Painting a Steel Door

Often there is some confusion about painting a steel door. Many homeowners have heard about the problems associated with painting pre-primed steel doors. Some of these problems are excessive peeling of the paint on the door or frame and difficulty to hide brush strokes on a smooth surface.

Most problems with painting a metal door are preventable and stem from lack of knowledge about the factory primer and the proper steps involved when painting a steel door. Another factor that will affect the life of the paint is the color and the use of a storm door, follow the manufactures recommendations.

Insulated steel entry doors are a great life long purchase and if painted correctly can be virtually maintenance free for many years.

General Procedures for Painting a Steel Door

Most of the work involved when painting steel doors is with the preparation. This is true even for a new, unpainted, steel door. The beauty and longevity of your steel door is dependent on the following procedures. These apply to the frame and trim as well.

1) Remove Hardware and Weather Stripping

No matter which painting method you use, remove all the locking hardware from the door and frame, including strike plates. Brushing around these items is difficult and time consuming. Other items to be removed can be kick plates and doorknockers. Remove the hinges if you are painting a steel door detached from the frame.

Now remove the weather stripping. Many door manufactures have removable weather stripping. It simply pulls out of a grove in the frame. Remember how it came out for re-installation and store in a safe place.

If the weather stripping cannot be removed, stapled or secured in place, you can use a drywall knife to act as a shield while brushing the frame and trim. Otherwise apply masking tape for protection while painting.

2) Remove Excess Window Glazing

Doors with windows or sidelights need to have the excess glazing removed prior to painting. This caulking material will have emerged from under the window frame; can be a sticky compound or silicone caulk.

Use a new single edge razor blade and score the glazing next to the frame. Be careful not to cut the frame. Now remove the excess glazing by holding the blade perpendicular and close to the frame. Carefully scrape the glazing loose.

After the glazing is removed wipe the area clean with a solvent to remove any remaining film. Use denatured alcohol for silicone and mineral spirits if the glazing is sticky.

3) Clean and Mask

A clean surface is important while painting a steel door. Pay special attention to greasy fingerprints and general grime. Any mild cleaner can be used, rinse well after cleaning. Another cleaning method is to wipe the steel door and sidelights with a clean rag saturated with denatured alcohol. This will remove most types of surface contamination.

After the door is cleaned and dry, mask the glass and any other items not to be painted. The amount of masking depends on the painting method you use.

4) Fix Dents, Sand and Prime

Fixing any dents, sanding the entire steel door and priming are all vital steps. The amount of work at this stage depends on the doors condition and if the door is new or previously painted. Painting a steel door is similar to painting a car. Although the doors finish doesn’t need to be as good as a car, every dent and deep scratch will be highlighted after painting.

Repairing a Steel Door and Frame
Use auto body filler, such as Bondo, for dents and deep scratches. Before applying any filler, sand the damaged area with 80-100 grit sandpaper to help with adhesion. Mix the auto body filler according to the manufactures directions and try to slightly overfill the damaged area.

Allow the filler to dry completely then begin sanding to level and smooth it with the surrounding area. A vibrating orbital sander or a palm sander can be used for large areas. Small repairs can be hand sanded using a rigid sanding block and sandpaper.

Start with 100 grit sandpaper to remove most of the excess filler. Be careful not to sand too much. Continue sanding with 150 grit sandpaper, then finish with 220 grit or finer. Feel the repaired area with your fingers to check for ruff edges or deep scratches.

Spray on a small amount of primer to highlight any defects in the repair, an aerosol primer works great. Continue filling and sanding until the repair is flush with the surface and not visible after priming.

The same auto body filler can be used to repair the wood frame.

Repairing wood is basically the same as with the steel door. Remove all loose material, including peeling paint or rotten wood. Sand the area around the repair with 80 grit sandpaper to roughen the surface. Build the repair in layers if over 1/2 inch deep. Finish sand in the same manner as the steel door.

Finish Sanding
Sanding is a very important step while painting a steel door. After all repairs are finished, the entire door will need to be lightly sanded. This needs to be done on new and previously painted steel doors. Use 120—150 grit sandpaper or a medium-fine sanding sponge.

New steel doors need to be sanded to roughen the surface without causing deep scratches. Previously painted doors can be sanded to remove or lessen brush marks or paint drips. After sanding wipe the entire door with a tack cloth.

Now is a good time to sand the frame. New primed frames need be hand sanded with a medium-fine sanding sponge. Previously painted frames can be hand sanded if in good shape or power sanded with a palm sander to remove loose paint and heavy paint edges.

Priming a Steel Door and Wood Frame
It has been my experience that new doors need to be primed with a universal quick drying oil base primer before painting, such as Zinnser Cover Stain. This is especially true for the wood frame.

Previously painted doors and frames need to be primed only if the type of finish paint is a different type or if the previous finish is in bad shape. Acrylic paints shouldn’t be applied over oil base paint without priming first. Prime all raw wood on the frame as well as any exposed metal.

Use a universal quick drying oil base primer for all your priming needs. An aerosol primer can be used on the door, otherwise use the same procedure as when painting. Choose a good primer as the foundation for the finish paint.

Now is the best time to take a good look at all the work you have done so far. It will be imposable to fix anything once you have started painting. Painting a steel door can be time consuming, but with the preparation as perfect as possible the end result will be much better than the alternative.

5) Painting a Steel Door and Side Lights

Applying the paint is the most satisfying part of painting a steel door, plan on a minimum of one coat of primer and two coats of finish. You have three methods of application to choose from, brushing, rolling or spraying.

  • Brushing Steel Doors – Probably the most popular way to paint a steel door requiring the least investment of tools. Achieving a truly smooth finish is difficult with this method, easier if you use a good professional paint brush.
  • Rolling a Steel Door – An easy method to master requiring a minimal investment of tools. Excellent control is possible with the right size of roller frame and short nap roller cover. The finish will have a fine even texture from the roller cover, better than brushing in most cases.
  • Spraying a Steel Door – If you want a truly smooth finish, using a paint sprayer is the only way to go. This method requires the largest investment of tools and time. Plus, a little experience using this equipment is a must.

 
The best finish is from spraying; either with an airless paint sprayer or HVLP sprayer but a steel door can be rolled or brushed. Rolling is a great alternative to spraying, producing a very satisfying finish.

On the other hand, brushing can be problematic producing brush marks on the smooth surface. Painting steel doors with a brush is best suited for doors with raised panels; flat doors should be sprayed or rolled. Choose an application method that best suits your abilities and needs.

Painting the Door Frame and Sidelights

The frame can be painted while waiting for the door to dry between coats of paint. Typically two different colors and types of paint are used, one for the exterior part and one for the interior. Concentrate on one color at a time.

Begin with the interior color, if the door has been removed from the frame for painting. The interior portion is the most difficult with the door installed. Otherwise, begin with the exterior color so the door will appear finished sooner.

Start painting the upper part first, the header, and then work down one side at a time. If the weather stripping was left installed use a 6-inch drywall knife to act as a shield to protect the weather stripping. Simply insert the knife between the weather stripping and the frame. Moving it down as you brush. Wipe the knife clean several times while brushing to avoid any paint build-up.

The door hinges and striker plate(s) can be protected by carefully covering with masking tape or removed if the door was uninstalled for painting.

Sidelights are typically painted with a brush but can be sprayed with the appropriate masking. The method you choose depends on the final outcome you want and your skill with a paint sprayer.

Steel Door Painting Tips

Although painting a steel door is an easy project for most homeowners, there are a few considerations that can drastically affect the longevity of the finish and the need to refinish sooner. Painting a steel door shouldn’t need to be done for 8—10 years if completed properly.

  • The color you choose will affect how long the paint lasts. Dark colors will fade sooner. The worst color is red. Although the front door is a great place for a dramatic statement, a dark or red color will need repainting much sooner.
  • Sun exposure will also cause the finish to fade faster. Steel doors can become quite hot when exposed to direct sunlight. Lighter colors with a hint of brown will last longer when exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Storm doors can act as a greenhouse. Trapping heat and causing premature paint failure. Try to leave the top storm door window cracked open to ventilate this heat.
  • 100% Acrylic paints will out perform traditional oil base paints when used on a steel door. Top quality exterior acrylic house paint is more resistant to the effects of sunlight.
  • Seal the kick plate with a small bead of caulk before installation. This will act as a gasket and keep moisture from collecting behind the kick plate. The moisture will cause the paint to fail and rusting of the steel.




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29 Comments

  1. Lyn
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    This was the best instructed article I have read. Everything about painting a steel door step by step, reasons for certain use of paint, brushes, rollers and cleaning beginning to finish. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  2. Mairead
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Could anyone tell me if they have tried painting a steel door on the inside.

    • Pam drennan
      Posted June 4, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

      I just painted the inside of 2 of my doors. I used semi-gloss outdoor paint. The same paint and color as the outside. It turned out nice and I love having the color inside.

  3. Posted February 5, 2017 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    Steel doors can be painted on both sides, inside or outside. The process is the same, just the type of paint will be different. A great interior paint for your doors, and all trim or cabinets, is Benjamin Moore Advance.

    • echoxxzz
      Posted May 11, 2017 at 4:47 am | Permalink

      Why would you need to use a different paint on the interior side?

      • Posted May 13, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        The same color and paint as the outside can be used. But if you want a accent color outside and something different inside consider using a interior paint. Interior paints tend to dry harder and faster than their exterior counterparts.

      • Sandi Simpson
        Posted October 30, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        A lot of exterior paints have fungicide in them. You don’t want that on inside of house

  4. judy
    Posted June 3, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I have very large areas where paint peeled on our 2 steel exterior doors…formed large bubbles over the winter. After scraping I sanded with a sander to try to get the edges of areas smooth then I primed then painted. The paint is black and all the edges of the scraped areas stand out. Would using a product like Bondo work in these areas to fill and smooth and then repaint.

    • Posted June 4, 2017 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Bondo, or equivalent, is a good choice. Be aware that the existing paint might want to bubble and peel as it and the Bondo is sanded, the heat from sanding can cause peeling.

  5. Dave McCallum
    Posted June 8, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I have some light rusting showing through my paint on my metal door, what would be the best procedure to prep the door?
    Would lacquer thinner the a good option for wiping down door before paint or is denatured alcohol the best option?
    You mention a oil base aerosol primer, is krylon or rustoleum a oil base primer?

    Thank You

    • Posted June 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      The rusty areas will need some sanding to remove as much rust as possible. Start with 120 or 150 grit and progress to 220 or 320 grit depending on the overall condition of the door and your paint application method. The goal is to not see the sanding marks after painting.

      A rust neutralizer can be used after sanding. Jasco Prep & Prime or equivalent can be used. If all rust is removed with sanding then this step isn’t needed.

      Any god metal primer is fine. Both the mentioned primers will work fine and can be painted over with standard acrylic house paint.

      Both the denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner are good options, the lacquer thinner is more reactive and will clean better but will easily bubble painted surfaces.

  6. Chris
    Posted June 9, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Do I paint the very top and bottom of my steel door

    • Posted June 11, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      It isn’t necessary at the top and bottom is factory primed but if the environment is especially humid or caustic then yes these areas should also be painted. If the door is off the frame for painting then go ahead paint the top and bottom.

  7. Dave McCallum
    Posted June 9, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank You very much, this is exactly the info I was looking for. I was originally thinking just primer over the speckled area of rust and paint over that. I appreciate your efforts.

    Dave McCallum

  8. Scott
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Can the plastic trim around the window in a steel door be painted without ruining it or voiding the warranty?

    • Posted June 27, 2017 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      Unless the door manufacture states this trim isn’t paintable then yes it can and should be painted. Make sure to prime first.

  9. K Rouse
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I used a quality primer, but erroneously bought the wrong kind of paint, enamel rather than acrylic. It is latex and suppose to be highest quality exterior enamel in that brand. Will I get a few years out of it? I don’t suppose I could acrylic over the enamel. It is basic white.

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Latex and acrylic are interchangeable these days, basically the same thing. There’s latex enamel and acrylic enamel, manufactures use these terms interchangeably. You should be fine for a few years and have no problems repainting with another paint in the future.

  10. Mandy
    Posted July 30, 2017 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Any tips on removing extremely difficult paint? I used paint remover and scraped off 98% of the paint. However, there are stubborn spots where no matter how much paint remover I use, or how hard I scrape, it still won’t come off.

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      You might need to try yet another type of paint stripper. Some layers might react differently with different strippers. If you haven’t tried Kleen Strip then give it a try, very strong. One last thing is use lacquer thinner and steel wool, rub same direction of the wood grain.

      Paint strippers react or don’t depending on different types of layers they encounter, kinda hit or miss. You might have to keep trying different paint strippers or solvents until something finally reacts and dissolves the spots.

      Caution: Use all solvents and paint strippers with good ventilation. Lacquer thinner and other solvents are highly flammable.

  11. Isabelle Landry
    Posted August 8, 2017 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    I painted two days ago with a primer/paint and the door is still sticky. Do I have to peel the paint and start with a primer alone than paint?

    • Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:12 am | Permalink

      Wait a bit longer before taking drastic measures. All paints are effected by temperature and humidity. Also typical house paints take a couple weeks to cure, at a minimum.

      The popular paint-n-primer products on the market are not necessarily the best for all situations, at best they are a compromise. If the stickyness continues then you might have to primer over and repaint, this time with a higher quality paint.

  12. elaine iannon
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    We have a 10 yr. old house with a metal door between the house & the garage. The builder never had the door painted on the garage side. We didn’t realize it. We were told that the original primer on it would be fine. It was rusting, so we sanded it down, sprayed on Rust Reformer and painted it with Rustoleum metal enamel paint, sanding between coats. It’s only been a month and I can see signs of circles forming underneath it which probably means it’s rusting again. Plus the paint around the edge of it is peeling off in a sheet where it was slightly hit. I think this has to be totally redone and is going to be a mess. 1st time we ever painted anything metal, although I’ve painted inside & outside of our houses for years with no problems, ever. Help!

  13. Cindy
    Posted October 26, 2017 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Is it too late in the year to paint my door & frame? Temperatures during the day are in the low 60’s and at night getting down to the high 20’s-low 30’s.

    • Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      In order to paint your door you will need to start when warm enough then quit painting early to allow ample time for drying. Not a problem if you have a storm door.

  14. Jo
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    First thanks so much for the information you’ve provided. I just had 4 steel doors installed. I have painted two of the exterior sides with a high quality acrylic paint. I tried several ways to apply the paint (brush and mohair roller) but the paint went on unevenly and was very slippery. Could I have sanded the factory primed door and if so would that lead to rusting in future?

    • Posted November 7, 2017 at 4:15 am | Permalink

      Sanding the factory primer is a good idea. This primer can be quite old and hard, helping to cause the slippery nature you experienced. Repriming after sanding isn’t needed but can help with better or smoother application. Rusting won’t take place once the paint film has dried.

      Smooth even application can be a paint. Generally, using a tight roller and a brush will give a nice finish. Try thinning your paint a little, either with a little water or Flotrol (a paint additive) and apply is thin coats.

  15. Laura
    Posted November 30, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I have a new steel door with blinds between the glass. I used a paint sprayer with outdoor latex to paint steel and plastic edging around the glass. The paint cured for about a week, then I slid the plastic mechanism to lift/lower the blinds, and it peeled the paint right off of the plastic edging. Any suggestions?

    • Posted December 8, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      You could just touch-up the damaged areas by hand or remove all loose paint, prime the plastic then repaint. I would just touch-up the areas for now and see how it goes.

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