Painting doors

When you paint doors, it can be a tedious task. One, because there may be a lot of detail to paint and second because doors are usually already attached to frames. Following the tips below will help your job go smoothly while achieving a professional looking result in the end.




Painting a door successfully actually has a lot to do with the order you paint the various sections of a door. If your door has no trim work or molding, then you don’t have to worry about this as much. Also, choosing the right door paint, tools and application method will give you a paint job that looks great and is long lasting. Let’s take a look at these considerations in detail.

Using the best paint for your doors

It goes without saying that you should always clean door surfaces (light soap and water is usually fine) and prime surfaces to really get paint to stick. If needed, you can get your door surface extra smooth by sanding and/or filling any holes, dents, cracks or chips. You don’t want these showing through your final paint finish.

Go with a slightly tinted primer that’s labeled as stain blocking. If you forgo priming, be sure to at least spot prime any knots you can see in the wood. When the primer is all dry, you can sand it with fine sandpaper to help paint adhere to it even better.

It’s all about getting a solid bond when painting doors, because they endure such heavy use day in and day out. As such, you want to use a quality paint. This is not the time to go with a cheaper brand. Use a minimum of a semi-gloss, but preferably a high-gloss alkyd-based paint to give you your best chance at keeping the door nice for years to come. Depending on what the door was painted previously, you may need to do some light sanding, or use a deglosser to help dull the sheeny finish and get it ready for your brand new coat.

How to paint a door correctly

The most important thing about painting doors is the order in which you apply the paint. The order simply has to do with the different sections of the door, such as edges, panels, rails and stiles. Going in a particular order will give you a better looking paint job. You’re essentially painting the door from top to bottom, allowing you time to adequately feather the paint for the smoothest appearance in the end. Read on to see the correct order and options for getting paint on the door.
How to paint a door order

  1. Start at the top of the door. This means the top edge and work your way down until all door edges are covered with paint.
  2. Next, paint all raised or beveled panel sections of the door. It will seem odd at first, but you’ll see later how it allows you to better blend your strokes into the rest of the door. If you have window panes in your door, paint mullions at this time, starting at the top and work your way down.
  3. The next sections are the rails on the door (if applicable). Outside exposures, such as on front doors, often have these more complex pieces. Paint these with horizontal strokes (left to right).
  4. The last part of the door to paint are the stiles, starting with the middle one. Use up and down strokes, blending as you work your way from top to bottom.

As you can see, start with outer edges, then the main surfaces. If you have a paneled door or windowed door with extra pieces, start with the horizontal rails and mullions and end with the vertical stiles.

The above describes how to paint a door while it’s still hung, in its vertical position. Most professionals do it this way; however, a less experienced homeowner may feel better about removing the door first to paint it. While you’ll need to muscle the door off its hinges, you won’t have to tape and mask adjoining surfaces such as the door jamb and frame. Below are some tips on how to do this effeciently.

Remove the door by knocking out hinges while holding door in place. A second person may be helpful here. Next, straddle the door over two saw-horses or similar benches/boxes. Since you can’t paint door surfaces that are touching the bench tops, drill two holes and screw in long drywall screws on the top and bottom door edges. Rest the door on these screws so the door is essentially suspended in mid-air. Now paint the door following the steps outlined above.

Supplies you’ll need

For flat door painting, a regular 4″ brush will work fine. You can also use a roller with a thin cover (unless you don’t mind a slight texture). For a door with panels on it, brushes are clearly your best option. You can paint the whole door with a 2″ or 3″ brush, but these smaller sizes will be best for getting into grooves, bevels, corners and the like.

For filling holes and dings in wooden doors, use latex wood putty or acrylic-latex caulk.

For sanding, start with an 80-grit paper, then follow with a finer 220-grit sandpaper. For extra tough cleaning, you can use a TSP solution and a chemical deglosser for painting over glossy door finishes.

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