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Paint an Exterior Door

Make it Look Awesome for Years

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by Jeff Patterson in Exterior DIY Projects

How do you prep & paint an exterior door so that it’ll look good for years to come?

This question seems to be a popular one since exterior doors shape the first impression of our houses. Unfortunately, my door looked worse than Big Foot on a rainy day.

What we found out is that it’s super easy to remove chipping or pealing paint with the right tools.  I’ll share the steps we took to get a fantastic looking paint finish on our door. Plus, you won’t want to miss the tips I got from Valspar after giving their technical support line a call.

Here are the supplies you’ll need for this easy project:

  • Wire brush & Scraper($4.98)
  • Random orbital sander ($69.00 BUT I promise it’ll make your life easier on other projects)
  • 60 and 120 grit sandpaper for sander ($7.98 each)
  • Dust mask ($4.97)
  • Digital moisture meter ($15)
  • Purdy XL 2 inch paint brush ($10.58)
  • Exterior Primer by Valspar ($10.99 for 1 quart)
  • Floetrol paint conditioner ($6.47)
  • Duramax Exterior Paint by Valspar ($38.98)

The total cost for all your supplies is $176.93.

WHAT????

You might be thinking that this is a crazy amount of money to spend on one exterior door and I totally agree with you. But most of the cost is associated with the random orbital sander. On top of that you’ll be able to use all of these supplies on several other projects.

I guarantee that if you follow the steps outlined in this post your paint job will last several years longer than if you just smack on a coat of paint. The sanding and scraping will take about 30-60 minutes while priming and painting takes 1-2 hours of working time. As soon as you see the final results you’ll be happy, even I was a bit taken back by how good our door’s paint job looked in the end.

Scrape and Sand Your Exterior Door Before Painting

Walking through our door every day and seeing the chipping paint drove me absolutely bonkers. Day after day it looked worse and worse.

Chipping paint on door jamb

If you don’t scrape and sand off your old layer of paint the new topcoat won’t stick. You’ll be painting your door again within a year and totally perturbed. This is why you need to properly prep.

70% of a good paint job comes in the form of  getting the surface ready to accept the new paint.

Scrape and wire brush as much of the old paint off the door and jamb.

Scrape Loose Paint Chips

Wire Brush Old Stubborn Paint

 

Now for the fun part. If you’re a DIYer and will be doing painting or staining projects in the future, a random orbital sander is your best friend. It will totally make you look like a pro. My door didn’t have too much chipping paint but the jamb did. For this reason, I chose to use 60 grit sandpaper discs for my first pass with the sander.

60 Grit Sanding Discs

Our sander has a microfilter system that sucks in the paint dust and this is a cool feature since I hate inhaling toxic stuff into my lungs.

Random Orbital Sander Filter

In order for the microfilter to work, the holes in the sanding disc need to line up with the holes on the sander’s pad. My Bosch sander uses hook and loop (pretty much velcro) sanding discs. So lining up the holes is no problem.

Line up holes in sanding disc

Even though the microfilter works like a champ, also wear a dust mask or respirator to protect yourself. This provides the perfect opportunity to do your best Darth Vader impression.

Wear a paint respirator

Allow the sander to remove the paint. You shouldn’t have to press down on it. The 60 grit did an awesome job of removing rough spots. You can then use 120 grit discs like I did to smooth out any sections on your door or jamb. It’s amazing how well a random orbital sander works. 5 minutes is all it took to get down to bare wood on our jamb.

Sanding down to bare wood

For painted areas that can’t be reached with the sander you can either sand by hand or use a multi tool.

I hate to even bring this up because the cost for this project was a bit high but a multi tool would be another handy gadget I’d recommend to any homeowner. Primarily because it can do so many different things like sanding, cutting, scraping, removing grout, you name it.

Once you’re done sanding your exterior door you should take one extra step that most people don’t know about: test for moisture.

Technical support at Valspar told me that the moisture level of wood should be 15% or less. Otherwise, the primer and paint won’t adhere properly. Now you might be saying, “My door isn’t wood you doofus”. Our door is metal BUT the stiles that help sandwich it together are wood. Stiles are vertical pieces of wood on both the left and right side of the door. And they are adjacent to both sides of the jamb when your door is in the closed position. Which means they’re prone to wicking moisture.

You can buy a moisture meter for $15 on Amazon or borrow one like me (thanks Rob). Simply stick the probes of the meter into your wood jamb or stiles and the moisture level will be displayed.

Measure moisture levels in wood before painting

Again, 15% or less is what to shoot for if you’re using Valspar Duramax exterior paint.

 

The Fun Part: Priming and Painting Your Exterior Door

Duramax paint plus primer is a premium exterior coating that I’ve used in the past. But I always like to call technical support lines to get advice on my projects. And even though Duramax has  primer in it, Valspar surprised me by saying I should use a separate primer coat since my project involved some areas of bare wood.

Use a Primer on bare wood

This tip likely saved me some grief, mostly in the form of pealing paint. My primer will get sucked into the bare wood and then allow the topcoat to properly stick to the door and jamb. And since movie tickets are more expensive than the quart of primer I bought it didn’t bother me too much to do this extra step.

Do you want your exterior door’s paint job to impress your friends? Chances are you said yes. If this is the case then I highly recommend using a good roller or high quality paint brush. Purdy is the brand I like because the brushes last forever and always produce a paint job you can be proud of. Sure, the brush I use here costs $10.58 but it will last me 1-2 years if properly cared for. How’s that for durability? I’ve been using one Purdy paint brush for over three years. Sure it’s not perfect but still does a great job.

Use a great paint brush

Most doors look similar. There are some panels, a door knob, mortises for hinges, and a top & bottom.

Here’s the general strategy you should use when priming and painting your door:

  1. Remove the door knob & its accessories followed by the hinges
  2. Never paint the hinge mortises (because your door won’t close properly afterward, which is a pain)
  3. Prime the door first and allow it to dry to the touch or according to the primer’s directions
  4. Paint the top & bottom then left & right stiles (this prevents your door from excessive expansion and contraction)
  5. Start your topcoat at the top of the door then move downward
  6. Brush or roll horizontal sections first followed by vertical sections while moving down the door
  7. Continually check for drips and brush them away

Here’s a video that shows you my entire exterior door painting adventure.

 

Super smooth finishes can be accomplished using Floetrol.

Add Floetrol to Paint

It’s an additive that eliminates brush strokes or roller marks and perfect for a front door. Before this project I had never used it before and wanted to see if it worked. Flood isn’t a sponsor or anything, this experiment was just me trying out a new product. I’ve gotta say that Floetrol did make a difference. It’s not that expensive at $6.47 a bottle. Just make sure to choose the correct variety since they have one for latex and one for oil based paint.

Bonus Tip: How to Prevent Paint from Sticking to Exterior Door Glass

Paint on glass, there’s nothing uglier! While doing this project I used Rain-X to help with this problem. And it worked like a charm.

Apply Rain X to door windows

Rain-X is used on car windows because it allows water to bead and easily roll off. It creates a film between the rain and window. I sprayed Rain-X on a rag and wiped it onto our exterior door’s windows. Be careful not to get the Rain-X on the surface you’ll be painting, otherwise the paint may not adhere properly. I’m sure I accidentally did get some Rain-X on our window trim but the paint job still turned out great.

I always get paint on glass but this time it was easily scraped off with a razor blade. Sweet, right? Plus it’s not a bad idea to use Rain-X on your exterior windows so that they look cleaner than your neighbor’s. People will ask you, “How do you keep your windows looking so great?”. You then reply with, “I just am that good, haha”. Chuckling at the end is optional, but you get the point. This little tip will help your house look awesome all year long.

 

Learn how to remodel your bathroom, save money, and increase your home’s value with Bathroom Repair Tutor

 

 

What’s Next

Another great project is refinishing exterior door hardware – this saves a ton of money and only takes a few hours.

Grab our free guide if you’re doing a DIY bathroom remodel – it shares how to remodel a bathroom in 10 days or less

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Thanks as always for reading, watching, and being part of our awesome community.

Ask your questions below and we’d be happy to help.

Cheers,

Jeff Patterson

 

 

 

 

P.S. Our online store has great supplies for homeowners doing a bathroom remodel. You’ll find shower systems, tiling tools, and more.

31 Comments
  1. Great tips. I’ll be adding Flotrol, Rain-X, and chuckling at the end of my sentences to my handyman arsenal. Two questions: Does the Flotrol slow down the drying process? When chuckling to your neighbors about how good your glass cleaning skills are, do you go with the reserved, smug chuckle, as if you are embarrased for them at their lack of knowlege, or do you lean in and teach them a lesson with a decisive, spittle flying “HA! HA!”?

    1. John, you continue to crack me up. My “ha ha” chuckle is usually self deprecating. Especially since I’m a life long clutz. In fact, my daughters make fun of me for cutting my fingers-due in part to it happening every week.

      Floetrol does slow down the paint drying but frankly it was 90F on the day I painted the door. Thus, it dried pretty darn quick. You, being in Arizona, probably would experience fast setup times too!!!

      1. It certainly is super hot and dry here. All the more reason I should try it. I have paint drying on the brush and skinning over as I’m still going.

        1. Now that’s hot. Have you ever tried to cook something on your sidewalk just for fun?

          1. No I haven’t. But I should have tried this summer, we peaked at 119, the 4th hottest day on record. I’ll wait for another scorcher and share some pics.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey says:

    In Florida our exterior door is metal. I don’t know what kind of paint the previous owners used but it is peeling off. Can you help me with a fix for this?

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Ah yes, this has happened to me before. Peel off all the loose paint then sand it down smooth at the transitions between old paint and new paint. Then prime the entire door with the best primer you can buy. It’s also preferable to use a primer that’s in the same paint family as your topcoat. For example, if your topcoat is made by Valspar then sue Valspar primer. Make sure the primer is dry (wait 24 hours) then apply a good quality latex or oil based paint. Latex will peel like sunburned skin. Oil based won’t. Hope this helps you with your project.

      🙂

      Jeff

  3. Hector says:

    Great tips, I want to get my door painted this summer, will definitely keep these tips in mind, Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Hector,

      Thanks for dropping in. Make sure you take some before and after pics of your door. Then email them to me!! I love seeing transformations, especially ones that can dramatically change a home’s curb appeal. Just send your photos to me at [email protected]

      Jeff

  4. Lisa Gannetta says:

    Hi!
    I just love following your posts! I have a 200 year old farmhouse and I love doing my fixing up!
    Add me to your list! I am looking forward to many more posts from you>
    Sincerely,
    Lisa Gannetta

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Wow, 200 years old is super dooper impressive!!! Your house has to be way cool and not to mention one of a kind. I’d love to see pictures 🙂

      Jeff

      P.S. You’re officially added to the email list and I hope you like the ideas.

  5. Lisa says:

    I know this post is old, but I was wondering — how do you keep your house secure if your front door is off its hinges for over 24 hours? This is what is preventing me from taking this job on. I have no idea how I can leave my house without a front door for multiple days.

    1. Good question Lisa. There are a few different options.

      The first that comes to mind is to attach plywood to the interior portion of your door frame using decking screws. The downside is that you’ll have to fill the screw holes.

      The second option is to start early in the morning and prime the door. Depending on the temperature and humidity the door should dry in a few hours. You could rehang the door and paint it the next day (again, early in the morning). That way you won’t have to wait all day for the door to dry.

      I’d probably opt for starting early in the day if the door is your front door.

      Hope this helps

  6. Dirk says:

    Hi: Just caught up with your tutorial on painting a front door, and your mention of Floetrol. Exactly what I was looking for. I do some picture framing and was looking for a way to paint wooden frames without leaving brush marks and the like. I have read about Floetrol before but had never seen an enthusiastic recommendation like yours. The material is not sold in my city; I will need to make a special trip to the U.S. (across the river) to buy. I am looking forward to trying this. Thanks for your tutorials.

    1. Thanks so much Dirk. I also like Purdy brushes but if you’ve done this project before you likely have great brushes. Sorry you have to travel so far to get the Floetrol.

      Please let me know how your frames turn out. I’d love to hear about it.

  7. Donna says:

    Regarding the moisture level being 15* or less. What are you supposed to do if it is higher? How do you bring that down to 15*? Loved your tutorials. I have to do everything in my house alone and I like your ideas. The tutorials are easy to follow and you give great explanations for everything. Very helpful.

    1. Thanks Donna for your kind and warm words. I’m excited that the tutorials are helping you and others. That means all the world to me.

      As for the moisture level, the only thing I can think of is to let the sun dry out the wood for several days, recheck the moisture level, and if it’s lower go ahead and paint.

      If it’s still high you’ll have to wait a bit longer for Mother Nature to do her thing.

  8. Jim Dies says:

    Jeff,
    I have followed your instructions on painting an exterior door.
    The door is now down to bare wood and ready to paint. Will be using primer and Duramax along with Floetrol. I have two questions.
    Should I use the Floetrol with the primer?
    I would like to use 2 coats of the Duramax but I am worried that the 2nd coat may peel. Should I paint a second coat? Thanks, jim.

    1. Hey Jim, you can use Floetrol with primer.

      As far as the second coat, if the first coat looks good then no need. But if you feel like it needs a second coat go for it.

      The Duramax shouldn’t peel as long as the first top coat is in good shape and not dirty.

  9. Royal says:

    Jeff, I just purchased a new steel front door. Color is White but want to paint it Brown and would like it to resemble a wood texture. 1. Do I still need to apply primer first before painting? 2. Any ideas what we can use to give the new door a textured wood look?

  10. DonnaW says:

    I am looking to paint my front door with faux stained glass in the center. I know the door is steel and I am not worried about painting the actual door (thanks to your tips). I am looking to paint the faux lead around the glass (it’s an ugly gold). I’d like to make it oil rubbed bronze. I am thinking of taping off the “golden-lead” and spray painting or, using an oil based creme they sell at craft stores.
    What do you think?

    1. The idea sounds good, make sure to use a good quality tape and press the edges firmly against the glass. Rust Oleum makes wonderful spray paints, especially oil rubbed bronze. One thing you might want to do is do a small test. Tape off a section and paint it. Wait a day and see if the paint sticks. If it does then you can move forward. Better to test a small area and see what happens before doing the entire door and finding out the paint doesn’t adhere!!

  11. Dave says:

    Jeff,
    I’ve scraped and sanded an exterior wall that has been enclosed into a 3 season room. The problem I am having is that the surface is uneven as some of the sanding took the surface down to bare wood and some has left nice smooth paint. Do you have any recommendations on how to create a nice smooth finish being that my surface is currently uneven?

  12. John Lowman says:

    I hired a painter to paint a bare wood mahogany front door. Before he starts our contractor is trimming the door so it fits in the frame. The frame is 15 years old. Door is brand new. Painter wants to paint before hanging and contractor wants to trim before painting. Any advice?
    Also is it Ok for the door to be hung for 14 days before it is painted? I was concerned about the raw wood exposed to the elements for that long before priming and sealing. Your advice is appreciated?

  13. Karen Bice says:

    Just painted Fiberglass door with 123 Zinsser primer and three coats of Behr Premium Pus semi-gloss exterior paint. Had to add 6oz Floetrol to the quart to thin the paint Paint is still pretty thick but the rest of door looks good. The very bottom of my entry door (horizontal center area) has three blotchy paint marks from not keeping the brush wet then over correcting. Is there a way to fix only that area without having to repaint the vertical sides? Like applying painter’s tape so i can just paint the center area?

  14. Vince says:

    Ever use Rust-oleum exterior wood paint?
    I used it on a garage door years ago and it was fantastic

  15. Robin Buck says:

    We have a door that has peeling paint in a few areas due to our 100 degree days in Texas. My husband thinks we need to strip the paint after sanding the rough spots, but I didn’t see any mention of stripping all the paint in your instructions. Do you recommend stripping?

  16. Jamie says:

    Hey there! I just bought a very intricate detailed, hardwood door. I’m so excited to repaint it and bring it to life!
    I’m wondering what kind of paint I should be using, oil based or latex?
    I live in Mesquite Nevada where temperatures exceed 110 degrees.
    Also, what aproach is tecxomemded for the details? Should I start painting the detailed panels then do the stiles as you directed?
    Any advice would be appreciated!

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