How to Paint an Exterior Door

Once you've made the final decision to paint your exterior door, set aside a weekend or holiday that allows you to move through the steps with plenty of time for each. It’s critical to nearly every step of painting an exterior door that you choose a dust-free (or at least low traffic area with less dusting up going on) to attend to your project. Let people know so traffic can be redirected while you work on your door if you plan to keep it on its hinges. Otherwise, a basement, garage, or workshop should be kept orderly and quiet while you move through the steps below.

*Tip: If you must paint with the door still on hinges, be sure to cover the hinges with painter’s tape so that no paint gets onto this metal hardware. 

With the day ahead of you, begin the process by removing any hardware, including doorknobs, embellishments, knockers, and speakeasy grates from the exterior and interior areas of the door (unless you plan only on painting one side, usually the exterior). For hardware that's difficult to remove, be gentle: after removing any screws, if the hardware is still stuck to the wood, use a flathead screwdriver to create a wedge between ornaments or flat hardware and the wood it's attached to. Next, slowly pull hardware away from the wood surface being careful not to crack or splinter wood. In the event you to splinter wood, don’t worry—we’ll tell you in this series of steps when to stop and repair this damage—for now, keep working through these steps.


Ensure a Fresh and Enduringly Bright Paint Job: Sand Before You Paint 

Not all paint jobs are created equal: exterior doors that are not sanded first will show signs of novice workmanship—old wood cracks or cracked old paint will peer through, as will old signs of wear and tear. Use a belt sander with a low grade sandpaper (100–250 depending on the degree of damage) to sand solid doors or those with just a few larger panels. For exterior doors with many panels, sand with belt sander first, then go in manually with sand paper in-hand to attack the nooks and crannies unreachable by the belt.

To repair any cracks or splintering that may have occurred over time or as you were removing hardware (as discussed above), apply liquid wood or wood glue into the area where cracking has occurred. Apply wood vices as needed and allow to dry for 12–24 hours before applying any other layers onto bare wood.


Prime Before Paint for a Lasting and Vibrant Exterior Door 

With your door completely sanded down so that no remaining coats of wood varnish or paint appear, you’re now ready to begin applying primer. Many people ask, “Why do I need to primer over wood before I paint it?” The answer is that primer allows your color to pop more vibrantly and for longer while also protecting the bare wood from the elements to which it is exposed every single day. Priming your door’s exterior is smart, simple, and keeps you from having to repaint the same door again in such short order, as the primer will create lasting, higher-quality results. Allow primer applied to your exterior door to dry for 6–12 hours depending on the brand and instructions.


Preparing Paint for Application: Avoiding Messy or Low Quality Workmanship

Once the primer on your exterior door is dry and you're prepared to paint, you'll want to prepare the paint before you begin applying it to the primed door. First, open the paint bucket with a flat head screwdriver or paint can key. With the lid completely off, stir the paint clockwise with a wooden stir ensuring you're moving all the paint from bottom to top; repeat the same process moving counter-clockwise so all the paint color is mixed thoroughly and equally. From here, you'll want to be able to commit to painting the whole door in one shot. You can certainly hold off until later for a second coat, but you must finish each coat you set out on in one session to avoid sloppy, haphazard work.


Applying Paint to the Exterior Door: Step 5 in How to Paint an Exterior Door 

Once all wood glue and primer layers are completely dry, and once you’ve stirred paint according to the instructions above, it’s time to apply a couple of coats of paint. Keep a rag at hand to quickly remove accidental strokes onto windows, the frame of the door, and so on. Using a medium-wide paintbrush, apply paint in an even coat from left to right or right to left (begin away from hinges and paint toward them with each stroke—this keeps you from accidentally painting on top of them). Keep painting continuously from one side to the other in broad, full-length strokes that cover as much area as possible before returning the brush to the paint for a “refill.” Some paint brands or types will suggest you do not need a second coat, especially if you’ve used primer already.

You may still want to add a second coat anyway, as it’s a good rule of thumb that removes the human error in your work that you may not see in your work until it’s too late. Applying a second coat should wait until the first coat is dry, which usually takes 3–12 hours. If the paint job looks good to you and you are using a “one and done” type of paint, feel free to move on to the next step; otherwise, add your second layer of paint and wait several hours before rehanging your door (or removing paint tape from hinges and/or window panes).


Finishing Touches in How to Paint an Exterior Door: Reattaching Hardware and Embellishments

Using the old, painted-over holes to guide you, reattach old doorknobs, doorknockers, and any other embellishments. If you’re unable to see existing holes or if you find they’re not enough of a guide, use a small hands-free level to ensure items are screwed into place properly. If for any reason paint still feels “gooey” to the touch or as you screw hardware into the surface of the door, stop and wait a few hours longer, as you could nick the paintjob by pushing through the steps too quickly. 

Now you know exactly how to paint an exterior door and you’ll be well prepared to repeat these steps on any other doors you like! Don’t forget to keep the area dust-free and tidy for the best results!