How to Paint a Panel Door

A white paneled door with a yellow wall around it

Doors are one of the most difficult painted surfaces in your home to keep clean. Dirty handprints from the kids and scuffs at the bottom of the door from shoes are just a few of the things that you will battle in an effort to keep it clean. If the door is paneled, you have the additional challenge of trying to keep dust and grime from settling into the grooves on the door. Occasionally, you may find that cleaning just isn’t enough and that you need to paint the door in order to keep it looking fresh.

Painting a paneled door can be a bit tricky. It’s not like a flat door where you can just get a roller and paint the entire surface of the door in a few minutes. It is impossible to get the roller into all of the panel corners and angled surfaces. With a few simple steps and a little bit of patience, you can have your paneled door looking like new with a fresh coat of paint.

Step 1 - Clean the Door

The first step in any painting project is to prepare the surface to accept the paint. If you don’t do this, then you may end up with peeling or flaking paint in the near future. Use a standard household cleaner to make sure that all of the surface dirt and grease is removed from every surface that you are going to paint. Once you are confident that the door is clean, use a piece of 150 grit sandpaper to lightly scuff all of the flat surfaces. This will help the new paint to stick better.

Step 2 - Scrape Away Peeling Paint

If you have any paint that is peeling, then you need to use a putty knife to scrape it away before you sand. You can use the sandpaper to smooth any rough edges that may be left after scraping. Although this step generally isn’t needed on interior doors, you may find that some scraping is necessary on paneled doors that have a surface exposed to the weather. Use a tack cloth after sanding to brush away small particles of dust and debris.

Step 3 - Paint

a paintbrush on a paintcan

When painting a paneled door, you will definitely need a high-quality brush. Some folks also like to use a small roller for the flat surfaces, but you can do the entire door with a brush and still get a quality finish. When selecting the paint, make sure that you get a semi-gloss sheen. Not only is this paint much easier to keep clean than an eggshell or a flat, but it is also quite a bit more durable.

Begin with the panels. Using your brush, paint the corners and the grooves of the panels in much the same way that you would if you were cutting in the corners of a wall that you were about to paint. Make sure that you don’t get too much paint, as it will gather in the milled grooves and distort the appearance of the door. It is much better to use a light coat and then apply a second if necessary than it is to put on too much paint on at the beginning.

After you have cut in the corners of all the panels you can brush over the flat surface of the panels. This is an area where some people like to use their small roller. Just use the roller to apply the paint, and then use the brush to make sure that it is spread evenly. This is the best way to avoid the stippled roller texture that will be left on the smooth surface of the door.

The last portion of the door that you should paint is the stiles and rails. These are the flat surfaces that actually hold the panels into place. With these, as with the flat face of the panels, you can use a roller to apply the paint and then finish the texture with your brush, or you can paint them entirely by hand with the brush. Work slowly around the corners and edges of the panels to make sure that you don’t cause any drips that will flow down into the panels and cause runs.

Make sure to allow your door to dry completely in between coats. Leave the door for 12-24 hours before attempting to flip it over to paint the other side. Also allow your door to sit for at least a day before rehanging it. Handling your door before the paint is completely dry can easily result in scuffs, fingerprints, or paint that peels off. Use caution when hanging the door so that you don't scrape or scab up the surface of your freshly-painted door.

Painting a paneled door does not require a lot of skill, it just takes a little bit of patience and proper preparation.