How to Paint Doors (The Professional Way)

So you want to paint like a pro? Well, sit back and let me give you some tips and a tutorial for painting a door for starters. Then we’ll work our way around the room.

Our doors are all the six panel type. If you have flat (non-panel) versions, you can skip this post and come back later. For the rest of us, get out your paper and pencils and take some notes (does anyone do this anymore?)

Step 1: The easiest way to paint a door is to start by removing it, then removing all the hardware and lay it horizontally on saw horses. This will eliminate potential drips. But, I’ve painted plenty of doors without removing them. So, it’s your choice.

Step 2: Lightly sand the entire door. No need to bust out the power sander, you can use a sanding block or sheet of sand paper. Be sure to sand down any bumps or blemishes. The main goal is to give your door a little “tooth” for the new paint or primer to adhere to.

Step 3: Time to decide if you need to use primer. Here are reasons you would need to use it:

  • If the door is bare wood or stained wood.
  • If the door is a dark color and you want to paint it much lighter.
  • If the door was painted with oil and you want to use latex paint (how to tell? Rub a small spot with ammonia and if the paint comes off it is latex.)

If you are painting over latex with latex (or oil over oil) and the previous paint job is in good shape you can skip the primer. (This was the case with my door, so I didn’t prime it.)

Step 4: Paint the panels first.

Using a small roller to paint doors can greatly speed the  process. Begin by rolling paint on the panels.

Work quickly by rolling on the paint, then use a brush to smooth out the paint and fill in any spots missed by the roller. Follow the arrow directions above when brushing on the paint.

Drag your brush  in the same direction as the woodgrain on your door. This will highlight the grain and keep your door looking neat and clean. NEVER run your brush strokes perpendicular to the wood grain. This does NOT look professional.

Step 5: Next roll the inside cross pieces. Start by rolling and painting the center vertical piece.

Again, drag your brush up and down vertically with the wood grain (see arrows in the above diagram.)

Then paint the horizontally pieces in the middle of the door.

Keep your brush strokes horizontal as you cross over the tall vertical center.

Step 6: Paint the border. Pay attention to the direction of the woodgrain for this last step. The grain on the two sides should flow vertically from top to bottom.

There are header and footer panels sandwiched between the left and right sides. These “sandwiched” pieces should be painted by dragging your brush horizontally (see diagram above.)

Step 7: The last step is to paint the edges of the door. (Avoid painting the hinges…that’s not very professional either!)

Roll paint onto the edges then smooth them with the paintbrush. Be on the lookout for drips or puddles of paint.Go back and check the face of your door for drips as well.

Let your door dry (30 minutes – 1 hour), then follow up with a second coat of paint. When you are done let the doors dry for 2+ hours before flipping them to paint the other side. I have found that it helps to put a pieces of cardboard or scrap bare wood under the door so the paint doesn’t stick to the saw horses. But you can also buy some of these Rockler Painting Pyraminds.

Now about the rest of your home, let’s Learn How to Paint Your Walls Like a Pro!

PHGFancySignIf you liked this post, you’ll love more of my painting tutorials:

Over 50 Painting Tutorials!



  1. what a great tutorial!!!! i’ve always left the door on the hinges, it makes it so difficult. your instructions are great!!!

    • I have a tip to add…take 4 nails…after laying the doors down hammer a nail about three inches in on the ends of the door (its actually the very top and the very bottom of the doors) get them in there good and when you put them on the saw horses…lean the NAILS on the saw horses. After you paint one side of the door you can use the nails to flip the door over and paint that side before the first side is even dry! Works great…got it from my handiman mag!

      • Great tip Carmen! I read that too, but haven’t tried it. I will next time. Thanks for sharing.

      • I have put the nails in the door and used them like you said – works perfect! I had a remodeling company for years and this is how all the professional painters do it!

        • Better yet, two nails inserted that way on end, and one nail in the middle on the other end. This way when you’re done with the first side, you can spin the door on the one nail and there’s a smooth flip.

      • My father-in-law just finished painting our doors on our new house. He used a spray gun but the process he used would be the same with a roller probably. He and my husband put hooks in the tops of the doors and nails in the bottoms. Then they strung rope between a tall ladder and a tree (because we only had one ladder tall enough) so they were upright and then old boards/cardboard underneath to get them off the grass. Then he just went back and forth painting one side and walked around them to paint the backs without having to wait for them to dry and flip over. :)

  2. DUH! I never though to take the door off!

    This post has perfect timing I was thinking last night as I taped up my baseboards and trim “how the heck am I gonna paint the doors”

  3. I could have used this tutorial about a week ago. We replaced two of the solid, flat doors with the 6-panel doors. Now I know what to do as we slowly but surely replace all the doors in the house.

  4. I haven’t even read this yet but I am so excited! I checked in just to see if you had this up yet. Jumping around excited. It’s kind of silly what makes my day. 😉 Friday is our next work day at my friend’s house.

  5. I’m so glad this tutorial will be helpful for you all. Heather, I’m just glad I got it up in time for your next work day. Send me picture y’all!

  6. Heather says:

    Hi! Does this apply to Front doors as well or just inside doors. I really want to repaint the front door, but wonder what would need to be done differently.


  7. Yes, it definitely applies to front doors as well. The only difference would be if you choose not to remove it from its hinges. Front doors are usually much heavier than interior doors.

    Drips will happen easier on a hanging door, so be sure not to use too much paint.

  8. WOW you read my MIND! I need to paint our front doors. THANK you for this post. Showing to the hubs.

  9. Okay, you just solved the argument between Hubs & me. He always wants to use a roller and I say Brush! Now I see how you can use both!

    Brittany . . . gloves? Really?!? Oh, my! I’m so bad that when I went to grab a sandwich yesterday, some guy said “hi” then as I walked past said, “Professional painter, huh?” I asked, “How can you tell?” He just laughed. I had on my ‘work’ clothes (which now describes about 80% of my closet) complete with paint splatters.

    It’s my moving business card :)

  10. Nice job on the door & the tutorial on how you did it. Also enjoyed your demo of how to remove/replace an escutcheon.

  11. I will send pictures of my friends house. It’s looking good -inside painting done (doors too!) and wood floors are almost done. At least last I heard they were on schedule.

    I wish they had time to fix their butt ugly fire place. :-) Think 70s with wood, brick, stone, and orange tile. I know – you should do an “ugliest room” post where your readers can win something. :-)

    Great job and thanks.

  12. I love it all! Your smaller salvaged window looks like a mirror? I’m dying to do that to a set of old gothic windows that make up a panel. Can you tell me how?

    thanks soooooooo much,


  13. Hi Brittany – just a note to say I highlighted your post today. I’m trying to get inspired to paint my own doors 😉

    Dang, I just wish you lived closer to me!

  14. I have the flat, non-panel doors and I have yet to find a tutorial on the best way to paint them. They are the faux wood doors with the ugly brass hardware. (I did find your tutorial on painting them and can’t wait to do that.)
    Can you recommend a good tutorial?

  15. Well that is a pretty good tutorial on how to paint a door.but my Mom and I just purchased paint from Sherwan Williams that is Self-leveling paint. It works real slick you just paint it on with nice large paint brushes and it flattens out any brush strokes. My Aunt paints for a living and that’s what she uses for all the doors she paints……not rollers!! You just have to move fast when you paint because it acts quickly.

  16. learning to be handy says:

    our new house has the original 6 panel wood doors…i wanted to keep them but the thought of painting seemed hopeless especially after my first go-around…glad to know that there is a way to do it so i can keep these doors in the house..thanks

  17. I painted my front door just a few weeks ago and just kinda winged it. Judging by your tutorial I did everything right! I used both a roller and a brush on mine, and didn’t like either one. I didn’t like the streaks the brush left, and the roller seemed to soak up more paint than it applied. I ended up using a wide sponge brush thing and liked it best!

  18. This was great. Thank you.

  19. OK, I’m back. lol
    What if you have those hollow wood-look doors? How do you paint them?

    • Kristin, I’m assuming you are asking about the doors that do not have individual panels, but one flat surface instead. In that case, you would paint them top to bottom. Roll on the paint and then use your brush to smooth the paint top to bottom with the grain. If you do have paneled doors, just paint them like shown in the tutorial and brush with the grain. The door shown is actually hollow too.

      • If they are “wood look” …you very possibly need to prime them. Make sure you get a primer that says “bonding” or “adhesion”….different primers do different things.

  20. Great tutorial! I am following your advice right now and painting the outside of my white front door with medium blue latex paint, satin sheen. I didn’t have to prime.

    Can I really apply another coat after just one hour?

    I’d love to, to get this done all in one day, but the can says wait 4 hours and I’ve even heard to wait 24 hours. But if you did it in one hour with success, I want to do that too! Thanks!

    • Colleen, as long as the first coat is completely dry you can definitely proceed with the next coat. You will want to be careful not to lay anything on the doors for up to a week as the paint cures. But, otherwise, go for it!

      • Thanks so much Brittany, I am done and it looks amazing, now to get this stupid deadbolt back on, it’s actually giving me trouble and I thought it was the easy part, lol!

  21. Hello!
    I was wondering if you paint the top, bottom, and sides of the door? And what type of paint you should use….I would love to paint my interior doors (some paneled and some flat) but don’t want them sticking. Also, do you know how to paint a door jambs? I really want to paint my interior doors, but worry I’ll mess it all up and have a bunch of doors that stick. Thanks for your help!

    • Cheryl, if I take the door off the hinges then I paint the entire thing. All 6 sides. Dust doesn’t attach as easily to a clean painted door. If I paint it while still hung I paint everything but the bottom. Leave the door open at least overnight and up to 48 hours if you can. The paint should dry thoroughly and not stick to the other jamb. If it does stick, your door may be too tight in the frame. Most doors only lightly touch the jamb when closed. You can also try putting a thin wiping of vaseline on the jamb (after the paint is dry) to prevent it from sticking.

  22. I’m a little late to the party, but… I was a high-end house painter for two years (and learned from someone who’d been doing it for 25 yrs) and I just have to say that a pro would never remove the door – it’s a pain and why add to the workload when it doesn’t make the painting that much easier? But if you’ve removed your door you might as well paint the bottom edge while you’re down there (rarely gets done). I have never seen anyone use a roller, either, but I imagine it does help if you haven’t been painting 40 hrs/week and can’t go fast enough to keep the paint from drying up on you.

    It kind of bothers me that a book has told you what “pros” do when it’s clearly a modified-for-non-pros version…

    Happy painting!

    • Oh yeah, don’t forget to buy an expensive brush (Wooster or Purdy) and paint (Benjamin Moore or maybe Sherwin Williams)! It makes a world of difference

    • Jv is correct, no need to remove the door, just the handle. Personally would never paint a door laying on saw horses, as dust would settle on it.

    • Have to agree here, definitely better to paint a door in situ and just remove the handles etc. Also the quality of the paint and tools makes a HUGE difference to the finish.

      • See my other post – YES, take all the doors off and all the hardware – paint them ALL at one time and if you are doing multiple rooms, the darn doors are out of your way when trying to get all that painting done.

  23. OH Thank you! I read so many tutorials on door painting that nearly scared me out of it. You laid it out simple and easy, I painted 3 doors downstairs black, just as you instructed above; they look GREAT!! Thanks for taking the time to post this. :)

  24. I am painting my exterior door and I am not planning to take it down to paint it. I did take notes from your process and I think it will work.

  25. I painted my doors in my house and now they wont shut? what can I do?

  26. The best tips here are not to remove the doors and to paint the doors using a excellent brush and self-leveling paint!!!

  27. I’m just now finding this post! About 3 years ago, I had my front door replaced after I’d come home from work one day to find it kicked in. The man put in a new frame and door. Nothing was painted before hand. I doubt he would have wanted to wait for me to do that! So my front door is store-bought primer white. I’m going to attempt to paint it while it’s hung because I cannot take it down/put it back up by myself. My question is: How long should I wait after it’s totally painted before I close the door? I could start very early on a Saturday, but I would need to be able to close it and lock it in the evening. Any particular paint (brand) you’d recommend for quick, solid drying? Thanks!

    • Cindy, oh definitely paint that exterior door while still hung. I’d use a latex paint rated for exterior durability. Paint on a sunny day so it will dry faster. Also, you can smear a line of petroleum jelly inside the door jamb where the door presses against it (or the weather stripping) to prevent sticking. Hope that helps!

      P.s. Be sure to prime the door and use a Semi-Gloss or Gloss for durability.

      • Thank you! :)

        • I am wondering is your outside door metal? Mine is and it needs painted. Has hung as is for way to long and husband has been to busy so going to takle it by myself. For the metal door do you suggest sanding it or just priming it? And I’m assuming the same paint as long as it has an outside durability.

          • Kim, mine is wood. But, even if it is metal, you want to lightly sand to give the surface some “tooth” for your paint to stick to. Then definitely use a good primer (should be rated for exterior.) And a good exterior paint.

  28. I painted my metal front door last year without removing it from the hinges and the best advice I have
    Is to use a small foam roller ( as advised after my 3rd trip to the paint store in frustration!) I was using
    A high-gloss black paint and kept seeing all of my brush lines…..then tried to use a roller, but could not do the inside of the panels. The man at the paint store finally asked what it was I was painting and then told me to use the small foam rollers as they will paint right into the panels and will not leave marks upon drying :)

  29. This how to was perfect. I completed my two door entrance to the laundry room today and kept my laptop open following step by step. Thank you so much! Lindy

  30. Jill Smith says:

    No professional paints doors with a brush or roller; it’s all done using a paint sprayer. My parents painted all of the doors in our house with a sprayer they bought at the home depot. It’s super easy to use and affordable, and because the sprayer uses 1/2 paint 1/2 water- one gallon of paint goes a long way.

  31. How do you paint the inexpensive doors that they place in houses today. Does primer help the paint stick ?

  32. I was thinking step 4 should be step 3, with my doors anyways as the wood grain is horizontal all across the bottom and top of the door.
    Is that right?

    I have 3 doors to paint and Ill follow this technique.

    Thank you.

    • You can swap those two, but I learned to paint all the insides first. Also, if there are any drips from Steps 1 & 2, you’ll catch them sooner before moving to the exterior frame last. Make sense?

  33. Thank you. Yes, I understand that.
    How long should I wait between steps? For example, after I paint step 1, and step 2- how long after should I paint step 3?

    Thank you.

  34. says:

    This is a great read! I appreciate the tips. The only question I have is this: the previous owners painted the wooden doors white, and the paint is chipping/peeling off because they didn’t sand down the original polyurethane/varnish before-hand. Am I going to have to scrape off this paint, then sand or just start sanding? Thanks in advance for your time!

  35. The BEST way to get ALL your doors done at one time… take all the doors off and remove all harware. Set up two long wood stips on the floor in your garage – use 2×2 or long scrap strips of 3/4″ plywood work great and I keep them specifically for painting doors. Next get scraps of wood about 6-8 inches long – anything from a 1×2 to a 2×4 – you’ll need a number of them equal to the total number of doors you have minus ONE. Next, accordian the doors across your two wood strips on the floor and nail a scrap of wood into the top edges of the doors where they meet. nail the nail in half way so you can easily pull it out with a claw hammer when you are done. You never see the top or bottom of the doors and you can write the location of the door in your house on either end and paint all surfaces of the door in one painting session. Works GREAT for anything more than 2 doors (3+). I’ve painted 5 doors, 2 coats all after work one day – just before dinner, 4 hrs later around 10 oclock – dry the next morning.

    • Scott,

      I am a visual person – and having a hard time following your instructions in my head. Do you have any pictures of how to “accordian” the doors?


  36. Thanks for sharing this post. Good work! Thanks for post.

  37. Michelle Marsh says:

    Hey Ladies, do any of you who have painted your doors, have a paint color that you are in love with? I’d LOVE black (mine is currently burgandy from the builder), but I don’t want a super dark black. I was hoping those of you who have done this would have a recommendation? Also, would you use a satin or ? Thanks a million in advance for any suggestions!!!

  38. clean wood doors before painting says:

    I have solid core flat bedroom doors to paint. They were primed when we bought them, 3 yrs ago. They never got painted and are dirty. what should I wash doors with? Should I prim them, or is original priming enough? Thanks for the info on this site and I feel comments on this site saved me from removing three heavy doors to paint. I will leave them hanging.

    • If you think they are really dirty and more than just dust, I’d clean them with TSP. But, if it’s just dust you should be able to clean them off with a wet rag. You can always give them a super light sanding too. The original priming should be sufficient as long as you don’t see the original wood showing though.

  39. Is it different if painting a steel door? I have new doors and I believe they have primer on them and I want to paint them white.

    • Launa,

      No, not much different, but you do need to determine for certain if it is pre-primed. Besides contacting the seller or manufacturer, I’m not sure how you could tell. Adding one coat of primer to the door isn’t a big deal. You don’t have to go for full coverage, just make sure you don’t have any drips.

  40. Hi, I’m a professional painter & decorator and I do it a little differently to you. Taking a door off its hinges to paint might make sense if you are just painting one side of the door and you have a lot of time on your hands!
    If you are painting both sides or more than one door it could be a serious hassle. Plus when the door is laying flat and dust in the air will settle on the wet paint. Unless you have the door in a clean room.
    This is how I do it

  41. I have to paint my front door which is wooden and also has glass frame in the center. Do i need to sand the door first and then apply priner and then paint ?

    150 grit paper is ok for sanding, also do I need to wash my door with light dish washing soap. What colors do you recommend right now I have beige , I also have storm door which is white want to paint that same color as my front door.

    Thanks for a great website

    awaiting your reply


  42. We have 2 houses left to us after hubby’s parents died. The mortgage is so high we have to rent one out. One is 3 br 2 bath and the other is 2 br 1 bath. Older homes that were paneled. We have lived in smaller house for years. We have been renting the larger house and so we allowed a tenant to paint it. Well OM gosh, what a mess. She painted over varnished doors and now the paint is peeling due to last tenants hitting it with something. There are visible gaps all along the moldings at ceilings. I could cry. It looked good while she lived here. Me nor hubby can paint, and I have severes allergies. I am pulling the latex off of the door but that isnt woking either, we both work so don’t have alot of spare time.
    Any suggestions?

    • Sara, I think the best solution would be to scrape off as much of the paint as you can. Then sand it smooth. Be sure to use a good primer like BIN primer and then paint it with a good quality paint that will withstand abuse like Benjamin Moore Advance paint. If the paint won’t scrape off neatly, you may be forced to strip the paint with a chemical stripper or heat gun. Here’s a tutorial on that process:


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