Renovating

Painting doors: how to ensure the best result

Torben Schröder

Perhaps the paint doesn’t look quite so white anymore, or your pet has scratched the fancy wood – doors are in everyday use and are bound to show signs of wear over the years, just like walls or floor coverings. Before you decide to buy a new door, think about giving the old one a fresh coat of paint. In this article we explain how to paint doors.

A woman is using a roller to apply paint to an unhinged door leaning against a wall.
© Getty Images

In this article

Painting a wooden door yourself: preparation

Many doors in houses and apartments are made of wood. Since this is quite a sensitive material, it requires special treatment and painting. Below we explain how to paint a wooden door yourself. First, you should make sure you have the right material and tools.

Painting material

In principle, there are three different materials you can use to paint a wooden door:

1. Wood varnish

This is the most common coating material. The solid components of wood varnish form a hard film once it has dried. This has the effect that the structure of the wood disappears completely – only the chosen color remains visible as a covering layer. There are no limits to the choice of shades: from natural brown tones, classic black or white to bright colors like green and blue, everything is possible.

An untreated wooden door first requires a primer coat. Depending on how absorbent the wood is, you may need several coats. In stores you can also find 2-in-1 products – this means that the primer and varnish are mixed together, which saves you a step when applying the layers.

If you are willing to experiment, then why not try chalkboard coating? It looks like conventional black or dark green varnish, but the great thing is that you can write on it with school chalk after it dries. Leave a message for your partner on the kitchen door or just let your kids’ creative streak run wild.

2. Wood glaze

In contrast to wood varnish, wood glaze (also known as wood stain) doesn’t cover the entire surface, but allows the grain to shine through or even emphasizes it. The glaze is a transparent coating – this is mostly colorless but is also available in wood tones. The consistency of the glaze is either liquid or jelly-like. The latter has the advantage that it is drip-proof and doesn’t liquefy until you start painting.

Wood glazes contain significantly fewer pigments and fillers than wood varnishes. This allows the ingredients to penetrate into the wood after application. Consequently, any potential color change doesn’t occur on top of the wood, but within the top layer. For interior doors, this means that pre-treatment with a primer, which is intended to prevent precisely this effect, is not necessary. Exterior doors should be painted with a wood preservation agent after glazing.

3. Wood oil

Whether it’s been produced with natural ingredients or synthetically, oil isn’t designed to change the appearance of the wood, but to maintain it. It provides protection from external influences and brings out the previous color and structure particularly effectively. In addition, since no extra layer of paint is applied, the wood can “breathe” better.

In a similar way to wood glaze, wood oil penetrates into the surface. Apply it generously but gently to the door with a sponge or soft brush. Any excess oil should be removed immediately or spread out over particularly absorbent areas. Repeat the process until the wood is evenly saturated.

Close-up of a man’s hand painting a brown wooden door.

When a door is treated with wood oil, it is given a new protective coating.

Tools

For the following DIY task, you will need the tools listed below, whether you already own them, buy them or borrow them from a neighbor:

  • Paint roller
  • Two painter’s trestles
  • Painter’s fleece or film
  • Painter’s tape
  • Brush
  • Grinding machine or sanding block
  • Sandpaper
  • Screwdriver
  • Spatula
  • Filler

Painting a wooden door yourself: instructions

You don’t need to hire a painter or varnisher to paint a wooden door – with these step-by-step instructions, you'll easily get the job done yourself.

Cover the surrounding area

Take a large painter’s fleece or film to cover all the surfaces in your house or apartment that you want to protect. Paint leaves stubborn stains on carpet or parquet.

Unhinge the door and prop it up

Commercially bought doors are two meters high, so start by aligning the two painter’s trestles at a distance of about 1.5 meters from each other. Next, unhook the door from its fixings. If it’s too heavy for you to lift, ask someone to help. Now lay the door on the painter’s trestles.

Remove the door handle and rosette

Free the door from anything that might get in the way of your painting work, including the door handle with the rosette, i.e. the cover plate around the handle or the keyhole. Use a suitable screwdriver to remove these elements.

Sand down the door

Next you need to sand down the door. This will remove the old coating while also creating an even and adherent surface for the fresh coat of paint. This is where the sanding machine and coarse sandpaper come in. If you don’t have a machine, you can use a sanding block instead – but of course this requires more physical effort.

When sanding down the door, you may come across small cracks, bumps or even holes that were previously hidden by paint. This is your chance to even out these blemishes with the spatula and filler. The affected areas must be sanded down again afterwards to make them smooth. Clean the door thoroughly after sanding.

Close-up of a man sanding down a door with a grinder.

Before you apply primer and paint to the door, you must first sand it down thoroughly.

Apply the primer

If your door has glass inserts or other sensitive surfaces or decorations that shouldn’t be painted, protect them with painter’s tape. Open the container of primer, take the brush and start applying to the corners and edges first. Proceed carefully. Use the paint roller for larger areas. When you have completed one side of the door, take a break, because the primer needs to dry overnight.

The next day, sand down the dried primer with fine sandpaper, turn the door over on the painter’s trestles and apply primer to the other side. Allow this to dry as well and then sand down the door again.

Apply the varnish

To varnish the door, proceed as you did when applying the primer. First, work the corners and edges again with the brush, then move on to the remaining surfaces with the paint roller. Once the first layer of paint has dried, you can decide for yourself whether another layer is needed to increase the color saturation. This depends on the varnish, wood and, of course, your taste.

If any unsightly dried drops have formed when applying the initial layer of varnish, you should sand them off before applying more varnish. As for the primer coat, tackle one side of the door first, then the other.

Reassemble and reattach the door

Once the paint has been applied and dried, if you are satisfied with the result, then the job is done. Almost. Screw the rosette and the door handle back on and hang the door onto its hinges again. Congratulations, you’ve done it!

Painting plastic and steel doors

Besides wood, other common materials for doors are plastic (indoors) and steel (outdoors). Of course, these materials should also be painted from time to time. As we explain below, the procedure is slightly different.

Painting plastic doors yourself

Doors made of plastic have a top coating of foil on them, which isn’t easy to paint. If you no longer like the way a plastic door looks, you have three options.

  • Paint over the foil: it’s important for the coating material to adhere to the plastic – you won’t get far with wood varnish. You can find special plastic paint in stores. It’s also advisable to completely sand down the door once with fine sandpaper and to apply bonding primer. It’s best to test the procedure on a small area.
  • Remove the foil: with this option, you free the door from the plastic. Sand down the surface until the core is revealed, for example chipboard. You should first treat this with deep primer before applying a new topcoat.
  • Apply door wallpaper: this process doesn’t require a brush or paint. Ask about door wallpaper in a hardware store. It exists in plain and monochrome designs and can even have landscapes. The sheets are already cut to the dimensions of a standard door and stick to the previous surface by themselves.

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Painting steel doors yourself

Steel doors can also be found in private homes, for example in basements. Even this type of door can be given a new coat of paint. Fine sandpaper is usually enough to remove the old layer. After that, you need to thoroughly clean the surface so that no dirt or dust particles can become trapped during painting. If there are any spots of rust on the steel door, you will need to treat them with rust converter.

You can use synthetic resin varnish or acrylic varnish as a coating material. A paint roller is an appropriate tool, just like for a wooden door. However, you can also spray the color on – which usually produces a more even result.

Conclusion: a good result with a brush and paint

A primer, suitable varnish and a few tools – you don’t need much at all to paint a door. The individual steps such as protecting the room, sanding down the surfaces and even the actual painting don’t require great DIY skills. Before you buy a new door, why not try painting the old one?

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