Solved! The Best Paint for Front Doors
Here’s what to consider when painting your entryway’s biggest attraction.
Q: I want to repaint my front door to cover up some old water stains and add curb appeal. What is the best paint for front doors?
A: A fresh coat of paint can hide minor imperfections on your front door, defend it against harsh outdoor elements, and boost curb appeal in a big way. But to get these entryway assets, you can’t slap on any old paint. The best paint for a front door will have a blend of qualities that maintain its integrity and good looks in the face of stormy weather and scorching sun. You’ll want to consider paint durability, sheen, color, and suitability for the material of the door. Read on to learn how to pick the right products for your front door, plus color selection and application tips to ensure professional quality results.
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How to Pick the Best Front Door Paint
Every DIYer tackling a paint project should bone up on the different types of paint, suited to different surfaces and locations, as well as the basics of paint selection. Then consider the paint properties that best suit the surface of your front door, keeping in mind the durability of color and finish.
First, look for paint (or a paint-and-primer product) that is labeled “exterior” or “interior/exterior.”
Front doors must withstand temperature fluctuations, rain, hail, snow, and dirt, and only paints labeled “exterior” (formulated only for exterior use) or “interior/exterior” will prove up to the
task. These thicker paint formulas contain more resins, pigments, and resiliency additives than interior paints, which makes them resistant to staining, chipping, fading, and peeling. (By contrast, interior paints can only tolerate light wear-and-tear.)
Both dedicated exterior paint (used on top of a separate primer, discussed in detail below) and exterior primer-and-paint-in-one products make great front door paint. Today’s primer-and-paint combination formulas often cost half as much as separate primer and paint and can provide equally good coverage in some scenarios. Using one will also cut down the hours spent on the project, saving you from applying the standard two coats of primer and allowing adequate dry time in between. The choice of separate paint and primer versus a primer-and-paint product should come down to the condition of your door.
A primer-and-paint product may be sufficient if:
- You’re painting a new bare front door for the first time.
- You’re repainting a previously painted door in the same color.
- You’re switching from a lighter to a darker paint color.
A separate paint and primer are needed to improve paint adhesion if:
- You’re painting over a stained wood door.
- You’re switching from a darker to a lighter paint color.
- The existing paint coat is peeling or flaking.
- You want to cover an old oil-based paint coat with water-based paint.
Always use a coordinating exterior primer if one isn’t built into your paint.
If a separate paint and primer are needed, be sure that the primer is labeled for exterior or interior/exterior use. Applying primer may seem like a pesky step—perhaps not as satisfying as seeing that pretty new color transform your door—but it’s essential. It helps hide stains and covers the old shade, allowing you to use less paint for full coverage and vibrancy. Primer also gives the surface the proper texture and porousness, so the final results will hold up.
Either a water-based primer (Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer, $22.98 for one gallon at Home Depot) or an oil-based interior/exterior primer (e.g., KILZ Interior/Exterior Primer, Sealer, and Stain Blocker, $22.98 for one gallon at Home Depot) should suffice. But if you’re painting over an existing oil-based paint coat with water-based paint coat, you must use bonding primer (e.g., KILZ Adhesion Bonding Primer, $42.98 for one gallon at Home Depot), a special primer formulated to stick to glossy surfaces like that of an oil-based paint coat.
The color of the primer should also be close to that of the paint, such as, for example, a light gray primer for a lilac door. You can also ensure a perfect color match by buying a white primer and having it custom-tinted at the store to match your chosen door paint color.
Let door material dictate your choice of paint base, oil or water.
Exterior paints come in water- and oil-based varieties. Water-based (a.k.a. latex) paints have excellent color retention, which makes them well suited to front doors exposed to the elements. Water-based paints are also a more eco-friendly choice, as they produce fewer fumes. Not only do they dry faster than oil-based paints, they can be successfully applied on top of oil-based paint.
Oil-based paints are a more durable choice, largely because they contain pigment and resin in a solvent thinner; when the thinner evaporates, the resin forms a hard coating that resists stains. But oil-based paint emits more fumes and takes longer to dry than latex paint.
If your front door is made of wood, start the selection process by investigating the best paint for wood surfaces. Then narrow your choices, based on the ideal type of paint for your door, be it wood or some other material.
- For a door made of pine, white fir, or any other wood species that doesn’t bleed (i.e, gives off tinted compounds called tannins), go with a water-based exterior paint (such as BEHR Premium Plus Ultra Exterior Paint and Primer, $42.98 for one gallon at Home Depot). Water-based paint emits less fumes, dries faster, and results in less color fading.
- For cedar, cypress, or other wood that bleeds, choose an oil-based exterior paint (e.g., Rustoleum Protective Enamel, $17.96 for two quarts at Home Depot). Oil-based paint is less susceptible to unattractive tannin bleed-through. Tannins can seep into water-based paint, leaving yellowish-brown splotches in the final result.
- For metal doors—such as a steel storm door—work with oil-based paint to stave off the formation of rust.
- For fiberglass doors, apply a water-based paint, as its thinner and less sticky composition goes onto the slick surface of fiberglass more easily than thicker, stickier oil-based paints.
Go for a semi-gloss finish, which is as durable as it is attractive.
Exterior paints are sold in flat/matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss sheens, in order of the lowest to the highest luster. Semi-gloss is ideal for front doors, as it’s more wear- and stain-resistant than flatter sheens. It’s also more reflective, which means it easily wipes clean, highlights carvings or other architectural flourishes on the door, and provides an attractive pop of shine in the entryway. Semi-gloss will also mask imperfections better than a high gloss sheen, which can draw attention to divots, errant brush strokes, and other minor flaws.
Prioritize fade resistance.
Without a storm door, awning, or a shade tree to protect your front door from direct sunlight exposure, the onslaught of UV rays can eventually fade its paint color. Front doors with east or west exposures are even more prone to fading. Fortunately, today’s exterior paints are often formulated with fade-resistant properties.
Look for exterior paints labeled “fade-resistant” or “UV-resistant,” which will include colorfast pigments and a higher volume of binders than ordinary paints. This allows them to retain a crisp color despite prolonged exposure to intense sunlight. While no paint is fade proof, modern exterior paints may only fade 1 to 3 percent per year, while older products would fade average 7 percent a year in direct sun.
Select low-LRV paint colors, which tend to be more muted, to preserve the color and the door itself.
While buying a fade-resistant paint will help color stay true, it’s also crucial to consider the light reflectance value (LRV) of the color. This value, rated on a scale of 0 to 100, indicates how much light reflects from the paint color when dry. The higher the LRV, the more light the color reflects, and the less likely the paint finish is to fade with sun exposure.
The LRV will be listed on the paint manufacturer’s website or on the paint chip, a card showing the range of colors available for a particular paint brand. Look for an LRV of at least 55 to ensure that your painted door reflects a fair amount of sunlight to retain color. In general, lighter, more muted shades, such as beige or mint green, have a higher LRV, whereas darker, richer colors, such as cherry red or navy blue, have a lower LRV.
Black paint, which often has an LRV of 0, depending on the brand, reflects virtually no light, meaning it will absorb most of the light that hits it and fade quickly. In fact, certain door manufacturers will void your warranty if you paint the door black because high heat absorption can warp the door. However, if your warranty will allow it and your front door is shaded, you might still find the color’s positive impact on home resale value worth the risk. The Paint Color Analysis survey performed by real estate database Zillow found that homes with black or charcoal gray front doors sold for $6,271 more than expected in homes around the country.
Pick rot-resistant paint if you see a lot of rain or snow.
Traditional exterior paints are certainly more rot-resistant than interior paints, but they can still form a fair amount of mildew or mold with enough exposure to water and humidity. So look for a paint specifically labeled “mildew-resistant” or “mold-resistant,” especially if you live in an area that receives a lot of rain or snow. These paints are formulated with antimicrobial chemicals that prevent mildew and mold from setting in for a period of years indicated on the paint container.
Must-Know Tips for Choosing Front Door Colors
Now that you’ve got a handle on the paint properties that will best serve your front door, it’s time for the fun part: picking the perfect color that meshes with the rest of your home’s exterior. While black and dark gray still rate high when it comes to resale value, you still have freedom of choice!
- Start with samples. Paint chip cards can only tell you so much. Invest in a few sample cans of paint, brush a few swatches on your door, and see how they look at different times of day.
- Choose a complementary color. Pick a shade that complements the trim, shutters, and siding of your home. For example, a light taupe front door would pair well with white trim and brown siding.
- Architectural style and materials matter. To suit the bold style of modern architecture, consider bright orange, lemon yellow, or turquoise for your front door. Muted hues suit more traditional homes, but for stately presence, consider slate blue, pure white, or classic red. A red brick home looks great with a sage green or pale gray front door.
- Explore the language of color. Your front door welcomes visitors and family alike, so keep in mind the message the color sends. Red, orange, and yellow are friendly hues, blue is peaceful, white makes a statement of simplicity, and purple resounds with adventurous spirit.
- Make it easy. If you want the front door paint project to go quickly, choose a similar shade or one that’s darker than the current hue. To put a lighter shade over a darker one, you’ll need to give it two full coats of primer, and allow time for the second coat of primer to dry and set before painting.
- Factor in feng shui. The Asian design principle of feng shui recommends choosing a color based on the direction the front door faces. Red (fire element) for a south-facing door, blue (water element) for a north-facing door, white (metal element) for a west-facing door (metal element), and green (wood element) for an east-facing door
- Express yourself. Painting the front door isn’t a huge project, so get creative. If you pick a hue only to soon decide it doesn’t suit you, or provide the resale value you want, you can always repaint it.
- Perk up the inside. The inside and outside surface of your front door needn’t be the same color. If you pick a sedate shade to face the outside world, but your home decor and personality in general are more cheerful, apply a fun, vibrant hue to the inside surface.
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Tips for Painting the Front Door
Consider this professional guidance when tackling your front door paint project for great-looking, long-lasting results.
- Purchase enough paint. A standard front door measuring 80” x 36” requires about one quart of exterior paint for full coverage. Keep in mind that you can always order paint online for delivery.
- Time it right. Spring and fall are ideal seasons for outdoor paint jobs. Opt for dry, sunny, calm conditions with temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit for oil-based paint and 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for latex paint. Start early in the day so the door will be dry enough by evening to reattach security hardware.
- Remove the door. Use a screwdriver or drill to take out the screws that secure the door to the hinges, leaving the hinges in place on the door frame. Remove the door and place it atop two sawhorses in a convenient area, such as the driveway. Lay drop cloths around the work space
- Prep for paint. Sand off any chips (or the entire door surface if called for). Get rid of dust and dirt with a sponge and mild detergent, then let dry fully. Remove or tape off all hardware.
- Apply in sections. Paint details like trim and edges first, then do larger surfaces. A 6-inch roller is ideal for the panels, a paintbrush for details.
- Go with the grain. If you’ve got a wood door, apply paint in the direction of the grain.
- Let it set. Allow the door to dry fully before reattaching locks and knobs.