When renovating a historic home, one of the most rewarding projects is breathing new life into old doors. I’m currently renovation the back bedroom at Mulberry Manor — an 1840s house I’m renovation with my best friend — and wanted to save the old door.
This door is pretty beat up and covered in lead paint. I didn’t want to mess with stripping and refinishing the lead paint because its INTENSE to do it the correct way. So I decided to restore this door by smoothing it out and painting over it.
If you’ve come across a beat-up door in need of a makeover, this tutorial is for you. I’ll walk you through the process of painting an old door, including proper priming techniques, selecting a custom paint color, and ensuring safety when dealing with potential lead paint. Let’s get started!
what you’ll need:
caulk & filler
PAINTABLE CAULK [DAP Extreme Stretch]
DAP PREMIUM WOOD FILLER [for filing small dents]
watch the process
diy tutorial: How to Paint an Old Door for a Fresh Look
Step 1: Safety first – Checking for lead paint
Given the age of the house, it’s important to determine if the door has lead paint. Basically anything built before 1979 has a chance of having lead paint and older houses like this one have an even higher chance.
Start by wearing safety goggles, gloves, and a dust mask. Grab a lead paint test kit from amazon HERE and follow the instructions to test a small area of the door.
My test kit was basically cotton swabs that you dip in vinegar and rub them on the paint, if the tip turns pink there is lead present.
If the test reveals the presence of lead, you would need to consult a professional for proper lead paint removal. Since I don’t want to go through that process, this project is a repaint job. I’ll repaint the door and monitor chipping over time to make sure the lead paint stays intact.
I’m not a professional lead paint remediator (so please consult with a professional )but from my understanding, Lead paint in a house is only dangerous if it is turned to dust and inhaled (i.e. you sand it) or if it chips it can become a hazard if little one’s eat it. If you leave the lead paint intact and cover it up with new paint (i.e. encapsulate it) it’s safe.
Step 2: Preparing the door
The correct way to do this is to begin by removing any hardware from the door, such as doorknobs, hinges, and locks so you can paint behind them. I prefer to use a tiny brush and paint around these things so that I don’t have to take the door down.
The reason I’m leaving it up is because old houses can be VERY moody —things have shifted and settled over years so when you take things apart they rarely go back together the same. I also like the fact that leaving the door up saves time. …BUT you do you 🙂
You’ll want to lay down drop cloths or plastic sheets to protect the surrounding area. If your door doesn’t have lead paint, you can use a paint scraper to gently remove any loose or peeling paint from the surface of the door.
You don’t want to do this if you’re working with lead paint. If your door has cracking paint you can’t paint over, consult a professional or do LOTS of research into the correct process for removing lead paint yourself.
If there are dents or scratches, you’ll want to fill these in for a smooth finish. I used a paintable caulk with LOTS of stretch for the cracks (I use the Extreme Stretch Caulk from DAP) – I love this stuff for old house renovations because it helps fill in any cracks and then stretches as the house continues to shift and settle. Using normal caulk, it usually starts cracking and looking horrible in under a year which is zero fun.
If there are any major dents I like to use Bondo (for big dents ) or my favorite wood filler (for smaller dents) — fill them with wood filler and allow it to dry. Once dry, you can sand any rough areas of the door with medium-grit sandpaper to create a smooth surface if your door doesn’t have lead paint.
Step 3: Smooth it out
Switch to fine-grit sandpaper (100 grit) and sand the entire door to create a smooth and even texture. This step helps the primer and paint adhere properly.
Once sanding is complete, use a tack cloth or a damp cloth to remove any dust or debris from the door’s surface. Ensure the door is clean and dry before moving on.
DONT sand your door if it contains lead paint. The single worst thing you can do is turn lead paint into dust and then breathe it in. Do it yourself, but do it safe, mkay? Good. If you can’t sand because of lead paint like me, just use a really good primer (see the next step)
Step 4: Prime the door
Choose a primer suitable for your door material (oil-based or latex), ensuring it is compatible with your chosen paint type. My favorite is the Zissner Bullseye 123 primer — it’s not too thick and has a great hold.
Apply the primer using a small paintbrush (i use a 1” wide brush), starting with the recessed areas and edges. Use smooth, even strokes and apply a thin even coat.
Once the edges are primed, use a roller and tray for the larger, flat surfaces. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying times then apply a second coat, ensuring complete coverage.
I like to work in very thin coats and layer them up, doing at least 2 coats of primer. This gives the paint job a polished finish since lighter coats help eliminate chunky brush strokes. Allow the primer to dry fully before proceeding.
Step 5: Paint the door
PICKING A COLOR:
Select a custom paint color that complements your overall design scheme. I went with the light grey-ish blue color we’re painting the rest of the trim in the house. It’s a custom color I created for this project and its PERFECT to compliment the gold finishes we’re doing throughout as well as the floors that are a mid-tone wood and a little bit orange.
I normally would not pick this flooring color, but we decided to keep it to honor the character of the house instead of refinishing all the wood floors, and build a color scheme that works with it.
The best way to balance orange is blue so a light blue trim color was the perfect choice. PLUS, the trim in here was a brighter blue before so its cool to be able to give a nod to the old look of the house while freshening it up a bit.
You can scan this code in store at home depot for the color match:
PAINTING THE DOOR:
Begin by taping off any areas you want to protect, such as glass panels or decorative moldings, using painter’s tape. Using a high-quality paintbrush, apply the paint to the door, starting with the recessed areas and edges.
PAINT PRO TIP!!
Ready for a paint pro hack? I like to use FLOTROL which is a paint additive that helps your paint go on smoother and eliminates brush strokes. it ‘s my favorite because it makes hand-painted pieces look like they were professionally painted with a sprayer. It’s seriously a GAME CHANGER. Just mix it into any acrylic based paint and paint as usual.
Once the edges are painted, use a roller and tray for the larger, flat surfaces. Apply thin, even coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before adding the next one.
Once the first coat dries, apply additional coats as needed to achieve the desired color and finish. My door took two coats for a finished look.
Step 6: Finishing touches and cleanup
Before the final coat of paint has dried, remove the painter’s tape carefully. Reattach the hardware to the door if you took it off and ensure they are securely fastened.
Don’t forget to clean your brushes and roller with soap and water or according to the paint manufacturer’s instructions. Dispose of any leftover paint and materials responsibly 🙂
That’s how I refinished my old door to give it a fresh look while maintaining the character. The need-to-know hacks are testing for lead, using a paintable stretch caulk to fill cracks or small uneven areas, and using Flotrol for a polished and perfectly smooth finish.
Make sure to pin this post for later so you have these tips when you need them to tackle your next door painting project.