How to Paint an Interior Door

A freshly painted door not only brightens up a room, it can also make a hallway look cleaner and more inviting. To get the best results the next time you're painting interior doors, check out this quick tutorial.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz and Bob Vila | Updated May 11, 2022 2:08 PM

how to paint an interior door

Photo: istockphoto.com

Considering the low cost of the project and the relative ease with which it can be completed, painting a door is a terrific way to add a punch of personality to any interior. Painting a door involves virtually no risk: If you decide to paint the door orange, let’s say, and you end up hating how it looks, no problem: You can always revert to the original color or experiment with a different one.

That said, painting a door is different from painting other surfaces. It requires more planning, a slightly modified approach, and a few supplies you might not have anticipated. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the best way to paint interior doors, no matter your color choice. Follow the steps below for how to paint an interior door.

Before You Begin

Painting your interior doors can go a long way toward refreshing your interior spaces. Whether you are looking to add a pop of accent color, complement existing walls and trim, or refurbish a worn, scratched door that has seen better days, painting interior doors is a quick, easy, and affordable way to rejuvenate your space.

As with any painting project, the hardest and most time-consuming part is proper preparation. The first thing you need to decide is whether to remove the door for painting or leave it in place. Removing the door and placing it flat on a pair of sawhorses will ensure that you have an even coat of paint without drips or runs; it is also easier to paint all of the edges of an unattached door, and you don’t risk getting paint on the hinges or frame.

Despite the benefits of removing the door, some doors can be difficult to remove. If you need to leave it on, painting a door that is still attached involves carefully masking the hinges and frame. A benefit is you can paint both sides without waiting for one side to dry.

Choosing the Right Interior Door Paint

Choosing the correct type of paint is an important step in ensuring a successful outcome. Painting interior doors requires a different type of paint than for exterior doors, such as your front door. Exterior doors are typically painted with oil-based paint, while the best paint for interior doors generally is a latex-based or acrylic paint. You also need to choose the correct finish when painting interior doors: interior paints come in five basic finishes: flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss.

Flat and eggshell finishes are typically used on walls and ceilings, and are not suitable for high-traffic areas that require frequent cleaning. Satin finish paints are more resistant to stains and can be cleaned more frequently, and therefore are often used on walls in children’s rooms, laundry rooms, or kitchens.

Semi-gloss paint is typically used for interior doors and trim, because it provides better stain resistance and is easier to clean than flatter finishes; semi-gloss and gloss both work well in high-moisture areas such as bathrooms. Gloss finishes are often used to highlight trim and moldings and are also suitable for interior doors.

Interior Door Colors

The old rules about door color no longer apply; interior doors can be any color that you like. You may choose colors that match or subtly complement the colors on the walls, or you might want to inject a bright or dark accent shade to add drama to the room. You can paint all of your interior doors the same shade for a more seamless, consistent look, or you can paint them different colors to add more visual interest—whatever strikes your fancy!

Although you have lots of color options, you might want to look at the choice of paint colors in the context of an overall design theme. A popular trend is having neutral white or beige walls with light or dark gray doors. Soft blues, soft pinks, and muted greens also work well for interior doors. If you are looking for something bolder and more dramatic, you might want to try yellow, red, indigo, hunter green, or even black to add a striking focal point to the room.

Be aware, however, that if you choose a darker shade and decide to change it in the future, you will probably need to cover it with one or two coats of primer. Otherwise, the dark color might bleed through.

STEP 1: Remove the door from its frame.

how to paint an interior door

Photo: istockphoto.com

Most people will get better results from removing the door and painting it flat; this alleviates the need to worry about drips and runs. To remove an interior door, you will need someone to hold the door in place while you take it off the hinges. To remove the hinge pins, place the flat blade of a regular screwdriver between the top edge of the hinge and the cap of the hinge pin and tap the handle end of the screwdriver lightly with a hammer until the hinge pin is loose and can be pulled out. Repeat this step for all the hinges and lay the door flat on a pair of sawhorses.

If you choose to paint the door without removing it, make sure to use good quality painter’s tape to mask the hinges and door frame, and be careful to apply thin coats of paint to avoid runs and drips.

Make sure to use a drop cloth under the sawhorses if you remove the door. Or slide a cloth under the bottom edge of the door if you are painting the door in place.

STEP 2: Remove the doorknob, lock and hardware.

Of course, the presence of hardware—that is, hinges and knobs and perhaps a locking mechanism—spells the crucial difference between a door panel and a wall of plaster or gypsum board. Avoid getting any paint on the door hardware, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also because you might disturb the hardware’s functioning.

The safest course is to remove the knob and lock, and completely remove the hinges from the door panel before you start painting in earnest. For those looking to avoid that sort of hassle, a decent compromise would be to protect the metal parts of the door with strategically positioned painter’s tape.

To ensure that the paint doesn’t seep behind the tape, make sure to press firmly on the tape to make sure it is tightly sealed to the hardware. You may want to overlap several sections of tape for wider sections of hardware. If you are painting the door without removing it from the frame, you should also tape off the door frame prior to painting. If you are also painting the frame, use the tape to mask between the frame and the adjacent walls.

RELATED: Door Knobs of Distinction: 21 Stunning Styles for Your Home’s Doors

STEP 3: Sand and prepare the door.

how to paint an interior door

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’ve painted before, you’re most likely familiar with the idea that proper surface preparation means the difference between a smooth, lasting, beautiful finish and a sloppy-looking job. Satisfying, professional-level results begin with sanding, which goes a long way toward ensuring that the paint readily sticks to the door. Use 120-grit sandpaper and either manually, or by means of a hand-held power sander, sand the surface of the door in the direction of the wood grain.

Fill in and fix any imperfections with wood putty or filler prior to sanding. Once finished, wipe down the door with a lint-free tack cloth dampened with mineral spirits. Doing so removes the dust and oils that can interfere with paint adhesion. If your door has multiple coats of paint, you might want to consider stripping the door first.

Note: if your home was built prior to 1978, your doors may have been painted with lead-based paint, and you should be aware that sanding could expose you to hazardous lead dust and chips, which are harmful to both children and adults. Follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Program to protect yourself and your family.

STEP 4: Prime the door and door frame if necessary.

If the door was not previously primed or painted, you will need to apply a coat of primer to ensure proper paint adhesion. On previously painted doors, adding a coat of primer also will ensure that the former color doesn’t “bleed” through the new paint. A coat of primer also will result in a smoother finish. Make sure the primer is thoroughly dry before moving on to the painting.

RELATED: The Best Greige Colors for a Warm, Welcoming Home

STEP 5: Paint the door frame first.

how to paint an interior door

Photo: istockphoto.com

Paint the frame of the door (also known as the casing) first so that any errant brush strokes land on the door panel that you’re going to paint anyway. Use a 1- or 2-inch brush and let the coat dry completely before you proceed any further. That way, you won’t have to tread carefully later on, fearing that your next movement might result in an unsightly smudge.

STEP 6: Paint the inset door panels with a brush.

When painting two or more panel doors and all inset detailing, you’ll want to tackle this first before painting the rest of the door. As you did with the door casing, use a 1- or 2-inch brush for this round of detail work. Your goal is to get these more demanding aspects of the job out of the way, so you can then speedily finish with a roller.

RELATED: 7 Painting Tools You Never Knew You Needed

STEP 7: Paint the rest of the door with a roller.

how to paint an interior door

Photo: istockphoto.com

A roller enables you to work faster, plus it delivers a smoother finish. As you go, remember to blend in any brush marks created in earlier steps. To avoid leaving fingerprints, it’s smart to paint one side of the door, let it dry completely, and then go on to paint the edge of the door and the opposite side.

A word to the wise: While the paint is drying, minimize imperfections by keeping pets and children away from the door. Replace any hardware you’ve removed only after the paint is fully dry. Finally, step back and marvel at what a difference a painted door can make!

STEP 8: Reattach the hardware.

If you removed the door and painted it flat, make sure that both sides and all of the edges are completely dry before reinstalling the hinges, door knobs, and lock mechanism; these typically attach with screws, so you will need a screwdriver. If you did not remove the door for painting, then you should carefully peel off the painter’s tape that you used to mask the hardware and the door frame. If there are any drips on the hardware, use mineral spirits to remove the drips from the hardware; be careful not to get any mineral spirits on your fresh paint!

RELATED: 8 Painting Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes

STEP 9: Reinstall the door in its frame.

how to paint an interior door

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you removed the door for painting, the final step once you have replaced all of the hardware is to re-hang the door in the frame. Enlist someone to help you position the hinges so that you can slide the hinge pins into the interlocking hinge sections. Slide the hinge pins as far in as you can, then use a hammer to gently tap them all the way down into place. You might want to place a rag between the freshly painted door and the hinges when you use the hammer to avoid damaging the fresh paint.

Final Thoughts

Interior doors take up a lot of internal real estate in your home and get a lot of wear and tear. Whether you are looking to give your whole room a facelift, or just yearning for a bright spot of fresh color to add visual interest, painting an interior door is an easy and affordable DIY project that can really enhance your home décor. Following our step-by-step guide on how to paint interior doors will ensure that you achieve the best results.

FAQs About Interior Door Painting

It might seem like a simple DIY project, but painting interior doors can be a somewhat tricky prospect. Here are some tips and answers to frequently asked questions to help you with your project.

Q. What type of paint do I use for interior doors?

Interior doors typically are painted with latex-based or acrylic paint. You also need to choose the correct finish when painting interior doors: Semi-gloss is a popular finish for interior doors because it provides superior stain resistance and is easier to clean than flatter finishes.

Q. Should interior doors be satin or semi-gloss?

Both satin and semi-gloss paints feature a smooth finish and can be cleaned easily. Most professionals recommend semi-gloss, as it is a bit more durable than satin finishes. However, satin finishes are better at concealing imperfections, so if your door has bumps or dents, you might want to choose satin paint.

Q. How much paint does it take to cover a door?

One gallon of paint covers approximately 350 square feet, and a standard door accounts for approximately 20 square feet. You should plan on at least two coats of paint per side, and two sides per door, as well as extra for the edges and the door frame, if you are painting that as well. Therefore, 1 quart should cover a standard interior door; you may want 2 quarts if your door is wider or taller.

Q. Can you paint an interior door without removing it?

You can paint an interior door without removing it from the hinges, but make sure to carefully mask the hinges and door frame with painters tape. Also, you should use thin coats of paint to avoid drips and runs if you are painting the door in place.

Q. How long should paint dry before installing hardware?

Always carefully read the labels from the paint manufacturer, as some paints have different drying times. A good rule of thumb is that latex paints are dry to the touch in 1 hour and safe to recoat in 4 hours. However, if the temperature and/or humidity are high, paint will take longer to dry. Also, if paint is applied too thickly, or if the second coat is applied before the first coat is fully dry, it will take longer.