How To Paint A Front Door

Jeremy Holderness

Red door pic showing how to paint a front doorThe front door of your home makes a statement to the world about it's style, it's energy, and it's character.  That small splash of an accent color can change your entire curb appeal -- for better or worse.

For such a small project we sure do get a lot of requests to give estimates on painting front doors.  I don't think it's so much about the fact that it's a difficult project, but more about the fact that, if you don't use the right materials and pay close attention to your surface preparation, you can mess it up in a hurry.

This article is not intended to be color help for those of us who are trying to decide which one to choose.  It's about learning how to paint a front door right the first time, regardless of which color you choose.


What's It Painted With?

Before you get started with any surface prep you'll want to find out what type of paint is currently on your door -- acrylic latex or oil.  One is not necessarily compatible with the other, and if you use the wrong type to re-coat the door, or don't do the correct surface prep, you're new paint job is sure to fail.

A great way to find out is to do a solvent test.  Purchase a quart of denatured alcohol at your local hardware or big box store.  Apply some to a rag and rub the surface of a small area of the door with firm pressure, making a few passes with the rag.  If any paint comes off of the door onto the rag then you've got acrylic latex, if not you likely have an oil-based finish.

If your door is currently stained and varnished and you want to paint over the stained wood, this is possible as long as you follow the correct process.

Surface Prep

Hardware - Either remove any hardware (knobs, kick plates, door knockers, etc.) or tape over them with some good painters' tape to protect them from damage.

Clean - Every good prep job starts with a clean surface.  I like to use a pre-paint cleaner to remove any dirt and grease that can cause problems with adhesion of the new coating.  Liquid TSP Substitute is a good choice.

Dull - Doors are often coated with a glossy paint, and it's not a good idea to paint directly overtop of it.  

The least labor-intensive method is to purchase a small amount of a liquid de-glosser.  Use a rag to apply the solvent to the door following the instructions on the bottle.

The best method (also the more labor-intensive of the two) is scuff-sanding the surface with a medium grit sandpaper.  This will give the surface more profile for the new paint to bite onto.  If you're dealing with an existing oil-based finish, then I would consider it a must.

Clean - If you've scuff-sanded your door, you'll want to clean the surface again to remove any dust before painting.

Prime - Once the surface has completely dried you need to decide whether or not you're going to apply a coat of primer before paint.  Because doors by nature see a lot of use and abuse, I personally lean toward using primer rather than a straight re-coat.  

If you're going acrylic-latex over oil you should absolutely use a primer first.  A good adhesion promoting primer will do the job.  I like Bullseye 1-2-3 by Zinsser when going with a latex topcoat.

Although oil tends to stick pretty well to oil, if you're using a primer in-between, go with a good oil-based primer such as Sherwin-Williams' All Surface Enamel Oil Primer.

Never use an oil-based topcoat over an existing latex finish.

Paint It

I like two coats of a glossier finish on doors, as it's less porous and holds up better against dirt, stains, and abuse -- either a quality 100% acrylic latex or an oil-based enamel will do fine.  

If you have inset panels on your door, follow the instructions in this previous blog article on painting interior doors.

If it's a flat door, then you'll just need to decide which type of applicator you're going to use to give you the desired final finish.  Use a good paint brush for a traditional brush-stroked finish, or experiment with different types of roller covers for either a smooth or more of an orange-peel look.

What If The Door Is New?

If you've got a new/unpainted door then you'll definitely want to prime the bare surface if you want the paint to stick.

Wood - With a bare wood door, give it a quick sand with some 120-grit sandpaper to remove any mill glaze, then wipe it down well with a tack cloth to remove the dust.  Apply a coat of slow drying oil-based primer like Sherwin-Williams' Exterior Oil-Based Wood Primer.  After it completely dries you can apply two coats of your topcoat of choice.

Metal - With a metal door, they often come pre-primed from the factory.  The problem is that the primer they use is either a cheap shop primer and/or it's long past its re-coat window when the primer should have already been topcoated.

At a minimum you'll want to scuff-sand the existing primer with a medium grit paper, then pre-paint clean it, then apply a coat of the Sherwin-Williams' All Surface Enamel Oil Primer I discussed earlier in the article prior to topcoating with your preferred product.

*Pro Tip*  

Newly painted doors will tend to want to stick to the weatherstripping when they're closed for at least the first several days until the paint really starts to cure.  To help prevent this and keep from damaging your new paint job, try brushing a little talcum powder onto the surface of the door around the perimeter where it touches the weatherstrip when it's closed.


If you would like some assistance with your house painting project please give us a call at (813) 570-8800, visit our Contact Us page, or click on the button below to request your free, no-obligation consultation and quote.






photo by:  Nicole Beauchamp / CC BY 2.0









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