How to Paint an Exterior Door — Expert Tips for a Professional Finish That Promises to Last

Bring top-quality maintenance to all areas of your home, including its exterior, by following these door painting tips approved by experts

A clapboard front porch with a black door and plants either side
(Image credit: Ruggable)

The look and feel of an exterior door can say a lot about the space behind it, so first impressions count. Whether it’s the mailman, your friends, or family, there’s one thing that’s for sure – regardless of who’s judging, you hope that they find your home inviting from the outset.

Forking out extra money for a new door isn’t a must when so many paint options are out there. Plus, what better way to bring a burst of individuality and pride to your place than a fresh lick of paint? With the correct maintenance, you can take your old exterior doors from drab to dazzling, and it isn’t even that difficult to execute.

Whether you want to know how to paint a front door, a back door, or maybe that of your shed, the good news is that the same rules apply across the board. Here, we talked to expert painters and decorators to learn how to paint exterior doors properly for a professional-worthy finish, so get your brushes and listening ears at the ready.

Painting an Exterior Door for a Professional Finish

1. Prep the door's surface

A green decorated front door

(Image credit: Nathan Schroder. Studio credit Maestri Studio)

A great project boils down to great preparation. Before pouncing on the paint, there are a few must-do steps that your door should go through in order to have the best surface possible for the paint to adhere to.

‘The first step is removing all of the hardware from the door, and then dusting and cleaning the door really well,’ says Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy. Hardware pieces include door knobs, door knockers and letterboxes, if removable, and are more common on front doors. Anything you wouldn’t wish to cover in paint that can be removed at this stage would be beneficial to take out of the way.

‘To make sure the door is clean and all dirt and grime are removed, use a cleaning solution,’ suggests Anthony Kulikowsi, Franchise Owner of Five Star Painting (a Neighborly Company). An all-purpose cleaner will do the trick, but if you’re in a time crunch and have nothing else available, warm soapy water is still a trusty choice. Make sure that the door’s surface is free from suds and water before painting by wiping it down with a clean, dry cloth.

If you’re working with a wooden door, investing in some sheets of good quality sandpaper to rough up the surface is a necessary next step to increase the longevity of your paint job. ‘Sand the door down after cleaning it, then apply primer and finish with paint,’ says Anthony. The sanding step can be skipped if your door is made from another material, but after your door is sparkling clean, use a large brush to cover the entire surface with primer. Water-based (latex) primers can take between thirty minutes to two hours to dry, providing you with the perfect opportunity for a pre-painting break.

2. Choose the right paint

a garden shed with red flowers outside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Different types of paint offer different finishes and properties to protect outside areas from weather damage, so it’s important to make sure to choose the right type and paint finish when approaching this kind of project.

‘Typically, a latex-based paint will work well as it withstands weathering more effectively than other exterior paint choices, and a semi-gloss finish over the top will make the color underneath pop,’ says Andre. From a design perspective, the added step of a semi-gloss coat is where the ‘wow’ comes through, although it is not essential.

Anthony seconds Andre’s paint choices: ‘You can use a water-based acrylic or latex paint for this job. A semi-gloss finish is also good for exterior doors, as it can withstand the elements well and is simple to clean.’

It's important to consider all scenarios when it comes to keeping your door looking fresh from the get-go. 'Since your door will be exposed to rain, sun, wind, and other elements, you'll need a flexible and mold-resistant exterior paint,' says Ed Edrosa, Senior Product Manager at Behr paint company. 'Dark colors may fade faster than light colors when exposed to sunlight as well.'

3. Apply two coats with a brush or roller

Purple garage door

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Finally, apply your paint with either a paintbrush or roller in even strokes. It’s recommended to paint at least two coats on your doors to ensure full-coverage, allowing four hours for the paint to be touch dry, and sixteen hours if possible between coats. After 24 hours from your final coat, the paint should be completely dry.

To maintain your painted exterior doors use a damp cloth to clean the surface when it gets dirty and another cloth to dry. If you notice any paint chips, peeling or general wear and tear damage, be sure to touch it up. The sooner you address minor damages the better to avoid larger repairs from needing to happen in the future.


What color should you paint an exterior door?

Color choice is an important factor to consider, especially if there's a certain impression you want to elicit from onlookers. With the right knowledge of color theory, you can use the color wheel and psychology to your advantage, inviting whatever form of acknowledgment you want to apply to your space.

‘Painting your exterior doors can appeal to different emotions, design styles, and personal preferences,’ says Andre. ‘Maybe you want your door to seem bright and inviting, and the current exterior door color is outdated.’

A dark color such as black or navy brings a sleek sense of regalness and seriousness to your home, whereas pops of color such as greens, yellows, or oranges bring a unique lighthearted spirit to the area. Imagine walking down a street: when you look at people’s exterior doors, how do they make you feel? Is it a door you would want to knock on? Does it compliment the rest of the home? Or if it stands out in a row of houses, is it for all the right reasons? The last thing you would want is to produce an eyesore!

How long with my exterior door paint last?

There are various factors that can impact how long a person’s exterior door paint will last, from the quality of the paint job to the time of year and general climate. However, assuming the door has been properly cleaned and primed, and the correct type of paint has been used for the job, you won’t have to repaint your doors for many years.

‘Quality paint can last several years and should withstand different seasons when it's properly applied and maintained,’ says Anthony. ‘This depends on the climate the homeowner lives in and the exposure to elements and sunlight.’ Andre sayas that generally, paint on an exterior door should last around eight to ten years, 'though if subjected to a lot of extreme weather, the lifespan may shorten'.

Ciéra Cree
Contributing Writer

Ciéra is a writer and regional laureate with particular passions for art, design, philosophy and poetry. As well as contributing to Livingetc, she's an Editorial Assistant for Design Anthology UK. When not writing about interiors Ciéra can likely be found getting lost in a book, charity shop "treasure hunting", or getting excited about Christmas regardless of what month it is. Previous commendations of hers include being Highly Commended by The Royal Society of Literature and receiving a prestigious MA Magazine Journalism scholarship.