How to paint stained wood white {before & after}

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Lets take a look at refreshing a dated interior door and how to paint stained wood white giving you a beautiful new looking door.

Stained interior doors were very popular back in the 70s featuring pine or oak doors usually in a flat stain color. Painting over stained wood requires some prep work but in the end, the results are worth it.

Can You Paint Over Stained Wood?

Yes, you can absolutely paint over stained wood. The key to success is patience and prep work.

how to paint dark stained doors

If you have been following us for a while, you know that we worked for years updating our previous home and literally once it was updated, we sold it!

One of my biggest pet peeves in our previous home was the stained doors and trim throughout the house.

Update: Don’t laugh, but our new (current) house had stained trim and doors. Yes, we updated our previous house and then sold it AND bought another one with even more stained trim (ugh!) Check out this post where we share how to update a house with paint, to see all of our doors and trim painted white. What a huge difference!

Ok, back to our previous home. The door below leading to the bathroom was one of the last doors to be painted white and you can see how the stain was almost two toned with black and light brown.

How to Paint Over Stained Wood

Follow these key steps below when painting wood doors white.

Painting Tip: Prepare!

Use a good quality brush and foam roller. This will help prevent brush and roller marks on the doors.

Supplies Needed

Step 1: Lightly Sand

Prepare the wood for paint by lightly sanding the surface of the wood door with a fine grit sanding block to remove any gloss or sheen. Be careful to not make scratches on the wood door by using too coarse of a sandpaper.

Do you need to sand when painting a stained door?

You have 3 options when it comes to painting over stain wood.

  • Completely sand off 100% of existing stain (very time consuming)
  • Lightly sand with fine sandpaper and use a primer (like we did)
  • No sanding method by using a deglosser and then primer

Painting over wood stain can be a daunting and very time consuming task especially if you do not prep the door properly before painting.

Step 2: Tape Hinges and Knobs

If you are able to remove the door from the hinges and remove the door knobs, then you will not need painters tape. Painting the door on a saw horse in the garage or outside works the best but I didn’t have that option so I taped around the hinges and knob to protect from paint.

green Frogtape and 4 inch smooth roller brush

Step 3: Apply two coats of primer (priming over stained wood)

Apply two coats of Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 latex primer. Zinsser Bulls Eye or BIN are stain blocking primers and it’s very important to use a quality brand. The goal of the primer is to block the stain from bleeding through the white paint. Be sure to let each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next coat of primer.

Updated 2023: We used Zinsser Cover Stain (oil based) at our new house which is also an amazing product and I personally think the oil based primer covered the stain better. See that post, how to paint wood trim with oil based primer. We also used the oil based primer at our lake house when we painted the stained walls.

how to paint dark stained doors

Be sure to check out this post, painting stained bedroom door white tutorial here at my new house as well for additional inspiration.  

Step 3: Apply Paint To Door

Once the two coats of Zinsser primer were dry, we applied two coats paint in Extra White Semi Gloss Emerald Interior paint by Sherwin-Williams. Be sure to allow sufficient drying time in between coats. I will many times paint the second coat the next day to ensure the initial coat is not tacky.

What Type Of Paint To Use Over Stained Wood?

A high quality primer and paint like Zinsser primer and Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore will apply easily and typically prevent the stain from bleeding through the white paint.

Update: We have a brand new “how to paint wood trim” guide showing exactly how we painted all our stained trim white (3000 square feet to be exact) using the oil-based version called Cover-Stain by Zinsser.

A few years ago we decided that painted trim would look cleaner and more modern so I slowly worked my way around the house, painting the stained trim. What a long process! The white trim and stained wood door stuck out like a sore thumb which prompted this door painting project. I don’t mind a white trim wood door look providing the door is a “newer style” and is stained a modern light color.

To finish up the project, I added two fresh coats of Extra White Emerald Interior (semi gloss) by Sherwin-Williams to each door as well as the surrounding trim.

How to Paint Over Stained Wood

Refresh dark, dated wood with a fresh coat of paint! You don't need to strip the wood or sand it down. With the proper technique, your paint will cover the dark stain and withstand everyday wear and tear!
Print Instructions
how to paint dark stained doors

Instructions : Step by Step

Prepare the wood surface

  • Sand your stained wood surface lightly to allow the primer to bond well.
    Fine grit sanding paper or block

Cover hardware

  • To prevent the primer and paint from getting on your hinges and knobs, either remove them or cover them with painter's tape.
    Painters Tape

Apply primer

  • Use a high quality blocking primer (ideally oil-based) to cover the dark stain completely. Apply two coats for full coverage.
    Good quality paint brush, Good quality foam roller, Primer (Zinsser 123 or BIN)

Begin painting

  • Once the primer is fully dried, add the first coat of paint. You will usually need two coats of paint and it's best to let the first coat dry overnight before adding the second one.

Remove tape & clean up any edges

  • Once the second coat of paint is completely dry, your project is done. Carefully remove the tape from any hardware and touch up any edges as needed.


Tips for Painting Stained Wood:
  • Use a high-quality brush and dense foam roller meant for cabinets to minimize streaks or brush marks.
  • We found oil based primer covered dark wood stain better than regular primer.
  • I recommend using a semi-gloss interior paint for the right amount of sheen and durability.
  • Not all painter’s tape is equal! I prefer Frog Tape as it really prevents paint from spreading and the larger side is perfect for covering hinges, trim, etc.
Author: Jessica Bruno
how to paint over dark stained wood with white latex paint
Before and After – How to paint a stained door white

Looking for a paint color? Don’t miss these paint reviews:

Photographing a hallway with no natural light is difficult but as you can see, the white paint on the wood door looks so much fresher and cleaner than the stained door. I know there are so many people out there with stained wood trim and doors that would love to update their home and this option is definitely less expensive than replacing doors and trim.

If you are considering painting over stain, Zinsser products are great and I love how they have different versions for specific projects. The Cover-Stain (oil based) will be smelly but it’s not that bad. If you are sensitive to odor and need to live in your house during the painting process, you may want to consider the alternative version that has less odor (the latex product).

Meet Jessica

What started as a hobby, Jessica’s blog now has millions of people visit yearly and while many of the projects and posts look and sound perfect, life hasn’t always been easy. Read Jessica’s story and how overcoming death, divorce and dementia was one of her biggest life lessons to date.

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  1. I have these in my kitchen (pantry has folding doors) and want to paint them now. I would love to see some more examples of what others have done. Thanks for the step by step!

  2. Looks so good. Thank you for posting. Your doors are just like ours and so are the plugs. I am in the process of sanding my trim in our house. I did our garage first just in case it didn’t turn out the way we wanted and then I thought it was so much work I wouldn’t do it. However, ever time I looked at my garage I loved it. So a year or two later I am undertaking the inside of our house.
    Thanks for your post.

  3. I don’t know, I think the wood looked better. You are lucky to have solid wood raised panel doors. Most houses in the 70s had crappy hollow core flat doors.

  4. Looks great! I have been contemplating doing this. Did you also paint your windows and window trim white? Tje windows are the one thing that’s holding me back. I just feel it’s such a huge undertaking.

      1. I’m going to be painting my stained doors and trim as well. I was wondering if you had any problems with the stain bleeding through paint over time?

  5. Hi! I ‘ve been wanting to do this to our doors but I’ve been hesitant. They look amazing so I am starting mine now. I’m just confused about how many coats you put on. You said you gave them two coats of the Extra white then added to fresh coats. So does each door have four coats or was two sufficient?


  6. My painter told me to use oil based primer on stained doors or they will chip. Did you have this issue? He said it takes a few years but will happen.

  7. Did you spray paint the doors or hand brush them? I am planning to take on a similar project soon. Thank you.

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