Paint Doors

A fresh coat of paint can easily bring a scuffed and worn door back to life. And it's a simple project for anyone with basic painting experience around the house.

Before you begin, stop by your local True Value hardware store for all the tools, products and expert advice you need to start right.

Step 1: Clean the Door Surface
Upon starting any new painting job, it's always a good idea to give the surface a thorough cleaning. First, remove the door from its hinges. It is possible to clean and paint a door while it’s still in the doorway, and it may seem faster to do so. But for the best results, you should remove the door and place it on sawhorses or a similar structure to keep it flat and off the ground. Use a mild solution of detergent and water, and scrub it thoroughly with a sponge or soft brush. Wipe it down immediately with a towel to dry it and then let it air dry for a few minutes longer.

Helpful Tips: Remove all of the door hardware or cover it completely with painter's tape.
Use a plastic drop cloth to protect your floors and minimize cleanup.

Safety Alerts!
Before you begin, put on a pair of work gloves to protect your hands from splinters, chemicals and paint.
Keep all of your materials and equipment away from children and pets.

Step 2: Scrape and Sand
Use a 1" paint scraper to remove any excess flaking paint, and then smooth the edges between the painted and unpainted areas with medium-grit sandpaper. Then switch to fine-grit sandpaper and sand until the surface is smooth. Dirt isn't the only thing that prevents paint from sticking — so does a glossy surface. You can remove the luster and smooth any imperfections in the door’s surface by lightly sanding it with fine sandpaper. Remove sanding dust with a tack cloth or duster.

Helpful Tip: Before you begin scraping, be sure to use a new scraper blade or sharpen the existing blade with a fine metal file. An extra-sharp blade will make your job a lot easier and reduce the possibility of damaging the surface.

Safety Alerts!
Because you will be sanding and painting, make sure you have adequate ventilation where you’re working. Minimize airborne dust by setting up an easy exhaust system. Consider placing a fan in a nearby window and open another window just outside the room. Take frequent breaks if necessary.

When you scrape, sand or remove old paint, you may release toxic lead dust into the air. Exposure to lead dust can cause serious illness, such as brain damage, especially in children. Pregnant women should also avoid exposure. When you're removing lead paint, always wear a NIOSH-approved respirator to control lead exposure. Clean up carefully with a HEPA vacuum and a wet mop. And before you get started, learn how to protect yourself and your family by contacting the National Lead Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or logging on to

Step 3: Prime
If you’re working on interior doors, apply a coat of interior latex primer using a paintbrush. Let the primer coat dry completely (a few hours or overnight) before you begin painting. For exterior doors, prime surfaces, including the front, back and all four outside edges, with an exterior primer. Don’t use a latex primer if you will be using an oil-based paint. If your exterior door is metal, use a primer that is formulated for metal surfaces.

Helpful Tip: Sanding may accidentally round out areas that are detailed or have crisp edges. To prevent this, don't sand these areas. Instead, treat them with a chemical deglosser just before you're ready to apply primer. Make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions and heed all the safety warnings about ventilation and wear a respirator.

Step 4: Paint
Choose paint in the color and finish of your choice for interior doors. For exterior doors, paint over the primer with oil-based enamel. Use an angled sash brush and start with door panels or other decorative features, working from the inside of the door out. Paint the detailed or molded areas around the panels, then move on to the panels themselves. Always paint out of corners, not into them, to avoid creating paint deposits and clumps. Try not to use a heavy hand when you're painting panel-frame joints. Otherwise, the paint may end up cracking. Instead, tip off these areas with a brush that's almost dry. Paint in the direction of the wood grain.

Paint the edges. Start with the top and bottom edges. When it comes to painting the inner and outer edges, you may have a color decision to make. Some doors have a split color personality — that is, they're painted a different color on each side (for example, the back of the door is painted beige to match the beige hallway and the front is blue, to match a blue bedroom). If your door looks different coming and going, paint its inner and outer edges to match the wall that shows when the door is open against it. For example, if the door opens out to the beige hallway, paint the edges beige also, so they'll match.

Helpful Tips: When you're painting the bottom edge of a door that's still on its hinges, use a mirror to check your progress as you go.
Painting a door that's still on its hinges can result in drips and sags, especially across each panel's top molding and bottom corners. To prevent that from happening, don't overload your brush with paint. If you see any errant drips as you go, dry brush them immediately, before they have a chance to set.

Watch corners for paint build-up and dab with the tips of brush bristles if necessary. If you see paint runs and drags, remove and smooth them with an upward motion of the brush. Lightly tip off the finish with a dry brush.

When you're finished, make sure the paint cures for as long possible before closing the door (at least 1 or 2 days).

Step 5: Clean Up
Clean your brushes with warm soapy water. When the water runs clear, shake out excess liquid. Put the brush back in its protective sleeve or hang it on a nail or hook. Clean up paint trays, and if you used tray liners, just toss them in the trash. Re-install the door and replace any hardware you may have removed.

Great work! Your doors look refreshed and renewed. For the rest of your paint projects, visit your local Cole's Hardware store for all the tools, products and expert advice you need to start right.

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Shopping List

  • Sawhorses
  • Sponge
  • Drop cloth
  • Work gloves
  • Paint scraper
  • Sandpaper
  • Metal file
  • Fan (for exhaust)
  • Primer
  • Chemical deglosser
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint