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DIY Door Makeover: How to Stain a Wood Door

The picture depicts the front entryway of a house that is primarily made of glass. The door is cedarwood and there is a stone walkway.

A well-maintained wood door doesn’t just offer aesthetic appeal, it also plays a vital role in preserving the longevity of your entrance. Staining is an efficient method for both preserving and enhancing the beauty of wooden doors. Whether you are a seasoned DIY enthusiast or a beginner eager to improve your home, this easy-to-follow and detailed approach to staining a wood door will deliver impeccable results for your project. 

Understanding Wood Staining

Wood staining is a process that accentuates the natural beauty of your door by enhancing the wood’s unique grains and patterns. There are primarily three types of stains to choose from oil-based, water-based, and gel stains.

  • Oil-based stains penetrate deep into the wood for a rich, durable finish that stands up well to weather and wear.

  • Water-based stains are a more eco-friendly option with easy clean-up and low VOC emissions. They dry quickly and are less likely to fade over time.

  • Gel stains are thicker in consistency and provide a more consistent color. They are excellent for use on vertical surfaces as they don’t drip, making them an ideal choice for staining an exterior wood door.

Choosing to stain instead of paint your wood door has its advantages. Staining brings out the natural textures and grains of the wood to give your door a unique, organic aesthetic. Unlike paint, stains penetrate the wood for a durable, long-lasting color that won’t chip or peel over time. A well-applied stain offers a layer of protection against harmful UV rays and weather damage that can extend the lifespan of your door.

Gathering Your Materials and Tools

To successfully stain a wood door, you’ll need the following materials and tools:

  • Wood Stain: Choose a stain based on your preference and the type of wood your door is made from.

  • Sandpaper: Use coarse grit (80−120) for initial sanding and fine grit (180−220) for smoothing the surface after the first coat of stain.

  • Stain Brushes: These brushes are specially designed to apply the stain evenly and reach into the wood grain.

  • Clean Rags: Clean rags are used for wiping off excess stain.

  • Drop Cloth or Newspaper: Use a drop cloth or newspaper to protect your floors and surroundings from any accidental spills.

  • Paint Stirrer: A stirrer helps to mix the stain properly.

  • Sealant: A polyurethane sealant will provide a protective finish.

  • Painter’s Tape: Painter’s tape will protect areas that you do not wish to stain.

Make sure to always wear safety glasses. If you’re working in a poorly ventilated space, consider wearing a respirator or mask to protect your lungs from fumes.

Preparing the Wood Door

Cleaning the Door’s Surface

Start by thoroughly cleaning the surface of the door to eliminate any dust, dirt, grime or loose paint. Utilize a mild detergent combined with warm water and a soft bristle brush or sponge to gently scrub the surface. Make sure to clean following the wood grain direction to prevent any potential scratches. After cleaning, rinse the door with fresh water and allow it to fully dry.

Sanding and Smoothing the Wood

Once the door is dry, the next step involves sanding. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper (80−120) to remove the old finish and any surface imperfections. Sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid cross-grain scratches. 

After the initial sanding, wipe the door with a damp cloth to remove any dust. Proceed to a finer grit sandpaper (180−220) for the second round of sanding. This will smooth the surface and prepare it for staining. Wipe the door with a damp cloth after sanding to remove any residual dust.

Filling Cracks, Holes or Imperfections

Inspect the door for any cracks, holes or imperfections. Use a high-quality wood filler to fill these areas. Allow the filler to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then sand it smooth with fine-grit sandpaper. Remember to wipe the door clean after this step to ensure a debris-free surface that is ready for staining.

Choosing the Right Stain

The picture depicts the front entryway of a blue house. There are two columns that are set on top stone.


Semi-transparent stains, such as the ZAR® Deck & Siding Semi-Transparent Stain, are a versatile option for your exterior wood door. They offer a subtle color while still showcasing the wood’s natural grain and texture. These stains deeply penetrate the wood to provide excellent protection against rain, sun and extreme temperatures. They are designed to resist peeling and blistering for long-lasting durability.


Solid stains, such as the ZAR Solid Color Deck & Siding Coating, are an excellent option for those seeking a rich, opaque finish for their exterior wood door. Unlike semi-transparent stains, solid stains hide the wood grain, but highlight the texture of the wood. They are more akin to paint than a traditional stain but they offer the same deep penetration for long-term durability against weather and wear.


Clear stains, such as the ZAR Deck & Siding Clear Waterproof Wood Sealer, are ideal if you prefer to showcase the natural beauty of your wood. This clear sealer penetrates the wood surface to provide robust protection from water damage and UV light. It also helps to prevent warping, cracking and splitting caused by the elements. This is an excellent option if you want to preserve the original look of your wood while also helping to ensure its durability and longevity.

If you prefer to use an interior stain, you may want to consider the ZAR Interior Stain range. However, remember that an interior stain must be top-coated with an exterior polyurethane sealer to protect your door from the elements. This allows you to enjoy the rich colors and superior control of ZAR interior stains while still ensuring that your door is adequately protected from exterior weather conditions.

The Stain Application Process

Applying the Stain

Begin by stirring the stain thoroughly to ensure it is well mixed. Using a natural bristle brush, apply a liberal coat of stain in the direction of the wood grain for full absorption into the wood. Avoid letting the stain puddle or pool on the surface, as this can lead to an uneven finish.

  • For semi-transparent and solid stains, apply two coats for optimal durability. Wait for the first coat to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions before applying the second coat.

  • For clear stains, a single coat is often sufficient.

Once you have finished applying the stain, allow the door to dry completely before reattaching any hardware and rehanging the door.

Waiting and Drying

After applying the stain, let the door dry in a well-ventilated area, away from dust and direct sunlight. The drying time depends on the stain type, wood species and weather conditions. Generally, stains take 24 to 48 hours to dry completely.

It is essential not to rush this stage, as premature handling may smudge the stain or imprint unwanted textures onto the door. After the door has thoroughly dried, inspect it for any missed spots or uneven areas. If necessary, lightly sand and apply an additional coat of stain.

Protecting and Sealing the Stained Door

The final step in the process is applying a protective sealant.

  1. Start by choosing a high-quality exterior topcoat or sealer designed for wood. A product with UV inhibitors is particularly beneficial, as it protects the wood from harmful sun rays that can cause fading over time.

  2. Apply the sealer in the direction of the grain with a clean, high-quality brush. Be mindful to avoid drips and puddles for a smooth finish. Depending on your chosen product, you may need to apply multiple coats.

  3. Always refer to the product instructions for specific application details and drying times. Typically, you should leave at least 24 hours between coats and ensure that each is dry before you proceed with the next.

The finished door should not be rehung until the sealer is fully dried and cured, which could take up to 72 hours.

Maintenance and Long-Term Care

The picture depicts a front doorway. The door is dark wood and surrounding the door is stone.

To maintain the look and longevity of your stained wood door, regular upkeep is key. Address any signs of wear promptly. Keep the door clean by wiping it down with a mild detergent and a soft cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals that may damage the stain or wood. Inspect the door every six months for weathering, cracking or peeling.

Apply a sealer or topcoat annually to protect against UV damage, especially if the door gets direct sunlight. Reapplication frequency depends on the stain or sealer used and local weather conditions. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Address any damage or wear immediately to prevent further deterioration. Fix small cracks and chips with light sanding and reapplication of stain and sealer. Larger damages may require a complete restain. Remember, proactive maintenance and timely care are important for a beautiful, long-lasting wood door.

Troubleshooting Common Issues When Applying Stains

Staining an exterior door is a popular method to enhance its aesthetic appeal and protect it from the elements. However, several common problems can occur during this process that can affect the final look and durability of your work. By recognizing these issues early, you can take steps to correct them and ensure a smoother, more professional result.

1. Streaking: Often, when the stain is applied unevenly, it leads to lines or streaks on the door surface, marring the finish.

Correction: To prevent streaking, always apply stain in the direction of the wood grain, using a high-quality brush or a foam applicator. Maintain a wet edge to blend sections seamlessly. If streaks have already formed, lightly sand the area to even out the stain, and reapply with careful, uniform strokes.

2. Blotching: This issue occurs when some areas of the wood absorb more stain than others, which can lead to a blotchy, uneven color. Softwoods like pine, fir and birch are particularly prone to this.

Correction: A pre-stain wood conditioner can help ensure a more uniform stain absorption. Apply the conditioner and allow it to penetrate according to the manufacturer’s instructions, before staining. If blotching has already happened, you may need to remove the stain by sanding or use a chemical stripper and start the process over with a conditioner.

3. Dust or debris in the finish: Sometimes, particles settle on the wet stain, creating a rough texture and unsightly bumps in the finish.

Correction: Before you begin, make sure your workspace is clean and free of dust. After applying the stain, check the surface for any debris and remove it right away before it dries. If the stain has dried, lightly sand to remove imperfections and apply another coat if needed.

4. Insufficient drying time: Impatience can lead to smudges and stickiness, as handling the door before the stain fully cures can disrupt the finish.

Correction: Follow the manufacturer’s recommended drying times carefully, taking into account factors such as humidity and temperature that can impact drying. If the stain is already smudged, you might have to sand the affected area and apply the product again.

5. Color mismatch: Sometimes, the final color of the stain doesn’t match the expected outcome, which can be due to various factors, including the original wood color or incorrect stain application.

Correction: Always test the stain on a scrap piece of wood or an inconspicuous area of the door to ensure color satisfaction. If the color is not what you anticipated, consider using a different shade or mixing stains to achieve the desired color. For an already applied stain, you may need to remove it and start over or apply a tinted topcoat to adjust the color.

By anticipating these common issues when staining an exterior door, you can take proactive measures to avoid them or correct them as they arise.

Create Stunning Doors with Stain Products from ZAR

ZAR exterior stain products offer superior quality and durability, which makes them ideal for exterior wood doors. In addition to enhancing exterior doors, we also offer a high-quality range of interior stain products. Designed to highlight the natural beauty of wood, ZAR stains provide excellent adhesion and protection for longevity in order to preserve the elegance of your interior wood doors.

Contact us today to find a retail store near you!