How to Clean & Stain Exterior Wood Doors

Updated February 21, 2017

As someone enters your home, the front door is probably the first impression they get of your design style and the care you put into your home. Wooden exterior doors are exposed to the elements and get a lot of use, and so the colour can fade over time. A thorough cleaning and staining on your door can restore the wood to its original beauty and style.

Remove the hinges, handle, locks and any other adornments from the door. You will likely need a screwdriver or drill to remove these pieces. Store them in a safe place where you will not lose them while you work.

Mask off viewers, windows and other areas with protective paper and masking tape. Move the door to a well-ventilated workspace where you can lay it flat on a work table or sawhorses to work.

Sand old finish and stain from the door with a handheld rotary sander. Attach an 80-grit sanding disk to the sander, and evenly sand the entire door’s surface, removing old colour and finish.

Repeat sanding with 120-grit and 150-grit sanding disks. These finer grits will remove the scratches made by the coarse grit sandpaper and remove residual stain and finish.

Finish sanding the door with a palm sander using 150-grit and then 180-grit paper. The final 180-grit sanding will remove remaining scratches.

Inspect the surface and sand any remaining scratches by hand with 180-grit paper. Any remaining scratches will show through the final stain.

Clean the entire door with a tack cloth to remove dust from sanding. If necessary, dampen the cloth with warm water to help pick up the dust. Dry the door completely with a clean towel before continuing.

Apply stain to the door. Choose a stain colour and apply it with a paintbrush or wipe it on with clean white cloths. Start in the difficult areas, such as around windows, and then work from the top of the door down so that you can fix any drips.

Apply the stain in the direction of the wood’s grain. Blend the seams with a clean white cloth for a more natural look.

Paint on a clear, protective finish to the door. Apply a thin layer of finish and allow it to dry. Lightly sand the area with 180-grit sandpaper for better adhesion and apply a second coat. The finish will protect the door from weathering.

Allow all finish to dry completely before reattaching hinges and other fixtures.


If possible, remove weather stripping from the door frame so that the newly finished doors don’t stick while reinstalling. Allow the finish to dry completely before reinstalling the weatherstripping. Before you begin sanding, make sure your door is real wood. Wood veneer can be permanently damaged by sanding. Sanding the door will reveal the wood’s natural look. If you like the look of the door, do not apply stain. Some stains may require a pre-stain conditioner or primer. Softer wood products can also require a conditioner. Follow all specific product instructions regarding use.


The chemicals and sanding processes used in this project produce dust and fumes that can be potentially harmful. Work in a well-ventilated area.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver or drill
  • Paper and tape
  • Rotary sanding
  • Sanding discs
  • Palm sander
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Stain
  • Paintbrush
  • Clean white cloths
  • Finish
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About the Author

Samantha Volz has been involved in journalistic and informative writing for over eight years. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a minor in European history. In college she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and completed a professional internship with the "Williamsport Sun-Gazette," serving as a full-time reporter. She resides in Horsham, Pennsylvania.