Many of us have been staring at the same walls and doors in our homes for many years (or maybe many decades.) If you’ve wanted to give your home an update, painting a door is a quick and easy way to do just that. Today I’ll to show you how to paint doors (the professional way) so they look amazing for years (or decades) to come.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

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. This tutorial pertains to any paneled door (interior or exterior).

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

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?)

Materials:

(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

optional: Painting Pyramids

How to Test for Latex or Oil Paint?

To determine if you need to prime your door you need to assess if your door was painted with latex or oil paint first. To test the paint, rub a small spot with rubbing alcohol (or ammonia) and if the paint comes off it is latex. If not, it’s oil paint.

How Do I Know if My Door Has Lead Paint:

You can easily test your door (or any paint) for the presence of lead by using a lead test swab. I go into more detail about lead paint in this tutorial.

How to Easily Test for Lead Paint

But, the short of it is, if you have lead paint, you must be very careful when sanding it. Cover the area with disposable plastic. Use a wet sanding block (never use a power sander). Wear a respirator and be sure to clean everything with disposable wet wipes.)

When Do You Have to Prime?

As we determined above, if your door was painted with oil-based paint (and you want to use latex paint) you will need to prime. But, here are a few more reasons you need to prime your door first:

  • Bare wood or stained wood doors.
  • Dark painted doors you wish to paint lighter (or vice versa), you want to use a tinted-primer to cut down on coats.
  • If the door was painted with oil and you want to use latex paint. 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.)
  • The paint is chipping. First, scrape or sand any flakes and then prime. (Important: Check for Lead Paint First.)
  • Lead paint (whether in good shape or not), you will need to prime.

Should I Remove or Paint a Hung Door?

The easiest way to paint a door is to remove the door, then remove the knobs and latch. Then you can lay it horizontally on sawhorses. Painting a door on sawhorses eliminates potential drips and is easier on your back. But, removing the door can also be a pain, especially if it’s a large solid wood door. I’ve painted plenty of doors without removing them, and they look great. It comes down to personal preference.

Preparation:

Whether you are removing the door or painting it in place, be sure to cover the area underneath with a drop cloth, newspapers, or flattened cardboard boxes (my favorite for hung doors because it gives some cushion when you are kneeling on the floor.

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. Wipe off the door with a damp rag to remove any sawdust.

Instructions for How to Paint Doors the Professional Way.

Step 1: Paint the interior panels first as shown in the graphic below.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional instructions

Using a small roller to paint doors can greatly speed the process. Begin by rolling paint on the flat panels. Work quickly by rolling on the paint, then use a brush to smooth out the paint and fill in the detailed areas around the flat panel.

This is one of the most important tips for getting a professional look:

Follow the grain direction when brushing on the paint

If you follow the grain and the direction of the arrows in the graphic above, you will maintain the look of the door construction. Original wood doors are made with several pieces and the wood grain changes direction. Even if you have cheap hollow core doors, you can fake the look of a quality door by following the grain pattern.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional Panels

In other words: NEVER run your brush strokes perpendicular to the wood grain. This does NOT look professional.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

Step 2: Next, roll the inside center vertical piece. Start by rolling the paint on in an up and down direction.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

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

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

Step 3: Next paint the horizontal cross pieces in the middle of the door.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

Keep your brush strokes horizontal (with the grain) and cross over the tall vertical center.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

Step 4: Paint the door border. Pay attention to the direction of the wood grain for this last step. The grain on the two sides should go vertically from top to bottom.

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

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.)

How to Paint Doors like a Professional | Pretty Handy Girl

Step 5: The last step is to paint the edges of the door. (Do Not paint the hinges…that’s not very professional either!) If your hinges or doorknobs were painted previously you can follow this tutorial with four ways to remove paint from metal hinges.

4 Ways to Remove Paint from Metal Hinges (& more) | Pretty Handy Girl

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 now before the paint cures.

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 to paint the other side. I have found that it helps to put pieces of cardboard or rags under the door so the paint doesn’t stick to the sawhorses. But you can also buy Painting Pyraminds which elevate the door and hold it on tiny points.

Ready to perfect more of your painting skills? Check out the Paint Week series with 5 Lessons to Perfect Your Painting Skills:

Paint Week - 5 Lessons to Perfect Your Painting Skills

And if you really want to paint your front door but can’t decide on a color, you’ll love this collection of Bold Colored Front Doors!

Bright and Bold Colorful Front Doors

121 replies
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  1. Alice
    Alice says:

    I have a question… I just had my maple doors painted. “Supposedly” the painters sanded the doors as they had a clear coat finish on them. In any case, the doors were painted with semi gloss Benjamin Moore interior paint. Its a week later and I’m wondering if they did the job right b/c I accidentally scratched my finger nail against the door and the paint peeled/chipped off. Is this normal? What happened here? Any tips would be super appreciated.

    Reply
    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      Alice, did the painters use a primer? If not, you need to get your money back! That is not what is supposed to happen. Also, it helps to have a paint that is made for trim & doors. i.e. Benjamin Moore Impervo. Sadly the best option will be to strip the doors and have them repainted. I’d be furious if I were you.

      Reply
  2. Cherri Fellows
    Cherri Fellows says:

    I just refinished our kitchen door, and I might say it looks great. Why would you go through the trouble of taking the door off , the handle, etc..??? You can just loosen the door handle screws enough to have a space between the door and hardware, using a small foam brush paint under the handle, using paint only on one side of brush. For the top, bottom and hinged side of door, slide a piece of plastic or white paper in and shut the door, tape outside edge of paper to casing on top and hinged side. The paper under your door will stay in place on its own. To paint the handle edge, open door, put door stop under opposite side you are painting. Cover hinges with tape if they are on the side you are painting. So much easier, quicker and no door knobs, hinges to put back together, no hauling a heavy clumbersome door back and forth not to mention lifting to get back on hinges. I primed my door in less than 20 minutes. Came back and painted later, took less than 10 minutes. Only wish I could put up a picture of it.

    Reply
  3. Sara
    Sara says:

    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?

    Reply
    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      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: http://www.prettyhandygirl.com/strip-paint-off-door/

      Reply
  4. deno
    deno says:

    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

    Deno

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] How to Paint Doors (The Professional Way) – Pretty Handy … – 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. […]

  2. […] of the door. You can then fill in the larger areas with a wider brush. Another option is to use a small paint roller to cover the larger, flat surfaces of the door. Some people prefer to use a roller and then go over […]

  3. […] ensure that a door is nicely painted, you’ll likely need to dismount it and remove the hinges and the door lock, so they don’t get […]

  4. […] sandpaper – the surface should be smooth before you start painting. Next, you can use the gloss paint to decorate the door. Leave the wood to dry for at least half a […]

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  8. […] Handy Girl has two posts that I found very helpful.  First, she posted a great tutorial on painting interior doors the professional way.  The Mad House has lovely 4-paneled doors, but some of them are painted in a weird two-tone […]

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