Best Paint for Interior Doors and Trim

Best Paint for Interior Doors and Trim

Painting paneled doors are the ultimate painter’s challenge. To make it easier, we tried different tools and paints and watched the pros work. Here’s what we found.


The actual work involved in painting a door typically amounts to three to five hours, depending on the condition of the door and how fussy you are. But add in the drying time and it’s a full-day project. So if you’re painting a door you can’t live without—like a bathroom or exterior door—get started first thing in the morning so it can be back in service by day’s end.

Best Paint for Interior Doors and Trim

While you’re picking a paint color, also think about sheen: With a flat finish, scuff marks and handprints are hard to wipe away. High gloss is easy to clean but accentuates every little flaw, so your prep and paint job has to be perfect. Satin and semigloss are good compromise choices. Also, check the operation of the door. If it rubs against the jamb or drags on the carpet, now’s the time to sand or plane the edges. If you have several doors that need painting, start with the least prominent one. It’s better to make learning mistakes on the inside of a closet door than on your entry door. Keep reading for more tips on how to paint a door.

1: Remove all the hardware

Slice through paint buildup around hinges and latches. Otherwise, you might splinter surrounding wood as you remove hardware. Pros often paint doors in place. But from prep to painting, you’ll get better results if you remove the door. Working in your garage, shop or basement, you can control lighting and drying conditions better. And laying the door flat minimizes runs in the paint job. Here’s what to do after you remove the door:

Clean the door with a household cleaner. Almost any cleaner will do, as long as it cuts grease. Areas around doorknobs are especially prone to greasy buildup.

Remove all the door hardware to get a neater paint job and save time. If you’re dealing with more than one door, avoid hardware mix-ups by labeling plastic bags that will hold the hardware for each door.
Fill dents and holes with a sandable filler such as MH Ready Patch. You’ll probably have to fill deep dents twice to compensate for shrinkage.

Remove old paint from the hardware. Start with a product intended to remove paint splatter such as Goof Off Pro Strength Remover or Goo Gone Painter’s Pal, both available through our affiliation with You can use paint strippers, but they may also remove clear coatings from the hardware or damage some types of finishes.

2: Sand it smooth

On flat areas, level out old runs and brush marks with a hard sanding block. For the shaped profiles, you’ll need a combination of sanding pads, sponges and scraps of sandpaper. If your door is in good shape, all it needs is a light sanding with sandpaper or a sanding sponge (180 or 220 grit). That will roughen the surface a little and allow the primer to adhere better. But most likely, you’ll also need to smooth out chipped paint and imperfections from previous paint jobs. This is usually the most time-consuming, tedious part of the project. Here are some tips for faster, better results:

Paint often sticks to sandpaper, clogging the grit and making it useless. So be sure to check the label and buy sandpaper intended for paint. You may still get some clogging, but you’ll get less. This goes for sponges and other abrasives too.
Start with 120 or 150 grit. You can switch to coarser paper (such as 80 grit) on problem areas, but be sure to follow up with finer grit to smooth out the sanding scratches.

On flat areas, a hard sanding block will smooth the surface much better than sponges or other soft-backed abrasives (Photo 2).
Try a finishing or random-orbit sander on flat areas. It might save you tons of time. Then again, the sandpaper may clog immediately from heat buildup. It depends on the type and age of the paint. Buy a collection of sanding sponges and pads for the shaped areas. Through trial and error, you’ll find that some work better than others on your profiles.


Some paints show brush marks, ridges and roller stipple no matter how skillful or careful you are. Others go on smoothly and then level out beautifully, even if you’re not a master painter.

If you want a smooth finish, choose a paint designed for that. Some paints, even good-quality paints, just aren’t formulated for smoothness. Smooth paints are usually labeled “enamel” or “door and trim.” But the label alone doesn’t tell you enough; some brands of “enamel” are much better than others. Advice from the store staff, and the price, are the best indicators. Super-smooth paints often cost $25 to $30 per quart! But it’s worth an extra 10 bucks per door to get first-class results.

Among the paints we’ve used, one category stands out for smoothness: water-based alkyds. These paints dry slowly for extra working time and level out almost as well as traditional oil-based alkyds. After applying them with a high-quality roller, you can usually skip the brush-out step shown in Photos 7 and 9 and still get perfect results. Cleanup is as easy as with any other water-based paint. The disadvantages of water-based alkyds are a very long wait before recoating (16 to 24 hours) and a high price tag. Here are two we’ve used: Benjamin Moore Advance Waterborne Interior Alkyd and Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel. To find a dealer in your area, go to or


Brush or roll paint onto all four edges. Immediately wipe any paint that slops onto the face of the door with a rag or foam brush. You don’t have to completely remove the paint, but you do have to flatten it to prevent ridges.

6: Brush around the panels

Work the paint into the corners and grooves, then drag the brush over the paint to smooth it. Wipe away any slop around the panel as shown in
Photo 5.

7: Roll, then brush the panels

Coat the panels quickly with a roller. Then smooth the paint with a brush. Be careful not to touch the profiles surrounding the panel.

8: Roll the rails and stiles

Roll the door in sections, coating no more than one-quarter of the door at a time. Then brush out the paint. Be careful not to slop paint over the edges around the panels.

9: Brush with the grain

Brush across the joints where door parts meet. Then drag your brush in a straight line along the intersection. That way, any visible brush marks will look more like a wood grain pattern and less like sloppy brushwork.