How to paint a front door – for a professional finish

Find out how to paint a front door for a pro level finish and lasting good looks

How to paint a front door – House with white siding and blue gray front door with foliage plants either side
(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

Know how to paint a front door correctly and you’ll make the task easier and the results better. A pro-style finish will also protect the door from the weather effectively so it lasts.

The front door is a major element of painting a house exterior, and completing the job of painting it successfully will boost the home’s curb appeal. Selecting the right paint finish – gloss or with less sheen – should also be central to your front door ideas.

We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to achieving great results when you’re painting a front door, and asked the experts to contribute their advice on getting a professional finish.

How to paint a front door

Painting a front door isn’t a difficult task but just as with painting a room, what’s key is good preparation and tackling the job in the right order. It’s worth the effort, according to color and paint expert Annie Sloan (opens in new tab). ‘This is your opportunity to build excitement for the rest of your home and create an entrance that puts a smile on your face every time you return home,’ she says.

1. Prepare to paint a front door

Before you even turn your attention to the front door itself, think about the weather. ‘When painting a front door it is important to ensure you do it on a day you are guaranteed dry weather, so make sure you check the forecast ahead of time to avoid any rain,’ says James Greenwood, paint expert at Graham & Brown (opens in new tab).

A front door can be painted in situ, although you may want to make the task easier by removing it. ‘Unscrew the hinges on the door, unscrewing the hinges from the door pillars first,’ says Michael Rolland, DIY expert and managing director of The Paint Shed (opens in new tab). ‘Removing the hinges makes it much easier to paint the door and also ensures that paint won’t get on the hinges and spoil the appearance. Having control over where you paint the door also ensures that you can manage the lighting and drying conditions, two factors which can significantly impact the finished look.

‘The front door will be heavy once the hinges are no longer holding it in place, so some wooden wedges placed at ground level may be required during this process. You'll probably need help to lift it onto some sawhorses or whatever you are using as a painting platform.’

2. Remove hardware and clean and sand the door

Before a front door is painted, its elements of hardware – knocker, doorknob, and so on – should be removed. Set side carefully. ‘They can be reattached once your paint has dried or even replaced with new ones in a different color to suit your door's makeover,’ says Michael Rolland. 

You can use masking tape around locks, keyholes and hinges as well if you’re painting a front door without removing it.

Next, clean the surface of the door with a mild detergent. ‘Pay attention to removing any grease, particularly around doorknobs where it is most likely to accumulate,’ says Michael.

Sand the surface. ‘For previously painted doors in a good condition, lightly sand with 240 grit sandpaper,’ says Rachael Meadowcroft, senior product manager at Ronseal (opens in new tab). ‘For wooden doors with flaking, cracked or peeling paint, use 120 grit sandpaper to sand away the paint down to the bare wood. We recommend using an electric sander to make a quick job of it but you could use a flat scraper.’

The sanding process is key to a good job. ‘To a large extent, the final finish will depend on how carefully the door is prepared,’ says Michael. ‘You want the door to feel as smooth as possible before painting, but if it is too polished the paint will not stick as well. Good paint adhesion is reliant on a small amount of grip, so try not to over sand your surface. 

‘Once this is done fill any dents with a suitable wood filler, overfilling to compensate for any shrinkage. Resand these areas and then use an old paintbrush or a tack rag to remove any dust from the sanding process.’

3. Prepare materials

Have all your materials ready to begin painting and open paint cans. Wood paint specified for exterior use is essential plus primer (unless the particular paint doesn’t require primer to be used first).

Get brushes and rollers together, too. ‘If you are painting a flat door, without paneling or molding, a small roller or 4in paint brush should suffice,’ says Michael Rolland.

‘For painting paneled doors a smaller 2in brush is required for more intricate areas. Have a damp sponge on hand or anything you can use to dampen the door prior to painting – this will slow down the rate at which the paint dries, giving you more time to perfect your strokes and cover any brush marks.’

4. Prime the door

Unless the paint you are using doesn’t require a primer, the front door should now be primed. ‘Prime all six sides of the door with appropriate primer, including the inside, outside, left and right edges as well as the top and bottom,’ says Michael Rolland.

5. Paint the front door

Time is of the essence to get professional results when painting a front door. ‘Start by using an angled sash brush, paint over the primer first and then into the corners of the raised panels,’ says Michael Rolland. ‘Starting with the top panels, work down to the lowest panels. Brush left and right, followed by up and down to spread the paint evenly. 

‘Use paint sparingly and don't let the paint puddle. A 4in roller can be used to apply the paint to the raised panels, rolling with the grain of the wood.’

Repeat the process to apply further coats of paint. ‘For a professional finish, the door will need several coats of paint,’ says Michael. ‘Many thin coats are better than one thick coat of paint. It'll normally cure faster and look better, too. Just remember to let every coat dry properly before the next coat is applied – the darker the color the more coats that will be required.’

Painting the door in place? ‘Once the door is painted it is vital you keep the door open until the paint is dry,’ says James Greenwood. ‘If the door is shut too soon then wet paint around the edges may stick to the door frame.’

Make sure the door is fully dry before replacing hardware.

Should a front door be satin or gloss?

A front door could be painted in a satin or gloss finish – exterior paints are sold in both these finishes as well as flatter options. Gloss has more luster than satin paint and is generally more durable, and easier to clean, but satin can still be a great choice for a front door if you prefer less sheen.

Some people are put off using gloss by its perceived downsides. ‘The thought of gloss paint can be scary,’ says Martin Waller, founder of global design brand, Andrew Martin (opens in new tab). ‘Lots of preparation, and it’s often a product thought of as thick and odorous, tricky to apply and difficult to clean up afterwards. Times have changed! Many gloss paints including Andrew Martin’s excellent version are water based and need barely any preparation, have virtually zero odor and really easy to apply and work with.’

Do I need to prime my front door before painting?

Generally, a front door should be primed before painting. ‘For the paint to adhere to the surface, use an appropriate primer – applying an undercoat will provide a medium film to give the new color opacity and help to cover over previously painted surfaces,’ says Matthew Brown, Sadolin (opens in new tab) and Sandtex (opens in new tab) technical consultant.

James Greenwood, paint expert at Graham & Brown agrees. ‘If you are painting your door a lighter color, then a primer can cover up the existing color meaning you will need less coats overall,’ he says. ‘A primer is important for ensuring the longevity and durability of the paint as well.’

Be aware that some paints are designed as an all-in-one with a separate primer not required. However, this typically works best when painting a new bare wood door, or for painting the door in the same or a darker color. 

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.