The Ultimate Guide to Painting Doors and Trim

Whether you need touch-ups or an entirely new look, doors and trim are easy to paint. However, there are some things you should know before getting started.

For example, professionals recommend sanding and priming before painting. And if you’re painted over oil-based paint with latex, you should do the alcohol test.

Surface Preparation

A new coat of paint can quickly and easily transform any space. But a flawless finish requires more than just vibrant colors and smooth strokes. Surface preparation is the unsung hero behind every successful painting project.

Proper surface preparation for painting ensures a long-lasting, durable paint job. It’s essential for preventing moisture from getting trapped underneath the new coating, which can lead to bubbling, peeling, and mold growth.

Surface preparation varies depending on the type of coating being applied and the substrate material (metal, plastics, or composites). The goal is to return the surface to white metal and remove any existing coating. This helps prevent preexisting checking, flaking, and cracking from continuing under a new coat of paint and extends the asset’s life. It’s often necessary to clean, sand, and patch to achieve this.

Preparing the Hardware

Door hardware, such as hinges and knobs, can be a pain to paint around or remove, especially when many small corners or crevices require a small brush. Painting doors and trim professional recommends covering it with aluminum foil before beginning to paint to avoid cleaning up any paint drips or splatter from the hardware once you’re finished. If you plan to leave the knobs and levers in place, rubber cement is a better solution. It’s easy to peel off and protects awkwardly shaped hardware from a fresh coat of paint without getting messy or damaging the finish.

While it’s not required, painting experts recommend using a primer specifically for doors if you decide to leave the hardware in place. Products that provide strong adhesion and a durable finish are ideal for doors. It’s essential to let the primer dry completely before applying a second layer of paint.


Some people wonder whether or not to prime their door and trim before painting it. Primers are essential because they make the paint adhere better, hide stains, and help the finish look uniform. A good quality primer will also prevent or slow down the peeling of your new paint coat.

The best interior wood primers work well with oil and latex-based paints and are very easy to sand for smooth paint. They are handy for a door that has previously been painted with an oil-based product.

If you’re painting an old, existing door that was initially painted with a latex-based product, you can likely skip priming, although you should still clean and prep the surface as recommended on the paint label. Test the current finish by dabbing a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a corner of the door. If the paint transfers to the rag, the door was previously painted with an oil-based product, and you will need to prime it before you apply a new coat of latex.


Painting your doors can be a great way to add style and polish to your space. However, choosing the right paint can be a challenge.

While conventional wisdom has long held that a satin or eggshell finish is best for walls, high-gloss and semi-gloss finishes are becoming increasingly popular for doors and trim because they stand up to cleaning better than flat paints.

Try to work quickly without pausing for too long to avoid splotches and drips. A few minutes of pause can cause the paint to dry unevenly, which will show up in your finished product. It would be helpful to apply at least two coats, ensuring each coat dries completely before applying the next. Once the second coat is applied, reattach the hardware and allow the new paint to cure fully. If you’re using latex paint, it should be ready for another coat in about four hours; oil-based paints may need up to 24 hours.