How to Paint a Front Door—and Elevate Your Home's Curb Appeal

Help your home make a great first impression.

painted blue front door
Photo: TriggerPhoto/Getty Images

Learning how to paint a front door—together with picking the right paint color—can completely change the look of your home. A bright paint color can make the whole front of your home pop, while a darker shade can help the exterior feel elegant and sophisticated. Painting your front door might just be the quickest bang-for-your-buck project to boost your home's curb appeal. Plus, you can easily knock out this job in a day or two. Not sure where to begin? Follow this step-by-step guide to learn how to paint your front door like a pro.

What You'll Need:

  • Screwdriver
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Sandpaper (120 grit)
  • Tack cloth (available at hardware stores)
  • Drop cloth
  • Painter's tape
  • Primer
  • Exterior paint
  • 2.5- or 3-inch angled paintbrush
  • 4-inch high-density paint roller

What Kind of Paint to Use

Because your door is exposed to the elements, it's important to choose a high-quality exterior paint that can withstand moisture and fluctuating temperatures. Interior paint will chip and crack if painted on an exterior door.

"You want to use a high-quality exterior paint in a satin finish. The quality will allow for less fading, and the satin will allow for more washability and protection in a high-traffic area," says painting professional Colin Nellis, owner of Cincinnati's Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company.

You could opt for a semi-gloss or high-gloss finish if you want that bold, shiny look, but note that this finish may require more upkeep over the years.

How to Paint a Front Door

Once you've got your painting supplies ready to go, you can officially dive into the process. Follow this step-by-step guide for how to paint a front door and you'll be golden.

1. Remove the Handle and Hardware

This step is technically optional, but removing the hardware will make your job easier and help the end results look more professional. Simply remove the door handle and lock, and place the pieces in a plastic bag for safe keeping. As an alternative, you can wrap the hardware in painter's tape.

If you can, it's also a good idea to remove the door completely. Have a helper hold the door while you unscrew the hinges. Set the door on a sturdy sawhorse while you prep, sand, and paint the door. This will help prevent drips, and you can work in a covered, yet well-ventilated area, like a carport or garage, so debris won't fall onto the wet paint.

2. Wash and Dry

"Standard prep for painting a front door is pretty straightforward," Nellis says. "You want the surface to be clean, dry, and dull. We start by hand-washing the door with warm water until it's clean, and then wipe it dry."

A simple bucket of soapy water and a clean cloth can help get the job done. For tougher areas, you can use a scrubber sponge or brush to remove residue. Let the door dry completely before moving onto the next step.

"A good rule of thumb is 24 hours," Nellis says. "That way, you can be sure that you don't trap any moisture in the door, which could create premature failures and bubbling in the future."

3. Sand

"I suggest using a 120-grit sandpaper and gently sanding in the direction of the wood grain," says Siobhan Alvarez, a crafting expert and blogger. "This helps prepare the surface for the new layers of paint and primer."

If your door is in very rough shape with peeling paint or deep scratches, then you'll need to spend more time sanding. Remove large chips of paint with a metal putty knife or scraper. Using a palm sander, start with a low grit (80), graduate to a medium grit (120) and then finish with a high grit (220).

Use a tack cloth to remove dust and debris without adding any moisture. Make sure all the dust is completely removed so the small particles won't get into the wet paint.

4. Drop Cloth and Painter's Tape

Lay a drop cloth around your door to catch any wayward paint drips or spills. Now is also a good time to apply painter's tape to protect any decorative details on the door that you don't want painted.

5. Prime the Door

Most high-quality exterior paints allow for application right over a properly prepared and previously painted door. However, Nellis says that priming is a good idea if you're painting over a previously unpainted door or applying over an existing dark or vibrant color. Priming ensures smooth and consistent coverage and proper adhesion.

Follow instructions about how long to wait for the primer to dry before painting.

6. Paint

Now for the fun part: giving your front door a fresh coat of paint. By now, your door is fully prepped and ready for two to three coats of exterior paint.

"Don't rush it," Nellis says. "Plan to apply at least two coats and don't lay it on too thick. A high-quality brush and 4-inch mini roller can go a long way with a little practice." Use an angled paintbrush to paint any molding, panels, or edges on the door. Then follow with the roller to create a smooth finish. Several thin coats of paint will build up a protective surface on the door.

Always follow the dry time indicated on the paint can before applying the next coat of paint. Remember that dry time can vary based on humidity levels and temperature.

"You do not need a topcoat when painting your front door if you use a good-quality exterior paint, as this acts as a sealer against the elements," notes Alvarez. Some topcoats can even cause yellowing over time due to exposure to the elements.

7. Clean Up

Once the door is dry, you can remove the painter's tape, replace the hardware, and put away the drop cloth. Replace the door if you removed it from its hinges.

When to Paint a Front Door

Generally speaking, it's best to paint your front door on a day with nice weather during the spring or fall. The summer can sometimes get too hot depending on where you live, and the winter can get too cold. All primers, paints, and sealants have detailed instructions regarding temperature limitations, so refer to the guidelines and then check the weather to make sure you're good to go.

In addition to avoiding extreme temperatures, paint your front door when it's dry and there's no chance of rain or snow. If unexpected precipitation enters the forecast, you'll want to shield your freshly painted door with painter's plastic or a tarp.

Mistakes to Avoid

Try to avoid the following common mistakes people make when painting their front door:

  • Foregoing the Prep Work
    Alvarez says that the biggest mistake she sees is poor preparation. Take your time to clean, sand, and apply painter's tape.
  • Painting Multiple Coats Too Quickly
    It's important to wait long enough for your primer and paint to dry before applying additional coats. If you don't, this can affect adhesion and cause uneven streaks.
  • Using Subpar Products
    Always choose the highest quality materials, including paint and paintbrushes, to achieve a professional-looking result.
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