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Paint an Exterior Door

How do you prep & paint an exterior door so that it’ll look good for years to come?

This question seems to be a popular one since exterior doors shape the first impression of our houses.

Unfortunately, my door looked worse than Big Foot on a rainy day.

But you’ll see how to fix a sad exterior door in today’s tutorial.

Let’s dive in!

Exterior Door Paint Tips

It’s super easy to remove chipping or peeling paint with the right tools.

I’ll share the steps we took to get a fantastic-looking paint finish on our door.

Plus, you won’t want to miss the tips I got from Valspar after giving their technical support line a call.

Here are the supplies you’ll need for this easy project:

  • Wire brush & Scraper($4.98)
  • Random orbital sander ($69.00 BUT I promise it’ll make your life easier on other projects)
  • 60 and 120 grit sandpaper for sander ($7.98 each)
  • Dust mask ($4.97)
  • Digital moisture meter ($15)
  • Purdy XL 2 inch paintbrush ($10.58)
  • Exterior Primer by Valspar ($10.99 for 1 quart)
  • Floetrol paint conditioner ($6.47)
  • Duramax Exterior Paint by Valspar ($38.98)

The total cost for all your supplies is $176.93.


You might be thinking that this is a crazy amount of money to spend on one exterior door and I totally agree with you.

But most of the cost is associated with the random orbital sander.

On top of that, you’ll be able to use all of these supplies on several other projects.

I guarantee that if you follow the steps outlined in this post your paint job will last several years longer than if you just smack on a coat of paint.

The sanding and scraping will take about 30-60 minutes while priming and painting take 1-2 hours of working time.

As soon as you see the final results you’ll be happy, even I was a bit taken back by how good our door’s paint job looked in the end.

Scrape Your Exterior Door Before Painting

Walking through our door every day and seeing the chipping paint drove me absolutely bonkers. Day after day it looked worse and worse.

Chipping paint on door jamb

If you don’t scrape and sand off your old layer of paint the new topcoat won’t stick. You’ll be painting your door again within a year and totally perturbed. This is why you need to properly prep.

70% of a good paint job comes in the form of getting the surface ready to accept the new paint.

Scrape and wire brush as much of the old paint off the door and jamb.

Scrape Loose Paint Chips
Wire Brush Old Stubborn Paint

Sanding Exterior Doors

Now for the fun part. If you’re a DIYer and will be doing painting or staining projects in the future, a random orbital sander is your best friend.

It will totally make you look like a pro. My door didn’t have too much chipping paint but the jamb did.

For this reason, I chose to use 60 grit sandpaper discs for my first pass with the sander.

60 Grit Sanding Discs

Our sander has a microfilter system that sucks in the paint dust and this is a cool feature since I hate inhaling toxic stuff into my lungs.

Random Orbital Sander Filter

In order for the microfilter to work, the holes in the sanding disc need to line up with the holes on the sander’s pad.

My Bosch sander uses hook and loop (pretty much velcro) sanding discs. So lining up the holes is no problem.

Line up holes in sanding disc

Even though the microfilter works like a champ, also wear a dust mask or respirator to protect yourself. This provides the perfect opportunity to do your best Darth Vader impression.

Wear a paint respirator

Allow the sander to remove the paint. You shouldn’t have to press down on it.

The 60 grit did an awesome job of removing rough spots. You can then use 120 grit discs like I did to smooth out any sections on your door or jamb.

It’s amazing how well a random orbital sander works. 5 minutes is all it took to get down to bare wood on our jamb.

Sanding down to bare wood

For painted areas that can’t be reached with the sander, you can either sand by hand or use a multi-tool.

I hate to even bring this up because the cost for this project was a bit high but a multi-tool would be another handy gadget I’d recommend to any homeowner.

Primarily because it can do so many different things like sanding, cutting, scraping, removing grout, you name it.

Test the Door Mostuire Level

Once you’re done sanding your exterior door you should take one extra step that most people don’t know about: test for moisture.

Technical support at Valspar told me that the moisture level of wood should be 15% or less. Otherwise, the primer and paint won’t adhere properly.

Now you might be saying, “My door isn’t wood you doofus”. Our door is metal BUT the stiles that help sandwich it together are wood.

Stiles are vertical pieces of wood on both the left and right sides of the door. And they are adjacent to both sides of the jamb when your door is in the closed position. Which means they’re prone to wicking moisture.

You can buy a moisture meter for $15 on Amazon or borrow one like me (thanks Rob). Simply stick the probes of the meter into your wood jamb or stiles and the moisture level will be displayed.

Measure moisture levels in wood before painting

Again, 15% or less is what to shoot for if you’re using Valspar Duramax exterior paint.

Priming and Painting Exterior Door

Duramax paint plus primer is a premium exterior coating that I’ve used in the past. But I always like to call technical support lines to get advice on my projects.

And even though Duramax has primer in it, Valspar surprised me by saying I should use a separate primer coat since my project involved some areas of bare wood.

Use a Primer on bare wood

This tip likely saved me some grief, mostly in the form of peeling paint. My primer will get sucked into the bare wood and then allow the topcoat to properly stick to the door and jamb.

And since movie tickets are more expensive than the quart of primer I bought it didn’t bother me too much to do this extra step.

Do you want your exterior door paint job to impress your friends?

Chances are you said yes. If this is the case then I highly recommend using a good roller or high-quality paintbrush.

Purdy is the brand I like because the brushes last forever and always produce a paint job you can be proud of. Sure, the brush I use here costs $10.58 but it will last me 1-2 years if properly cared for.

How’s that for durability? I’ve been using one Purdy paintbrush for over three years. Sure it’s not perfect but still does a great job.

Use a great paint brush

Most doors look similar. There are some panels, a doorknob, mortises for hinges, and a top & bottom.

Here’s the general strategy you should use when priming and painting your door:

  1. Remove the doorknob & its accessories followed by the hinges
  2. Never paint the hinge mortises (because your door won’t close properly afterward, which is a pain)
  3. Prime the door first and allow it to dry to the touch or according to the primer’s directions
  4. Paint the top & bottom then left & right stiles (this prevents your door from excessive expansion and contraction)
  5. Start your topcoat at the top of the door then move downward
  6. Brush or roll horizontal sections first followed by vertical sections while moving down the door
  7. Continually check for drips and brush them away

Here’s a video that shows you my entire exterior door painting adventure.

Exterior Door Bonus Tip

Super smooth finishes can be accomplished using Floetrol.

Add Floetrol to Paint

It’s an additive that eliminates brush strokes or roller marks and perfect for a front door.

Before this project, I had never used it before and wanted to see if it worked. Flood isn’t a sponsor or anything, this experiment was just me trying out a new product.

I’ve gotta say that Floetrol did make a difference. It’s not that expensive at $6.47 a bottle. Just make sure to choose the correct variety since they have one for latex and one for oil-based paint.


Bonus Tip 2: How to Prevent Paint from Sticking to Exterior Door Glass

Paint on glass, there’s nothing uglier! While doing this project I used Rain-X to help with this problem. And it worked like a charm.

Apply Rain X to door windows

Rain-X is used on car windows because it allows water to bead and easily roll off. It creates a film between the rain and the window.

I sprayed Rain-X on a rag and wiped it onto our exterior door’s windows.

Be careful not to get the Rain-X on the surface you’ll be painting, otherwise, the paint may not adhere properly.

I’m sure I accidentally did get some Rain-X on our window trim but the paint job still turned out great.

I always get paint on glass but this time it was easily scraped off with a razor blade. Sweet, right? Plus it’s not a bad idea to use Rain-X on your exterior windows so that they look cleaner than your neighbor’s.

People will ask you, “How do you keep your windows looking so great?”. You then reply with, “I just am that good, haha”.

Chuckling at the end is optional, but you get the point. This little tip will help your house look awesome all year long.

What’s Next

Another great project is refinishing exterior door hardware – this saves a ton of money and only takes a few hours.

If you’re doing a bathroom remodel and need help, join one of our online courses – they’ll make your bathroom renovation much easier!

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

Thanks as always for reading, watching, and being part of our awesome community.



Paint an Exterior Door