It’s important to be sure to use exterior paint on the exterior side and interior paint on the interior side. Exterior paint is more flexible than interior paint and contains exterior pigments and mildewcides suited to exterior exposure. Interior enamels are harder and will wash a little better, but are not suited for exterior exposure. Be sure to paint the top and bottom of the door as well (most manufacturers require this or it will void their warranty).
As a rule, steel entry doors can be painted with either latex or oil (see manufacturer’s painting instruction sheet for their recommendations) and can be painted with any sheen. Moderate sheens look the best, as a rule (satin or semi-gloss). Flat paints will get dirty too easily, and high gloss must be applied with the highest degree of skill.
Latex paints are prone to becoming sticky when they get heated up by the sun. This can cause the door to stick somewhat, on hot days, particularly when the paint is fairly new and fresh. This is called blocking in the world of architectural paints and coatings. Blocking is can be a problem when painting windows or doors. It is worse when two freshly painted surfaces come in contact with each other.
Oil based paints and some of the newer waterborne enamels are not as likely to do this. Lower sheen latex paints are less of a problem in terms of blocking than higher sheen or glossy latex paints.
Painting a New Steel Door
Clean the door with an all purpose de-greaser and cleaner like Krud Kutter or Dirtex. Spray it on and wipe it off.
Tape off or remove the handle and lockset. Tape the hinges if you are not removing the door from the hinges for painting. Blue painter's tape like 3M 2080 or 2090 work well as they will not leave adhesive behind for a number of days. See Painter's Masking Tape
Steel doors sometimes get dented. Don’t use spackle, drywall compound or any other type of wall filler to repair a dent. Auto fillers (like “Bondo”) are made for metal, and work well on steel entry doors as well. Fill dents with this, sand smooth (try not to sand through the door primer when sanding), remove all sanding dust, then spot prime over the repair with an oil-based or latex primer (see below) prior to painting.
All metal doors come pre-primed. However, the primer on some of these doors is so hard and smooth that a latex paint will have a hard time developing adhesion. I always re-prime metal doors—it saves me from a lot of aggravation and problems. Re-priming will help to prevent paint pull-off on the weather striping.
Priming with Oil (Zinsser's Coverstain)
The best primer for pre-primed steed doors is a quick drying, interior/exterior oil primer. Oil primer will stick to the hard factory primer and will create great adhesion right away. Zinsser’s Coverstain is perfect for the task.
Note: Some door manufacturers don’t want you to use an oil based primer on their doors. This is because the door may be galvanized steel and the manufacturer did not bother to use a barrier coat primer when they primed the door. Alkyds (oil based primers and paints) can react with the zinc in galvanized steel which could cause the paint to peel. You will usually find a tag on the new door with painting instructions. If oil / alkyds are not permitted, use the water-based primer below.
For those who must use a latex primer, Xim’s UMA bonding primer is a good choice for steel doors. It will develop adhesion to the hard primers that are sometimes used on steel doors. However this adhesion develops over time - usually about two weeks.
Tinting the Primer
Many entry doors are painted in deep-tone accent colors. Deep tones are mixed from a clear base, which will not hide (un-tinted) white primer well. The best way to get coverage with a deep tone is to use a gray primer. You can usually get by with a coat of gray primer and one or two coats of finish paint. If you don’t prime in gray, it can take four coats (or more) for full coverage. (See Painting with Deep Tones.) You can tint most bonding primers gray by adding a couple ounces of lamp black universal colorant to each gallon of primer. If you will be using a light color, priming with un-tinted white bonding primer will do.
Most doors will look better if you use a short nap roller to apply the paint (apply the primer in the same manner). A short nap roller will apply the paint smoothly and uniformly and will do so quicker than a brush. If you wish to get rid of the light roller stipple, you can do so by softly smoothing the rolled areas with the tips of a brush as you go. You will probably need to use a brush here and there to cut in. However, this shouldn't present a problem since a good paint should level out well enough for the two application methods to blend together.
You may want that factory finish look for your new door. If so, you might want to spray the door. No brush marks, and a beautiful even finish will be the result - if you do it right. The best way to spray a door in horizontally (off the hinges) on two saw horses. You can set this up in the backyard - away from outdoor furniture etc.. that you don't want overspray to drift on to. Spray on a day where there is no wind, and in the morning before the sun gets too hot. The lower to the ground (saw horse height) the better in terms of overspray drift You can do a good job with an HVLP sprayer when using oil paints. Latex paints will probably need an airless for good optimization. The Wagner brand sprayers are adequate if the paint is thinned (according to paint label), but a superior job can be obtained with the newer hand held Graco True Coat series of sprayers, which don't require thinning of the paint.
Repainting a Steel Entry Door
If you are re-painting a door, clean it in the same way you would clean a new door and de-gloss using a de-glosser or sandpaper. Do not disturb old (pre-1978) paint by sanding. (Read lead warning by following the link above.) If the surface is clean, you can use a bonding primer in lieu of de-glossing or sanding for older, pre-1978 substrates.
Follow the instructions for new door painting (above).
Painting a metal door to look like wood
You can make a steel door look like a wood door by the faux painting process known as “wood graining”. Be sure to use exterior products for the exterior side of the door, and interior products for the interior.
How to apply: paint that looks like stain
- Base coat - a neutral color representing the lightest color of the wood
- Graining - using a glaze, wiping stain or gel stain. Wood grain is created using brushes and special wood grain tools
- Over graining - an optional layer to add more detail as needed
- Varnish - be sure to use a spar varnish for the exterior side.
Dark colors and plastic trim
If your door has plastic or vinyl trim around the windows or panels, you need to know that this framing will sometimes warp if painted with dark colors. This is particularly true if the entry door located behind a storm door, which will cause heat retention. It can also happen sometimes if the door is not behind a storm door, depending on the color, exposure and climate. So be careful with dark colors….
If you have plastic / vinyl trim, clean it with Dirtex (or something similar) prior to priming or painting (in a light color) to remove any release agents that might be on the trim from the manufacturing process.
Either Coverstain or UMA will work well on this trim as a primer prior to painting.
When painting a steel entry door, it’s important to divide the door into two parts: the exterior and interior
An entry door consists of one side and one edge that faces the exterior of a building and one side and one edge that faces the interior. The outside face and the edge that faces outside when you open the door should be painted with an exterior paint in whatever color you choose for the exterior of the door. The same is true for the door facing and edge that are facing the interior (except you will use an interior paint for the interior side).
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Priming with Latex (Xim's UMA)
An alternate primer that I have used extensively on new doors is Xim (brand) UMA (urethane modified acrylic primer). The problem with latex primers and paints is that they develop adhesion over time as they cure. This is especially problematic with hard-to-adhere-to surfaces, which can be prone to gouging and scratching off until the paint is sufficiently cured. I know that some people will never use an oil primer, or the manufacturer doesn't recommend it, so this paragraph is for them. However, better results are achieved with an oil primer, when doable.
Painting an Exterior Steel Entry Door
Painting a metal door
Painting and Decorating Concourse