The Correct Way to Paint and Trim Old Doors

Proper preparation and technique are the keys to painting doors with a silky-smooth finish. Follow these pro tips to ensure your finished product looks new for years to come. Start by washing the door and frame. It removes dirt and oil that can interfere with paint adhesion.


Painting or staining your door adds a protective layer to the wood, so it will last longer and resist wear and tear. If you’re planning to stain the door, remove the hardware first. Strip the old finish lightly from both sides of the door with a pull scraper. Apply a chemical stripper containing methylene chloride in a well-ventilated area, following the directions on the label. To neutralize the stripper after applying it, rub the wood’s surface with a cloth dipped in mineral spirits. Then sand the door with 120-grit sandpaper, either by hand or with a power sander. Finally, clean the door with a damp rag to remove dust.


Painting doors and trim them the right way requires a bit of prep. You’ll need a primer, paint stripper (if needed), and 120-grit sandpaper. You can remove the door for painting or leave it hung while you do your work. Both options can produce quality results, but removing the door is more accessible and will protect your hinges and frame from paint drips. If you keep, the door hung, place it on a pair of sawhorses in a well-ventilated area and carefully mask it with painter’s tape. Remove the kick plate, locks, and knobs. You’ll also want to use a broom to sweep the door and remove any dirt or grit that may have settled there over time. Finally, sand the surface to ensure that any deeper blemishes are very shallow and that the paint will hide them.


Doors endure a lot of abuse from dirty shoes, sticky fingers, and a steady stream of people passing by. A new coat of paint may make things appear brand new, even if they appear damaged.

Depending on your style, you’ll need some paint, either in a light or dark shade. If you use a brush, opt for a broad head for an even finish. If you’re using a roller, get a soft-bodied roller for an easy application that won’t leave marks.

Consider buying a small container of cellulose filler or wood filler. It will help to repair any cracks, voids, or nail holes in the door before you apply your paint. Once you’re happy with your paintwork, let the doors dry entirely before reinstalling the hinges and lock mechanisms. It’s best to remove the door from its hinges, as this makes it easier to mask up the hinges and frame, giving the paint a better chance to level out and cover any brush marks.


Whether painting over oil-based paint or using latex, use a primer before applying your top coat. It seals bare wood, fills in cracks, and helps your paint stick. If your door is dirty, wipe it with a scrub sponge saturated in trisodium phosphate (TSP). This chemical decreases the surface, preparing it for painting. It also functions like wet sanding to make the surface more porous so that the fresh paint would adhere better.

Allow the primer to dry overnight before sanding lightly with 220-grit sandpaper. Then wipe the surface clean again. If you’re painting a flat door, use a roller to lay on the paint; it dries faster than a brush, giving you a few more minutes to work it before it stiffens. But if you’re painting delicate moldings, apply the first coat with a brush. A nylon/polyester trim brush, square cut or angled, works well for this job. Its length makes it easy to paint intricate moldings or get close to the glass edge of a window.


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