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Prepping, Priming, and Painting Your Door Frames

In order for the internal doors in your house to look as good as they possibly can, you’ll need to apply the right finish. Fortunately, this is a task that’s been performed regularly for hundreds of years, and so there exists a sizeable body of wisdom to draw upon. If you’re going to paint a door, then you need only follow a tried-and-true procedure in order to achieve pleasing results. Let’s go through the process.

How to Prepare Door Frames for Painting

Before you begin to paint your door frames, you’ll need to prepare it (and indeed, the surrounding area). You’ll want to ensure as even a surface as possible, and, if you’re switching colours, remove any existing paint. This can be achieved by using an electric hot-air gun, by chemical paint-stripping or by sanding. A combination of the latter two methods is usually best when it comes to preparing a door frame, as a hot-air gun might scorch the door and damage the wood.

Before getting started, you’ll want to remove the door itself from the frame – along with the hinges and the strike plate. Lay it down somewhere flat so that it doesn’t bend while you’re dealing with the frame.

With that done, let’s return our attention to the door, looking at stripping and sanding in turn.

How to Strip Door Frames

In order to chemically strip a door frame, you’ll need:

  • A paintbrush
  • Paint stripper
  • A sheet
  • Old toothbrush
  • Old newspaper
  • Rags

Prepare the Area

Before getting started, prepare your work environment. Cover the floor with an old bedsheet or newspaper. This will ensure that you don’t spill paint-stripper (or, for that matter, paint) on your pristine carpet. You’ll also want to protect yourself: cover your skin in overalls, since solvents will cause severe irritation if they come into contact with it. Be sure that your environment is well-ventilated, and that you’re able to take regular breaks from your work. Naturally, you’ll also want to be sure that small children and household pets aren’t able to access the area in which you’ll be working.

Apply Stripper

Using a paintbrush, apply the stripper to the wood. Be sure that you cover every little bit of the surface, with the minimum possible overlap. You’ll want to start from the top and work your way downward, in order to avoid problems with the stripper running. You might encounter areas that are difficult to access, in which case you’ll want to use an old toothbrush (be sure that no-one uses the toothbrush to brush their teeth afterwards, as doing so will assuredly make them very ill indeed).


Once you’re done applying your stripper, you’ll need to wait for it to do its work. Exactly how long this will take will depend on the stripper you’re using. Use the time to get some fresh air. Ideally, you’ll want the paint to have come away from the wood, but not so much so that it’s dried out completely; slightly damp paint will be easier to remove than bone-dry stuff.

Remove the Paint

You’ll now be able to scrape the paint away from the wood.  Use old newspaper to absorb the majority, then use old rags to rub down any excess. If the wood is pitted, you might find that there are more small nooks and crannies that the paint has settled into. If the door is covered in many layers of paint, you might find that removing it requires another application of stripper.

Once you’re done, you should have a plain wooden door – but before you get on with painting it, you’ll need to ensure that it’s properly clean and smooth with a short sanding.

How to Sand Door Frames

If you’re not looking for a perfectly fresh start, because you’re going to be covering the door in another coat of paint anyway, then sanding away the old paint and thereby achieving a smooth finish might be the right approach. If the paint on the door is just one or two coats thick, and those coats are already flaking, then sanding is probably the right solution. For this, you’ll need:

  • A duster
  • A sponge
  • Sugar-soap
  • Fine Sandpaper
  • White spirit
  • Lint-free cloth

Remove Dust

Before you begin, remove any dust from the door frame. Do this with a duster, or, if you don’t have one to hand, with a dry paint brush. Dust is most prone to gathering out of sight right at the top of the door frame, so begin there. If you don’t remove the dust properly, then you’re likely to find little specks of it appearing in your paint job.


The next phase is to wash the frame down, either with sugar-soap or with a mild detergent. Indoor environments, particularly kitchens and bathrooms, are rife with invisible airborne grease which will settle onto any available surface. If you have smokers in the house, you might be stunned by the difference a little water and soap can make.

Once you’ve washed your door, you’ll want it to dry thoroughly – this is especially important later on, when we’re painting, as we don’t want to seal any excess moisture underneath a layer of oil-based paint.


Using fine sandpaper, go over the entire door frame, ensuring that any noticeably rough patches are properly smoothed. Once you’ve achieved a smooth finish, wipe away any excess dust with a lint-free cloth doused in white spirit. Allow this to dry thoroughly. Once you’ve gotten this done, you’ll be able to get on with the business of actually painting your door.

How to Paint Door Frames

Exactly how many layers of paint you require will depend on what you’re starting with: if you’re changing the colour, you’ll probably need a new undercoat. If you’re starting from scratch, you may need a new coat of primer. You should be prepared to wait a long time for the various coats to dry. You can minimise waiting time by following a set pattern; start from the top of the door, and work your way down to the bottom.

Before you get started, you’ll want to assemble the right tools:

  • A small paintbrush
  • A primer
  • An undercoat paint
  • A topcoat paint
  • Fine sandpaper
  • A lint-free cloth
  • Masking tape

Tape the Frame Up

While you’re painting the frame, you’ll want to be sure that the surrounding lines are as sharp and straight as possible. Do this using blue painter’s tape – it’ll stick to the walls and protect them from your paintbrush.

Apply Primer

Once everything is fully dried, you’ll be able to start applying your paint. Commence with a wood primer – brush it well into the wood and allow it to dry, then lightly sand.

Apply Undercoat

The job of the undercoat is to provide a blank slate, so that the top coat is the colour that it’s supposed to be. Apply a single layer and allow it to dry; depending on the results, you might wish to add a second. Again, sand the surface using fine sandpaper to achieve the desired finish. Wipe it clean when you’re done.

Apply Topcoat

Here’s the final layer of paint, and the one that’ll determine exactly what colour the door looks. Brush on the topcoat carefully, in the same way that you applied all the other coats. When you’re done, wait for it to dry. 

Remove Masking Tape

The final stage is to remove the masking tape. You should now be looking at a good-as-new door frame; all that’s left is to reattach the door.

What Paint Should I Use?

Opinion is a little divided over what paint best suits a door frame. Your choice will be informed by the surrounding décor, as well as your personal taste. Most doors and their frames are painted with gloss or semi-gloss paints, as these are much better at repelling dust and grime. Unlike walls, doors tend to accumulate these more easily, and being able to wipe them clean is extremely convenient. If you’re considering a matt paint, then you’ll want to think about how it’ll look once it’s covered with dirty marks and fingerprints.

How to Paint Door Frames Without Brush Marks

Among the biggest problems amateur decorators encounter are brush marks. Aside from multiple coats, repeated sanding and a lot of patience, these can be addressed in several ways.

You might consider adding a conditioner to your paint that aids coverage and smoothness without watering down the paint. Many paints already come with such additives, so be sure to check the results.

Another way of getting rid of brush-marks is by dispensing with the brush entirely, and opting for a miniature roller. These will cover flat surfaces more capably, but you might find that they can’t reach certain nooks and crannies as well as the equivalent paintbrush.

In Conclusion...

Painting a door frame is something that requires a considerable time commitment – particularly if you’re going to properly prepare it before getting started. This commitment almost always proves worthwhile, however – as it’ll result in a door that looks better, and which won’t need to be painted again for years to come!

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