How to Paint an Exterior Wood Door

Updated February 21, 2017

Exterior wood doors on your home tend to get a lot of use, and a glossy, nicely painted front door makes a good first impression on visitors. If you've bought a new wood door, you already know how expensive they can be, so prime and paint it properly for years of use. Older, previously painted wood doors need to be cleaned, scraped and sanded periodically to look better and last longer. Choose a warm, dry day, and start in the morning. By nightfall your exterior wood door will be transformed and ready to use.

Remove the door handle, letter box slot, door-knocker and any other hardware from the door. If they are used and covered with old paint, clean them with hot water to remove the paint, or consider purchasing replacements.

Clean the door with warm water, mild detergent and a sponge, if it is painted or primed. If it's brand new bare wood, you don't need to clean it. Sand new wood with 120-grit sanding paper or a sanding sponge to remove splinters and rough grain.

Fill gouges and holes with carpenter's wood putty. Wood putty holds up better than spackling paste and dries faster.

Sand it smooth. Using a power palm sander is the fastest way to smooth down a door. Caulk open joints or gaps between the boards with silicone caulking that can be painted. Prime bare wood with acrylic water-based primer, and allow it to dry for two to four hours. Sand the primer lightly once it's dry for the smoothest possible finish.

Apply a coat of 100 per cent acrylic exterior paint to the front of the door and the edge where the hinges are, since this is the edge you'll see when it's opened. The inside edge opens into the house -- this edge should be the same colour as the interior side of the door. Use a 2- or 3-inch high-quality brush. If you choose to use a roller on parts of the door, use a very short-napped roller, and brush before you roll.

Paint the door, and use at least two coats of paint. When the final coat is dry, replace the door handle and other hardware.


If the door is off the hinges, prime all six sides, including the top and bottom. Avoid painting in direct sunlight, because the paint can dry too quickly and will show brush marks. If there's no other way to paint the door, thin the paint down with no more than 1 pint of water per gallon to slow the drying time. When painting the door with a very dark or intense colour, ask the paint store to tint the primer so you won't have to apply too many finish coats of paint. Old towels make good dust sheets when painting a door. Consider a kick-plate at the bottom of your door to protect it from the weather and add a little pizazz.


Check the painting instructions or call the manufacturer for directions when painting a brand new wooden door. You may void the warranty if you paint the weather stripping.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Sponge
  • Detergent
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood putty
  • Caulking
  • Primer
  • 2- or 3-inch paint brush
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About the Author

Stevie Donald has been an online writer since 2004, producing articles for numerous websites and magazines. Her writing chops include three books on dog care and training, one of which won a prestigious national award in 2003. Donald has also been a painting contractor since 1979, painting interiors and exteriors.