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How to Stain and Refinish your Entry Way Door Like a Pro | A List of How To's

Have you ever wanted to refresh a weather worn or old door? Exterior doors often require re-staining or refinishing due to weather exposure and daily entry traffic. When the varnish is cracking, blistering or the finish is peeling, it may be that time to consider a door refresh. Refinishing your wood door with quality stain or paint every two to three years can not only prevent damage, but also keep your door looking brand new.

If you're looking for tips on what you should be looking for in a successful door stain, you've come to the right place. At MW Custom Painters, staining and refinishing are our specialties so let me walk you through a couple of before and after photos, along with steps on how to achieve quality results. Let's start with a recent door that I stained and re-finished in Vienna, Virginia. Here's what I did to revive this beautiful wooden door for the customer.

How much does it cost to Stain a Wood Door

Before Photo of Front Door (Vienna, VA)

1. Remove all of the door hardware to get started.

First, it's important to remove all of the door hardware, including the hinges and peep hole. If this is too difficult, tape masking also works to protect the hardware. I always like to plug the peep hole with a wooden dowel to prevent paint or stain from seeping in. Removing the door from the hinges also makes it easier to manage when preparing for a refinishing job.

2. Sand and strip the existing color from the door.

When the door is completely removed, you are now ready to start the re-staining process. Make sure that you have a pair of heavy-duty, latex gloves available to protect your hands. I'd also recommend that you have drop cloths or tarps nearby to protect the area where you are working. You'll thank me later for these tips. And remember, safety is always key in any DIY project.

Now, you're ready to strip the existing color from the door. If there are years of buildup, you may have to strip in layers. There are many strippers on the market to choose from. On my projects, I prefer to use Citristrip Gel, which is biodegradable and has a pleasant smell. This product is also safe to use both indoors and out, though you may want to do this type of project outside. Apply the chemical with a painting brush and carefully work stripper into wood grain. Using a plastic scraper will also help to remove paint or varnish. Some homeowners make the mistake of using a metal scraper which will damage the door by causing divots in the wood. Try to be patient when stripping and let the chemicals do most of the work. Once door is completely stripped, remove remaining residue with a tsp solution, using a cotton cloth.

After door is stripped and clean, sand it using 120 grit sandpaper (3M Pro Grade is my favorite). You don't want to use coarse (40, 60 grit) sandpaper because it will cause surface scratches that will appear once topcoat is applied. Again, patience is key. You can also start with 120 grit and work your way to 220 fine sandpaper for a smoother finish.

This project is all about surface preparation and that's with any painting or staining task.

3. Once sanded, clean the door with odorless mineral spirits using a cotton cloth.

I never skip this part of the process. This will remove all dust from door. Afterwards, follow with cheesecloth or tack cloth to remove any dust not visible to your eye.

We're almost there! But of course, I know that you want a sneak peek into that refreshed door in Vienna (see below).

After Photo of Front Door (Stained with General Finishes New Pine Gel Stain), Vienna, VA

To achieve this beauty, I have just a couple more steps to share.

4. Wood Conditioner works best to prime the door for topcoat.

When staining, I always lean on the side of wood conditioner (General Finishes Pre-stain Wood Conditioner is my preferred product). Why? It prevents blotching and helps distribute the stain evenly over the surface area. I normally let it stand at least an hour before applying the stain. If you decide to paint the door, you will need to prime using oil or latex-based primer. I actually prefer Zinsser Cover Stain Oil-based Primer because its more durable and seals better than latex on these types of projects. But, oil primer can be a little messy to work with, which is why I use odorless mineral spirits to ease the cleanup process.

5. Now, you're ready for the topcoat.

After these steps are completed, now you are ready for the topcoat. I use all-in-one gel stain, which includes polyurethane for an even distribution of sheen if staining. For painting, I use a high quality premium exterior paint. I'll discuss tips for picking paint colors in a future blog post. Apply two coats of paint or stain to achieve desired look. It's also okay if you want to add additional coats, depending on type of wood or color desired.

After painting or staining door, allow the surface area to cure before handling and always follow the product recommendations on dry times. Keep in mind that outside conditions, such as sunlight and humidity, affect how long the topcoat will dry.

Ready to rehang the door? I tell my customers and those DIYers, always use your due diligence in determining whether your door is ready to be reinstalled. Only after the wood is completely dry should you reinstall the door. Yes, even more patience is needed here to make sure everything turns out well on your refreshed door.

Re-staining and refinishing doors are my favorite custom painting projects. Below is another before and after project for a customer that wanted to go darker with their entry way.

Front Door Painting Estimate or Quote

Before Photo of Front Door (Severna Park, MD)

How to paint a wooden door.

After Photo of Front Door | (Painted with Sherwin William Exterior Duration Satin Finish) Color Tricorn Black| Trim paint color White Dove (Severna Park, MD)

At MW Custom Painters, we do our best so that you can! I hope that this blog post helps you with your painting or staining project. Of course, we are here to help!

If you have questions or comments refer to our website at or email us at For more DIY ideas, follow us on Facebook and Instagram - @passionpainters.

Good luck with your door project!

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