How to Paint Doors and Best Ways to Make Them Durable

A step-by-step tutorial showing how to paint interior doors to make a statement in any room, plus the best door paint to make them durable.

If you’ve hung around this blog for a while, it’s no secret that I love painting doors! A fresh coat of paint on an interior or exterior door is the easiest way to make a statement yet, so often, it’s a missed opportunity.

Maybe it’s a little intimidating. Maybe it’s confusing to do. My inbox gets at least one question about it per day.

But I promise you, making your doors a part of a room’s design is so worth the hour or two it takes to paint. This post will show you the best way to make your painted doors durable.

how to paint doors

Once I brushed on that very first coat of deep charcoal on the first door in our house, there was no going back. It was the first thing we did after moving in because I dreamed of this wall of dark doors.

Robert and I made it our mission to have every single door painted with Benjamin Moore Wrought Iron ever since we moved in. It was a long game painting job for sure.

Every room looks SO much more high-end because of this one little trick… for just the cost of new paint!

French doors in a living room with white walls
dark charcoal French doors with Benjamin Moore Wrought Iron in a living room

What Sheen to Paint Interior Doors

Before diving in, you should know what kind of look you’re going for first. Paint sheen is the measure of light reflected on a painted surface. 

Higher Sheen Paints

The higher the sheen, the easier the painted surface will be to clean, and it will be more resistant to scratches or scuffs, but it also shows more imperfections.

  • High gloss
  • Semi-gloss
  • Satin

Lower Sheen Paints

Lower sheen paints hide imperfections and are more difficult to keep clean, but they are less distracting. 

  • Flat
  • Eggshell

Semi-gloss is the most recommended paint sheen for doors and trim, but design rules are always meant to be broken. 

If you love the luxe look of high gloss, go for it. If you want a more modern approach with a velvety matte finish, go with satin or eggshell. It’s totally up to your personal style. Just be aware of the implications listed above. 

hallway with Benjamin Moore Wrought Iron on doors and Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace on walls

Best Type of Paint for Doors

Just like with kitchen cabinets and trim, my absolute favorite interior door paint is Benjamin Moore Advance because it cures to a hard, furniture-quality finish that can stand up to heavy traffic. 

It’s durable like an oil-based paint but with the easy clean-up of a water based paint. And it can stand up to repeated scrubbing. This paint is self-leveling too, so brush marks virtually disappear as it dries. 

Why You Should Avoid Latex Paint on Doors

On some of our interior doors, I didn’t use best practices and only went with a regular latex paint instead of Benjamin Moore Advance.

The latex finish has not stood up to our home’s high-traffic areas nearly as well and started to chip in some places. I promise you, paying a little extra for a waterborne alkyd paint is worth it. 

bedroom doors painted Sherwin Williams Evergreen Fog

Painting these doors Sherwin Williams Evergreen Fog to match the walls made this cottage style teen bedroom feel so much bigger.

If you really want to add some drama and make your rooms feel larger, paint doors the same color as your walls and trim. (This is called color drenching.)

How to Paint Interior Doors Without Removing Them From Hinges

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Paint Supplies

  • Liquid Deglosser
  • Clean rag or tack cloth
  • Drop cloth
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton ball
  • 120/150 grit sandpaper 
  • Wood filler 
  • Putty knife
  • Waterbourne bonding primer like INSL-X STIX Bonding Primer 
  • Paint stir sticks
  • Painter’s tape
  • Aluminum foil
  • Paint brush (I LOVE the shape of this one for painting doors and furniture)
  • Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in semi-gloss
  • Mask and Peel and utility knife (if you’re painting French doors)

You don’t have to remove the door from the hinges at all for this method (but you can if you would like).

How to Paint French Doors or Windows

If you’re painting French doors or a door with glass panels, first, use masking liquid before you start instead of struggling with painter’s tape.

I first learned about this years ago from a professional painter; even though it’s an extra step, it saves so much time later for the best results on doors with glass. (If you’re not painting doors with glass, skip down to Step 4.)

French door brushed with wet mask and peel

Step 1 – Apply Masking Liquid

Apply a thick layer to all of the glass window panes. 

It looks like glue at first and will start out looking white. After a few hours, it dries to look like a clear film. Then, follow the rest of the door painting steps below.

French door brushed with mask and peel as film for glass

Step 2 – Score Edges

After painting your French doors, when it’s time to peel off the glass, just score the edges of the window panes with a utility knife blade. 

scoring edges of mask and peel to paint French doors

Step 3 – After Painting, Peel Away Film

Peel back a corner of the film on the pane and remove it as it comes off in one sheet, leaving crisp, clean, freshly painted French door grids. 

painting French doors using mask and peel for windows

Step 4 – Test Your Paint

The most important step before you do anything is test your existing paint on the surface of the door to see if it is oil or latex based. This will help you choose the right paint and primer for the job.

Put some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and swab a small spot on your door. If the paint comes off, it is latex.

If the paint doesn’t come off, you have oil based paint, so you will need to use an oil-based primer for this project. 

Be aware, if you live in an older home, it’s a good idea to test your doors for lead. Working with lead paint can be very dangerous and is best to avoid without proper safety measures.

paint interior doors before

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Step 5 – Lightly Sand

Lightly sand your door in the direction of the wood grain with 150 grit sandpaper to give it some grip. Remove any sanding dust with a tack cloth or damp cloth (let dry).

liquid deglosser for painting interior doors

Step 6 – Apply Liquid Sander Deglosser

Wipe down the entire door surface with liquid deglosser and a rag to remove any existing residue, especially around the door knob where dirt and natural oils from hands can collect.

wood filler before painting interior doors

Step 7 – Patch Holes or Dents

Patch any holes or damaged areas with wood filler. Let dry, and use sandpaper again for a smooth finish.

This door had a hook on it that I needed to remove and patch. Do not use caulk or wall spackle to fill holes as it can shrink and crack over time. 

wood filler before painting interior doors

Step 8 – Cover Hinges and Doorknobs with Aluminum Foil

Once the deglosser is dry, you can remove your door hardware. As an alternative easy way, you can use aluminum foil and/or painter’s tape to protect your hinges and doorknob from paint (I sometimes am able to just freehand it though). 

Aluminum foil is a great choice because you can easily mold it the hardware’s shape.

Tip: Use aluminum foil on hinges and doorknobs before painting doors

Step 9 – Prime 

You can skip this step for new doors that are pre-primed. 

Brush on a coat of primer. My favorite is INSL-X STIX Bonding Primer.

Pro Tip: If you’re painting a white door with a dark paint color, get your primer tinted at your local hardware store paint desk so it requires fewer coats of paint.

I like this triangle detail Zibra brush just because it gives the smoothest finish, from my experience, and the shape makes it easier to paint into edges and corners of paneled doors or doors with intricate molding. 

I start by priming the edges of the door first since these need the longest time to dry. If you plan to paint just one side of the door, paint the edges that will be visible when you open the door. Leave edges of the door unpainted that will be visible on the unpainted side of the door when it’s open. 

Paint the details and grooves next, if you have a paneled door. Then apply it to the flat surfaces after that. Be sure to check for drips as you prime. 

DEFINITELY don’t skip the primer step later, if you have oil based paint, or you’ll have quite a paint peeling headache on your hands. Ack!

If you’re painting your doors really dark, use tinted primer to help decrease the number of paint coats you’ll need. (Yay for less work!)

how to paint doors with a brush

Step 10 – Lightly Sand

Once the primer is fully dry, lightly sand the surface to make it extra smooth and remove any sanding dust with a clean, dry rag.

Here is the order to prime and paint your door in:

Start with painting the edges of the door. Then paint grooves followed by the inside panels, and the rest of the door.

painting doors with tinted primer
painting interior doors with tinted primer
painting a door with tinted primer

Step 11 – Paint

Once the primer is dry, brush on a coat of the Benjamin Moore Advance paint using the triangular brush again. I don’t use a foam roller because the Advance paint is self-leveling and will help hide brush strokes. But you can certainly use a small roller if you’d like. It is a waterborne alkyd paint, so it cures to a more durable, harder finish than latex. For a flawless professional paint job, you can use a paint sprayer. 

You’ll likely need another even coat of paint or two. It’s best to apply multiple light coats of paint than applying too much paint and dealing with excess paint drips everywhere.

Check back for paint drips before the paint dries and smooth out any uneven places with your brush.

Lightly sand with fine grit sandpaper between coats.

gray painted door with white walls and picture frame molding

Step 12 – Remove Painter’s Tape While Still Wet

After you’ve painted the entire surface with your final coat, remove your painter’s tape or aluminum foil from the hinges and doorknob while your paint is still wet to prevent peeling or score the tape edge first with a utility knife.

After painting 26 doors in this house now, I think I could do this in my sleep at this point. Ha!

It gets much easier and faster the more you paint.

gray painted interior doors with white walls in a nursery

On all of our other doors in our house, we’ve painted with the color Benjamin Moore Wrought Iron, but since I wanted a softer look in Regan’s room against all of the white, I decided to use Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray.

It’s the perfect warm medium gray that isn’t too blue (and would be gorgeous on kitchen cabinets).

Have I convinced you to paint your plain white doors yet? I’m telling ya, it’s a game changer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I use a brush or roller to paint a door?

You can use either a paint brush or a roller to paint a door, but a self-leveling waterbourne alkyd paint is important for best results to reduce brush strokes and roller marks. A paint sprayer will give you the most professional finish. If you door has panels, paint the panels first with an angled paint brush. Then, paint the flat surfaces of the door with a small foam roller.

Do I need to sand a door before painting?

It’s a good idea to clean the door thoroughly with a degreaser. Fill holes with wood filler. Then, lightly sand the entire door with 120-grit sandpaper, removing any dust with a tack cloth before paint. This will give you the most durable paint finish on a door.

Can you paint a door while it’s hanging?

It is possible to paint a door while still on its hinges. Protect the hinges with painter’s tape and aluminum foil first. This way you will be able to paint both sides at the same time.

More Door Makeover Ideas

DIY Door Update to Change Hinge Colors Quickly

diy door update to change hinge colors with rub n buff

How to Turn a Bi-Fold Door Into Double French Doors

bi-fold doors turned into french doors

Easy DIY Mirrored French Bi-Fold Closet Door Makeover

mirrored French bi-fold door on a closet
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  1. Thanks, Lauren. We are getting ready to start building a new house. Our contractor prefers Sherwin-Williams paint so I am trying to choose both outdoor and indoor colors from their paints. I bought a SW paint fandeck but it is just so overwhelming trying to choose the “right” colors. I have had plenty of experience, but it never gets easier. This is the 5th house we’ve built.

  2. Great tutorial as usual. Wishing you and your family all the best wishes for our up coming bundle of joy!!! Thanks for an excellent blog!