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How to Paint a Front Door

by Chauncey Crail

Forbes Advisor

Tuesday June 29, 2021

Stock image
Stock image  (Source:Getty Images)

Painting or re-painting a home's front door offers a relatively simple project for an established DIYer or crafty homeowner. If you've painted before, you can probably do it. But remember, a front door is different from a wall — a front door of a house or apartment is the home's first impression.

The color, quality and finish of an entryway are all important to defining how a home welcomes its guests or occupants. Does it welcome home young children? Does it scare away travelling salespeople? What would a dog think? These are all important consideration factors.

As with any high-profile paint project, there's a requirement to take the time necessary to be careful and attentive in smoothing surfaces and masking hardware.

Simply put, it'll be easier to paint your door if you take it off its hinges and remove all of its hardware. But those steps can also be supplanted by taking other preparation measures.

Before you begin doing the actual painting, there is a lot of work that goes into preparation and the careful execution of the steps that precede the painting. Focusing on these details will ensure a clean finished product and the satisfaction that comes with it.


When to Repaint a Front Door

Whenever you feel like it. Or if the door's paint is chipping, fading, or scuffed beyond the help of an aggressive cleaning.

For those painting a door prior to installing it, you're in a great position to get it all right the first time and save yourself some hassle.


Safety Considerations

Painting projects should always be completed in a well-ventilated space and proper respiratory and eye protection should be used to protect from fumes, splashing, or overspray. Paint is also a challenge to clean up when spilled and can irritate skin, so gloves and excessive care are recommended when mixing and pouring paints.

Lifting doors from hinges — especially solid core doors — can be dangerous and require a bit of leverage. Take care not to throw out backs; this process is best done with at least two people.

Tools

  • Screwdriver set, including a large flat-headed tool (or a paint key)
  • Paint brushes, a small paint roller and tray or a compressed-air paint spray-gun
  • Drill and bits; screwdriver attachment for electric drill
  • Drop cloth at least 5×8 feet and perhaps larger if spraying with compressed air indoors
  • Razor blade or precision crafts knife
  • Paint scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Sawhorses
  • Step-ladder
  • Compressed air source or shop vac (will significantly help with dust, but is not required)

    Materials

  • Acrylic-, latex- or resin-based paint with a semi-gloss finish (1 quart)
  • Primer matching the material of your door, likely in an aerosol can (1 quart or 3 cans)
  • Sanding sponges or sandpaper, 200-250 grit
  • Scotch-Brite pads
  • Putty
  • Masking tape (optional)


    Instructions

    1. Determine Color and Type of Paint
    Select and purchase a type of paint in the color and finish of your choosing. You'll need at least one quart of paint for this project if the door is of average size, and if you're planning to leave any portion of the door the color that it currently is, you will also want a small amount of paint that is matched to the door's color for back-filling on masked areas.

    2. Remove the Door from the Hinges and Remove Hardware
    Using a step-ladder, a screwdriver or electric drill with the appropriate screwdriver tool attached and the assistance of another person, support the door's weight at the non-hinge side and remove the screws holding the hinges to the door — do not remove the hinges from the door frame side.

    Once the door has been removed, lay it to span over two sawhorses and remove any hardware using the appropriate tools.

    If you choose not to remove your hardware, you will be committing to covering with masking tape any hardware that you want to remain unpainted.

    3. Mask Off any Hardware or Areas to Remain Unpainted
    The ability to skip most of this step is why we suggest removing all hardware.

    Using masking tape and a razor blade, cover every piece of hardware that you do not want to paint. Be sure to put pressure on the tape and apply it tightly to the hardware so that the paint cannot seep beneath its edge. Use the razor blade to cut off excess masking tape at the edges.

    If you've chosen to mask off any areas of the door's surface as well, do so with care. Be particularly careful masking long straight lines, as these often reveal a poor masking job after the job is done. We recommend measuring and marking where tape should go.

    In cases where one of the colors to remain is that of the door itself, paint over the edges of any masked-off areas to seal the tape's crease with the underlying color — then, when painting over the adjacent space, the masking tape will perfectly exclude the color you're painting and will reveal a perfectly clean line when you remove the tape.

    4. Scrape Away any Chipped or Excessively Thick Paint
    Using a paint scraper, remove any paint-based imperfections from the surface of your door. These can be the result of running paint lines from the last time the door was painted, but on older doors it's more common to see chipping in the paint's surface. Remove anything that you can.

    5. Sand Initially
    Give the entire door a once-over with 200-plus grit sandpaper. Sanding may reveal some areas you've missed with the scraper, so keep the previous tool handy. The goal here may vary depending on the condition of the door you're refinishing and repainting. If the door is in rough shape, be aggressive with the sanding to smooth out any imperfections. If you have a newer and cleaner door, the idea is to simply scuff the surface a bit to allow primer and paint to bond easier.

    6. Fill Where Needed
    Using a putty knife, fill any holes, gashes or divots in the door's surface with putty. Press down firmly and spread the putty in a thin layer away from the spots you're filling. Let it dry completely.

    7. Sand Over Putty Applications
    If you didn't use excessive amounts of putty, this should be a relatively quick step. Just sand over the putty spots until they're smooth. You should be able to run a hand over the surface and not be able to detect the putty or divot once done sanding. Use a shop vac or compressed air to remove dust.

    8. Apply Primer
    Primer will not only help mask any underlying color differentiations caused by putty or chipped paint on the door's surface, but it will also protect the door's material and help the paint layer adhere to the surface.

    Apply the primer in an even coat over the entire door, allowing the first coat to dry before flipping the door over. Be precise when applying primer near holes for hardware to ensure complete coverage. Allow the primer to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

    9. Sand Primed Areas
    Using sandpaper, smooth out any imperfections on the door's surface caused by the primer. You shouldn't need to apply much pressure here, as this step should be used to ensure that the surface is smooth, rather than act as a removal process. Use a shop vac or compressed air to remove any dust.

    10. Apply Paint
    Using a brush or roller, apply paint to the door's surface in smooth, long strokes. It's easier to add more paint later than to remove it once it's been applied, so take your time and try not to over-coat. Pay close attention to holes for hardware or decorative routing work in the door's surface to ensure the paint is smooth over these areas.

    Allow the paint on one side of the door to dry completely before flipping the door over to paint the other side.

    If applying paint with a compressed air spray gun, be sure to test the spray stream on a test surface (not the door) before beginning to spray paint onto the door.

    Once the first layer of paint on both sides of the door has dried completely, you can assess whether a second coat is necessary and if so, repeat step 10. Sanding between coats of paint is not advised.

    11. Remove any Masking Tape
    If you applied masking tape to hardware or sections of the door's surface, use your razor blade to peel up the edges and carefully remove the tape. Go slowly to avoid damaging any finish lines.

    12. Hang or Re-Hang the Door
    With the assistance of another person, stand the door atop cardboard supports (or whatever you have — a folded drop cloth works nicely here) and move it into position for re-hanging on the door frame. Re-insert screws to hold the hinges in place. Now shut the front door.

    Check to ensure the door closes properly and does not rub on any of the door frame surfaces. If hanging the door for the first time, please consult a proper guide on the process for hanging a door.


    When to Call a Pro

    If you discover that the surface of your door is not suitable for some of the earlier steps like scraping or sanding, or if you need guidance on what paints or finishes would work for your particular situation, it might be time to consult a professional. Many painters will quote a price over the phone.

  • Working time: 3 hours
  • Total time: 5 to 9 hours (optional steps, drying times vary)
  • Skill level: Moderate
  • Project cost: $120