How to Paint a Front Door

I’ve been working hard on making over the face of our house while the weather is warm (although it’s a little too warm right now) and it’s outdoor living time. I started it by cleaning and painting the shutters and by cleaning our vinyl siding. The dot on the “i” for this project was refreshing the color of our front door. It was following the maroon and cream color scheme the shutters had been boasting. It just wasn’t our style.

I wanted to make sure that when I painted the door I did it right to ensure no future bubbling will happen when the door is exposed to all the elements (it really takes the heat). I wanted it to definitely be the welcoming face of the house with a nice looking paint job. Here is my step-by-step guide to painting a front door.

1. Find out if the paint on the door is oil or latex. You can find this out by using denatured alcohol, acetate based nail polish, or rubbing alcohol. Put a little on your finger or cotton ball and rub it against the door. If it is gummy then is latex; if you get nothing (except maybe some dirt) it is oil based paint. Or you can be like me and do that test first and then check the basement to see if the old paint was left by previous owners. Duh. It said oil right on the label. Face palm (slow turtle style).

2. Prep your space. Put down a good drop cloth. Get an angled paint brush and roller made for doors and trim. Also, make sure to get paint thinner to clean the brushes after using the oil based paint. It’s good to start this project early in the day with no big plans. You have to babysit a drying front door. If you can open windows, do it. Oil paint really smells. Yuck! Open a window! Also, don’t forget to tape around windows and hardware (if you don’t remove it – I didn’t but I recommend removing it).

3. Sand the door and then clean it really well with a liquid deglosser.

4. If it is oil paint then you will need to first prime the door with an oil based primer. I used Zinsser. Even if you are going from latex to latex, I recommend using a primer, especially if you are going from one dramatic color to another or are going dark. Since we decided to go Bright Red in satin by Valspar (in their exterior Duramax brand), it was definitely a primer type of job. I’ll show you my method of painting when I get to the red paint – it’s easier to see what order I paint in.

One coat:

Two coats:

5. After looking around online for painting tips and tricks, I hit upon this tried and true method painting sequence.

A) Use your brush for inner panel corners and any cutting in around hardware.

B) Paint the horizontal panels.

C) Paint the vertical panels.

D) Lastly paint the interior panels. Don’t forget to look for drips before it gets too tacky or dry.

Here’s a quick photo sequence to really see how it all comes together:

7. While you’re already making a mess, do enough coats. I did three coats with the red paint over the two coats of primer.

I was definitely pleased with our happy, bright red front door color and the way the paint finished. It has a subtle sheen but it’s not too glossy that it shows any brush strokes or drips in the paint (gloss paint broadcasts mistakes).

After going “yuck” every time I looked at our front door for the past three years, I practically fist pump when I pull in the driveway every day and see this happy door greeting me.