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Painting your front door can give your home a major curb appeal boost!

Choosing the Best Paint for a Steel Door

paint cans and brush

Painting your front door can give your home a major curb appeal boost, but if it’s steel, you’ll want to go about it a little bit differently than you would if it were wood or laminate. The good news: the best paint for a steel door is similar to what you would use for most any other home painting project, though you’ll want to keep some very specific factors in mind as you look at your options.

Here’s what to know before you get going so that you can pick up the right supplies and ensure your steel door ends up with an attractive and long-lasting finish.

What is the best paint for a steel door?

Most paints work well on metal with the right application process, and you should have good results with most high-quality varieties, including both water-based acrylic paints (also called latex paints) and oil-based paints (also called solvent-based paints). Look for a paint that is rust- and fade-resistant, and that is suitable for use on an exterior door.

Pros often use oil-based paints for metal surfaces, since they’re the most durable for the job. However, these types of paint are more toxic than their water-based counterparts, and require both a longer drying time and a tougher clean-up process.

It’s up to you to decide what you’re up for and what’s in your skill set as a DIYer, but here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of both types to help you choose.

Water-based (aka acrylic or latex) paints for metal


    • Fast drying
    • Easy to work with
    • Less toxic
    • Quick clean-up
    • Not prone to fading


    • Not fully rust resistant
    • Less durable over time

Oil-based paints for metal


    • Highly rust-resistant
    • Very durable


    • Faster to fade
    • Long drying time
    • Higher toxicity

All of these factors are things to keep in mind as you go about your project. If you do opt for oil-based paints, make sure to paint your steel door in a well-ventilated area (outside is best) and to wear protective gear such as a mask and gloves.

Tips for choosing paint for a metal door

    • Stick to door paint. The best paint for a steel door isn’t usually going to be your standard interior or exterior paint, since again, you want a formula that has been optimized to resist rust and fading. Rust-Oleum makes some good options, as do many other popular brands.
    • Don’t skimp on quality. This is your front door, meaning anyone who drives past your home is going to see it. It’s worth splurging a bit on quality since this is such an important part of your home’s wider appeal. Fortunately, it’s a small surface area and a couple coats of paint should be sufficient, so you likely won’t need more than a quart.
    • Consider your climate. The more wear and tear your steel front door is likely to face, the more durability you’ll need in your paint. If your door faces a strong eastern sun, for example, or if you tend to have high levels of humidity, factor those in when choosing the right paint for your project.
    • Don’t forget the finish. Just as essential as your paint type and color is its finish. Satin or semi-gloss are both good choices for a steel front door, since in addition to having a nice sheen they won’t show nicks or scratches as easily as a flat or eggshell finish.

Other supplies you need to paint a steel door

Picking out the best paint for a steel door is one part of the process, but it’s not the only thing you’ll want to be sure to grab at the store. These are the other items you’ll need.

Toolkit – While it’s not required that you remove your door completely from its frame in order to paint it, it is an important step if you want to achieve optimal results. Have a basic toolkit with you so that you can remove the hinges and hardware, and be sure to store all pieces you remove together in a bag or box so you can easily find them later on.

Degreaser – This is used to prep your steel door for painting by first stripping off any grease or oil stains on the surface.

Paint stripper or heat gun – If your metal door is already painted then you’ll want to remove that prior to adding on new layers. Whichever method you choose, work slow and with a delicate hand to ensure that you don’t accidentally scratch or otherwise damage the steel surface underneath.

Sandpaper – Sanding is key, even if you’re painting a steel door that hasn’t previously had a coat of paint on it. Go with a fine sandpaper at or around 400 grit, and use a light touch to gently buff the outer surface.

Multi-surface primer – Even the best paint for a metal door can only go so far if you don’t take the time to prime first. A multi-surface primer will work with both water- and oil-based paints, and will give you a good surface to start from—just be sure to check the directions on the can and apply enough coats (and to let your primer fully dry in between).

Other general painting supplies you’ll need for painting a steel door:

    • Painter’s tape
    • Paint roller (no bigger than 3/8” nap)
    • Angled paintbrush
    • Roller tray

Don’t forget protective painting gear too. You’ll want goggles and a mask for sanding, as well as the same items plus gloves if you’re planning to use oil-based paints.

For cleaning your paintbrushes and rollers, soap and water will work just fine for water-based paints but you’ll need to use special chemical solvents for removing oil-based paint.

FAQS about painting steel doors

If you’ve never painted metal before then you may be wary about tackling this project on your own. To help you out, we’ve got some quick answers to common questions about painting steel front doors, including some reasons you might want to call in a pro instead.

Can I use interior paint on a steel door?

Technically yes in that it will adhere, but it’s not going to offer you the best long-term results. Go with an exterior paint, or better yet, a paint that is specially formulated for painting metal surfaces, including doors.

How do you paint a steel door without removing it?

If you’d rather have your front door in place while you paint it that’s fine, but you’ll need to be extra careful—especially when it comes to ventilation. Use painter’s tape to carefully section off any hardware and keep windows open in addition to using a box fan or two to allow the air to circulate. Also make sure to keep children or pets away both while you’re painting and while each coat is drying.

How long should I wait in between coats of paint?

Applying another coat of paint before the previous one is fully dry will likely leave you with streaks or other unwanted texture. Read the directions carefully on both the paint and primer that you choose to see what the drying times are, and allow for plenty of air circulation to ensure that each coat dries efficiently.

When is it better to have a professional do the job?

This is ultimately up to you and depends on your skill level and confidence. Painting a steel front door isn’t necessarily a hard project, but it is time-consuming and—depending on the type of paint you’ve chosen—exposes you to toxins. If you’re at all concerned, call a service provider for a quote and find out if it would be worth handing off the task.


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