious part of learning how to paint a door, and you can do it by hand or use or orbital sander. On flat areas of your door, you want to level out old brush marks and runs using a harder sanding block. To get into the shaped profiles of your door and get at any rough areas, use sponges, sanding pads, and sandpaper scraps until it’s smooth. 

Start out sanding with 120 or 150 grit once you even out any uneven spots. You can swap out to 80-grit paper on problem areas, but you want to follow this up with a finer grit paper to help smooth out any leftover sanding scratches to give you a neat finish. A random-orbit sander on the flat areas can work to save you a ton of time in this step.

2 Orbital Sander
Sanding the door will help remove any imperfections that you have when you learn how to paint a door. The goal is to get a completely flat and smooth surface that will translate over into your paint when you finish this project.
Bosch GEX1251AE Orbital Sander by Mark Hunter / CC BY 2.0

Step Four – Clean the Sanding Dust

It’s very common for paint to stick to sandpaper, and this can easily clog the grit and make it useless for this project. This is why you should double-check the label when you purchase it and get a sandpaper that is specifically for paint. It will still clog eventually, but it’ll clog way less with this sandpaper than it will with traditional sandpaper. 

Get a vacuum with a brush attachment and remove most of your sanding dust from the door. Next, get a damp rag and pass it over the door to get rid of the rest of the dust. Allow the door to dry completely before you go back and double-check it. 

Step Five – Prime the Door 

If you need to apply a coat of primer to the door, this step is next in learning how to paint a door. If you don’t need to prime it, you can skip this step and move to the next one. You will need to apply a coat or two of primer to your door if: 

  • You have a brand new, unprimed door
  • You bought a latex paint and your door has an oil-based paint on it already. You can test and see if the previous paint on your door is latex or oil-based using rubbing alcohol. Get a rag and pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol on it before rubbing it on the door. If the paint comes off on your rag, you have latex. If the paint doesn’t come off with the rubbing alcohol, it’s oil-based and needs a primer. 

You may not need to prime your door to get it ready to paint though. You can check and make sure you don’t need to apply primer by: 

  • You have a latex paint and the door has latex paint on it 
  • You have brand new, pre-primed doors
  • You picked out Benjamin Moore Advanced paint and you’re putting it over a previously painted door. It will go over oil-based or latex paint without a problem, and it won’t leave brush or roller marks when doing so to ensure you get a smooth finish. 

Step Six – Sand When the Primer Dries

If you do find yourself applying a coat or two of primer to your door when you learn how to paint a door, allow it to dry thoroughly. Carefully sand out any imperfections in the prime coat to get a nice, smooth finish. You can shine a light across the door’s surface to see any imperfections you have to take care of. Mark off any spots that may need another round of filler using painter’s or masking tape. 

Go back and fill in these spots with your wood filler and allow it to dry. Carefully sand them flat and repaint the area with another dab or primer. You don’t have to do the whole door again. You can carefully spot paint and allow it to dry. 

Step Seven – Paint Your Door in Sections

A lot of people have good success painting their doors using just a brush, but we found that using a combination of a roller and a brush will get the job done faster while giving you a smoother finish. Also, instead of painting the door top to bottom, you’ll get better results by following a certain order, like: 

Start at the Edges

When you learn how to paint a door, you want to make a habit of starting by painting the door’s edges using a roller or small brush. Work in small sections and make sure that you’re not dripping paint over the edges or leaving a streaked finish. Even though you don’t see the edges a lot, you want a smooth finish. Allow them to dry when you coat them. 

Paint the Panels

Once you finish the edges, it’s time to paint the panels. These are the small squares or rectangles on the door. Using a 1 ½-inch brush to paint the panels’ recessed molding areas works very well, and then you can get a roller and paint the flat surfaces in the middle of the panels. 

Make sure that you work your paint into all of the grooves and corners of the panels before you drag the brush over the paint to help smooth it out. Carefully wipe away any paint runs around the panel. You do want to feather the edges a little when you’re using your brush on the edges to avoid hard edges in the finished product. 

For the inside flat surfaces of the panels, coat the flat area quickly with a roller. This will give you an uneven finish, but you can come back with a brush and smooth it all out. Do be very careful not to touch the profiles surrounding the panels at this point because you should have already painted them and smoothed them out.

Paint the Stiles and Rails 

The rails and stiles are the vertical and horizontal portions of the door that surround the panels. You’ll get a four-inch roller and roll paint on, making sure you don’t cover more than ¼ of the door at once to reduce the chances of smudging and getting professional-level results. Be wary of the edges, and don’t let paint spill over the edges around the panels of the door. 

Make sure you’re always painting with the grain when you learn how to paint a door. To do this, you can brush across the joints where the door parts meet before dragging your brush in a straight line across the intersection. This will make any visible brush marks look like the door’s natural wood grain pattern instead of leftover brush marks. 

Once you finish painting your door, allow it to dry completely according to the paint manufacturer’s instructions. You will most likely have to apply a second coat, so follow the instructions and repeat the process. Allow it to dry before you hang it back up. 

3 Painting in Sections
Learning how to paint a door in sections will increase your chances that you get professional-grade results each time you follow this pattern. It reduces the chances that you’ll accidentally smear something or have drips in your work.
Painter by wan mohd / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Step Eight – Reattach the Hardware and Hang the Door

When you get as many coats of paint on as you want and your door looks smooth and dry, it’s time to reattach the hardware. Go and get the hardware from wherever you stored it earlier and use your screwdriver to reattach it. Hang the door back in its original place. 

Tips for Priming, Painting, and Smooth Finishes

A lot of the reason why people hire professionals to come in and paint for them instead of learning how to paint a door themselves is that they’re afraid they won’t be able to get the same results as a professional would. However, these tips will help you achieve professional-grade results while saving you money in the process. 

Priming Tips 

First up is tips for priming because this is the foundation of your whole paint job. If the primer is bumpy, the paint will also be bumpy. If you want to get an ultra-smooth finish, take the time to apply two coats of primer and allow them to dry 100% between coats. You can also spot prime the door to coat only the areas you sanded through to bare wood or patched dents. However, priming the whole door is the best practice because the paint will stick better and you’ll get a more even finish. 

Ideally, when you shop for your primer, ask at the store for a primer that will level out well, is compatible with your paint, and that sands smoothly. Once you paint it, allow the primer to dry for 24 hours before you sand it.The longer it dries, the better your primer will sand. When you sand your primer, give it a couple of quick passes with a 220-grit sandpaper, and inspect it as you work. 

When up prime the door, paint the edges and wipe off any excess. Roll or brush paint onto all four edges of your door when you learn how to paint doors. Make a point to immediately wipe away any paint that gets onto the face of your door using a foam brush or rag. If you don’t, it’ll dry and create an uneven surface. 

Painting Tips

Generally speaking, painting is a huge race against time. You’ll have to work quickly to get the paint on the door and smooth it out before it gets too sticky to work with. If you don’t your stiff brush marks won’t level out and vanish. You could consider adding a paint additive that will improve how it levels and slow down the drying time. 

It’s also essential that you start with a dust-free door. Wiping it down with a damp rag after you sand it will remove any leftover residue. Do this right before you paint, and paint the four edges of the door first. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll have paint accidentally get on the face of the door when you paint the edges, and it’s much easier to deal with than if you had already painted the door’s face. You also want to: 

  • Get a more pricey roller instead of a cheap one. If you don’t, the roller can leave fibers in your paint. Investing in a mini roller with foam, mohair, or microfiber sleeves is a good choice. 
  • You also want to brush a light coat onto your door. When you first learn how to paint a door, your instinct may be to lay the paint on thick. However, it’s also much easier to get runs that ruin your door’s look and your brush marks will go much deeper. 
  • Using a roller where you can will speed up your process. So, this will give you more time to work the paint before it gets tacky and hard to work with. 
  • If you roll on the paint, brush it out after. Brushed paint has a way of leveling out much better than rolled, and your brush marks are less noticeable than roller marks. 
  • You should plan to apply at least two coats of paint and two coats of primer to your door. If you see dust nibs in the paint, carefully sand with 220-grit paper between paint coats. 

4 Paint and Primer Tricks
Priming the wood will give you a solid foundation to work with when you’re learning how to paint a door, and adding two coats will give you an ultra smooth surface to apply your paint on.
Priming plywood by Denise Krebs / CC BY 2.0

Door Painting Tricks

Incorporating a few tricks when you learn how to paint a door can make the process smoother and less time-consuming. So, you can make the door flippable by driving one screw into one end and two into the other. You’ll be able to flip the door over when you finish with one side and coat the other side without waiting a day for it to dry. 

In your workshop, get the floor wet. Having a wet floor will stop you from kicking up any dust that will create small bumps in your finish. Wetting the floor will raise the humidity, and this gives you more time to smooth out your paint before it gets tacky. It could double the time you have to work with the paint. Also, keep a pair of tweezers on hand. You’ll be able to use them to pluck paintbrush bristles out of the wet paint without ruining your look. 

Smooth Finish Tips

Even if you’re the most skilled painter to ever live, you can’t match how nice a sprayed on finish looks. You can choose from either high-volume, low pressure or airless sprayers. Both sprayers allow you to apply a flawless coat of paint in minutes, but the high-volume, low-pressure system is more forgiving when you’re learning how to paint a door. You’ll get a finer spray, and this reduces your chances of getting too much paint on at once and creating runs. The sprayer also saves you brushwork if you have multiple doors to do. 

Bottom Line

Now you know how to paint a door with this step-by-step guide. You can use this how to paint a door guide  to paint your interior or exterior doors while saving money on a professional painter. It’s a relatively quick project if you have the correct tools and materials on-hand and ready to go, and you’ll be able to breathe new life into your door while making it stand out. 

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