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How to Paint an Old Door: To Sand or Not to Sand?

Updated April 17, 2017

Painting a door is a great way to update the look of your house or add a pop of colour. Whether you are refurbishing the existing door or want to paint your latest find from a garage sale or antique store, there are several steps to the process. Follow these steps to ensure a durable finish that will stand up to weather and the elements.

Decide whether you should remove the door from the frame. In many cases, you will be able to paint the door and frame without removing it. Simply open the door so that all parts of the door and frame are exposed. You may have to work around the hinges, but it could be easier than removing the door completely. If the door needs a significant amount of preparation, like paint stripping, it may be more convenient to remove the door completely.

Determine whether the old paint and finish needs stripped. If the door is older and has a thick layer of varnish or lacquer, using a furniture stripper may be your best solution for removing the old stuff. Follow the instructions on the can of stripper and remove all of the old finish.

Sand the door. If the door is unfinished or only has a thin matt coat of paint, you can skip the previous step. Sanding the door, though time-consuming, can make the paint job last a lot longer. Paint sticks much more easily to a rough surface. If you paint directly over a smooth glossy finish, the paint will quickly begin to peel. You can use a belt sander to sand the flat surfaces of the door. If the door has any panelling, you may need to get into the grooves and edges by hand. When you finish sanding, make sure to wipe off any sawdust.

Cover any hardware with a couple coats of rubber cement. The rubber cement will protect the hardware from the paint and peels off easily once it is dry.

Coat the door with a thin layer of primer. Primer is a flat, white or grey type of paint that prepares the surface for paint. It seals out any stain that may leak through and makes the surface easier for the paint to adhere to. The two main options for primer are oil-based or latex. Latex has fewer fumes and is much easier to clean up. However, oil-based products are usually more durable and adhesive.

When the coat of primer has dried according to instructions, start your first coat of paint. You can also choose between oil-based paint or latex paint. If the door is totally flat, use paint rollers for a nice even coat. You may need to use paintbrushes to paint a door with panelling or more details. Check for any drips or runs in the paint and smooth them away. Allow the paint to dry according to instructions.

When the first coat of paint is dry, you can lightly sand it to allow the second coat to stick better. Wipe the surface smooth and paint on the second coat as you did with the first. Allow the paint to dry.

When the paint on the door is totally dry, you can apply a coat of polyurethane varnish if you prefer. The varnish will help protect the paint and gives the door a nice glossy sheen. Paint on the varnish with a paintbrush, allow it to dry and then sand it lightly. Add a second coat of varnish.

Things You'll Need

  • Paint stripper
  • Sandpaper
  • Rubber cement
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Polyurethane varnish
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint roller
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About the Author

Emily King holds a dual Bachelor's degree in English writing and business, along with a minor in studio arts from the University of Pittsburgh. She has written for a printed monthly magazine, has experience in the financial and health care industries and has published numerous online articles.