Pro Tips for Painting Interior Doors

At first blush, painting interior doors would seem like a straightforward exercise: Start at the top and work your way down. But the pros know some secrets that might surprise you. Read on to get our top tips.

It’s Tool Time

You’ll need paint and a brush, of course, but here are some other tools that make painting interior doors easier and improve the finished product.

  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Wood filler
  • Drop cloth
  • Paintbrush
  • Painter’s tape
  • Utility knife
  • 4” rollers (foam work well) and a roller handle
  • Mini roller tray

Prep School

A great paint job – whether it focuses on painting interior doors, walls, or anything else – starts with thorough prep work.

  1. Remove the doorknobs – it’s easier than painting around them.
  2. Decide whether you want to take down the doors to paint them on sawhorses or leave them up and paint them in place. Either way, use your drop cloth to catch drips. (A piece of cardboard works, too.)
  3. If you paint them in place, tape the hinges, then trace around the outside of the hinge with a utility knife to cut off the excess tape on the edges.
  4. Fill in any dings or uneven places with wood filler, then sand with 150-grit sandpaper until smooth. NOTE: If your door was painted before the ‘80s, it might have been painted with lead paint. Before you sand, test for lead paint and take any necessary precautions.
  5. Lightly sand the entire door with 220-grit sandpaper.
  6. Dust the door with a cloth, then go back over it with a tack cloth to get it super clean.

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To Prime or Not To Prime

You don’t need to prime if you’re working with new, pre-primed doors or using latex paint on a door that’s already been painted with latex.

If you need to prime, paint in the same order as you paint (see below).

Painting Interior Doors Like a Boss

No matter what style of door you’re painting (flat or paneled), use a combination of a brush and a roller for the best results.

Flat Door

Paint the edges – Start with the inside edge (where the hinges are). Then paint the header and down the striker side (use a brush around the striker for the best control). Don’t overload the brush, or you’ll have drips.

Paint the surface – Using your roller, apply two or three roller widths across and the full height of the door. Then brush from bottom to top with a brush or a lightly coated roller. This delivers the paint quickly and evenly to the door, leaving a wet edge and getting the smoothest finish.

Paneled Door

Paint the panels – Start with the upper left-hand panel and work down the door in sequence. Paint the edges of the panels with a paintbrush, then fill in the panels with the roller.

Paint the stiles – The stiles are the pieces between the panels. Start with the center vertical ones the move to the horizontal pieces. Finish the door with the two outermost vertical stiles.

Paint the edges – Paint the door’s edges in the same order as the flat door, fixing any drips or runs as you go.

Finishing the Door

Whether you’re painting interior doors that are flat or paneled, the finishing steps are the same:

  • Let the paint dry.
  • Lightly sand.
  • Apply the second coat.
  • When dry, attach the hardware and, if you took down the doors, rehang them.

If you’re ready for another painting project after painting your interior doors, we’ve got some ideas for you. You can also order free samples of paint swatches and learn more about our residential painting services.

Paintzen Interior Painting Service


Kelley Rebori

Kelley Rebori has written for national brands like Paintzen, HGTV, the DIY Network and Trulia for more than a decade. She loves home renovation projects, chocolate icing and small poodles. She and her husband split the year between their homes in Tennessee and Italy.