How to Paint French Doors the Easy Way

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Learn how to paint French doors the easy way. No scraping or taping needed, and no more paint on the glass. Saves time and gives a professional finish!

In the summer of 1991, as I counted the days before my sophomore year of college, I took a job with some friends painting houses for one of those companies that seems only to employ college kids.

I remember our second or third house that summer. It was a peeling yellow colonial with black shutters. The Woman of the House wanted it gray.

All of it.

She picked one kind of gray for the house and a darker gray for the shutters and trim.

Since it was a colonial, all the double-hung windows had muntins which divided each window into 12 separate panes of glass.

I and two other equally inept college kids were tasked with painting that massive house and all of its windows.

The owner scheduled that job to take a week.

It ended up taking the entire summer.

At no additional cost to the lady who lived there!

I think she was a lawyer, and boy did she play that painting company like a fiddle.

Her quote was for the house and windows and trim, that’s it.

But a week or two into the job, she called us into her basement and showed us an enormous pile of windows – both glass and screen.

Why? who would have another set of windows in the basement?

She convinced the owner of our company to add them in for free.

All those windows.

All those muntins.

And the best part? (for her)

After we painted the house…

SHE CHANGED HER MIND ABOUT THE COLOR!

To this day, I don’t know how she did it. Really, I think she must have been a ruthless and brilliant trial attorney. She made such a stink – about her own color choice, mind you – that the owner agreed to repaint her house.

FOR FREE!

I only spent about half the summer at that house. After that they brought some more experienced upperclassmen to finish it off.

But man alive! Those muntins!

We had to scrape them and sand them and oh-so-carefully paint each one with a big brush and a steady hand!

Days and days of my precious summer squandered on those damn muntins!

When they finally pulled me from that house and put me on a nice little ranch job, I was twitching and babbling gibberish!

I never forgot those muntins, but I pushed them down.

I pushed them down deep, where the memories could no longer hurt me.

Until we moved into this house.

And I saw the French doors.

It’s okay, I told myself. They’re in good condition. You don’t have to paint them!

But the years have rolled on, and when we embarked upon this craft room makeover, I took a good look at its French door.

Filthy.

Yellowed.

Ugly.

In other words, it needed paint.

All the horrid memories of 1991 flooded back.

My eye twitched.

Drool leaked from the corner of my mouth.

My babes asked me what was wrong, so I told her of my near-death experience at the hands of The Gray-House Lady.

“My babes.” She said. “There’s a thingy now that makes painting French doors really so easy! I’ll order some for you.”

I looked upon this angel who was my wife.

My life was in her hands now.

I prayed this “thingy,” whatever it was, would be as good as she promised.

*****

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How to Paint French Doors the Easy Way!

When it arrived, I understood that this product was meant for contractors – guys who spend a lot of time painting French doors and windows. This wasn’t a brand that threw money away on fancy logos or slick-looking labels.

This stuff was all business.

can of masking liquid H2O

Reading the label confirmed my initial impression. Here’s passage lifted from the “Surface Preparation” section of the label:

“Check glass for scratches or defects. Bring any irregularities to the attention of the owner or general contractor.”

But as I continued to read, I got a little apprehensive.

The can declared that I must apply a layer that, when dry, would be 2-4 mils thick.

How the hell was I supposed to know that?

I started to get all twitchy again.

Maybe this stuff wasn’t such a good idea.

Mils!

Pffft!

I suggested to Handan that perhaps it would be better if we just took the door to the dump. It would probably be more comfortable there, anyway.

I suggested that perhaps we should just get rid of all the doors.

Hey, man, these doors are freakin’ me out! Like, who needs doors, anyway, man? Can you imagine a world without doors? Yeah, man! Groovy!

She sure as hell didn’t buy my hippie routine. Instead she just gave me The Look.

Yeah, you know the one. You probably give it all the time to your husbands and sons and grandsons.

Okay, okay, I’ll use it. FINE!

Jeez.

Applying to Masking Liquid

I grabbed my gloves and a stir stick and stirred it up real good, just like the label insisted. In case you’re wondering, this stuff is basically a thick, water-based polyurethane. I’m sure they did some other stuff to it, but that’s what it is in essence.

stirring a can of making liquid h2o

Since I had no earthly idea what a 2-mil-thick layer would look like (nor a 3-mil, nor a 4-mil), I decided to do it my way: wing it and hope for the best.

I brushed on a real thick coat of the masking liquid, figuring too much was probably better than too little with this stuff.

applying masking liquid to a french door to be painted

The key is to cover the entire window pane. Now, you may be saying to yourself, “I’m a smart, sensible and damn good-looking woman! I’m not going to waste that stuff by covering the whole pane! I’m just going to apply it around the edges of the window! See? Smart, smart, smart!”

To which I’m compelled to reply: “Nope. Dumb, dumb, dumb.”

By covering the whole pane, you will make your job 1000% easier once the painting is done. You’ll see.

Now please clam it so I can carry on.

Anyway, I slapped that goop all over the panes.

applying masking liquid to french doors before painting them
Yes, I’m going blind and now wear glasses (some of the time)

I didn’t worry about keeping the masking liquid only on the panes. You actually want to get it a little bit on the muntins as well, as that will give the most perfect seal. The masking liquid will stick to the muntins, and it is paintable.

prepping to paint french doors by applying masking liquid to the panes

The masking liquid goes on white, but it dries clear.

I know, I know, I missed my calling. I should have been a product model. I’m all grace and beauty and elegance.

beautiful man holding a can of masking liquid next to a french door that will be painted

With one side done, I closed the door and covered the panes on the other side.

prepping a french door for paint

I finished both sides and waited for the masking liquid to turn clear and dry.

french door about to be painted
french door awaiting paint

The can suggests that you can start painting after 3 hours. I gave it a little longer just to be safe.

As promised, the masking liquid dries clear. It also gives a really neat ripply effect!

dried masking liquid on a french door pane

Hmmm…

I spy with my little eye, something that begins with “D”

“Doofus!”

Painting the French Door

The best way to paint French doors, especially if they have old glossy paint on them, is to start with a coat of Zinsser BIN shellac-based primer. It sticks to pretty much everything, and any paint will stick to it. You’ll never go wrong starting with a primer.

That said, I didn’t use primer on this particular door. The old paint was pretty dull, so I took a gamble and went straight to painting.

Look, just do as I say, not as I do and everything will be alright…okay? Good.

painting a french door

Ahhhh, there’s no finer sight than new Ultra Pure White paint on dirty, yellowed old paint!

To paint French doors, windows, trim and cabinets, I always use a foam roller. It gives the smoothest finish and leaves no brush marks (duh).

painting a french door with a foam roller

I gave both sides of the door 3 coats of paint.

Okay, these next two pictures are from the double French doors of our bedroom. I wasn’t going to stop at just one door!

They show the doors fully painted.

freshly painted French doors

Look at all that paint on the protected glass! It’s going to come off so easily – just wait and see!

closeup of a painted french door panel

Once the paint dried, the fun began!

The most satisfying part of painting French doors with masking liquid is The Big Reveal – aka Peeling the Panels!

First I scored around the edges of each pane with a utility knife. The can recommends a dull blade, but let me assure you, a sharp blade works so much better. I used a new blade for each side of the door.

utility knife scoring along a glass pane
utility knife scoring the edge of a glass pane

Then I used the tip of the blade to lift a corner of the mask. Remember when I said to put the masking liquid on the entire panel?

Well this is why.

peeling the mask from a french door pane

I grabbed it with my stubby little fingers and peeled.

And then – the best peel ever! If I hadn’t covered the whole panel, I wouldn’t be able to remove it so easily in one glorious peel.

peeling the mask from a glass door panel

Sooooo satisfying!!

peeling the mask from a glass door panel

I repeated this on each pane. The results were nearly perfect. Here and there, I found a small spot of paint, usually in a corner. Three minutes and a razor blade cleaned the whole door to perfection.

peeling the mask from a french door pane

So there you have it – how to paint French doors the easy way with one simple little trick!

What do you think? Will you try this method of painting French doors?

How to Paint French Doors the Easy Way | TheNavagePatch.com
How to Paint French Doors the Easy Way | TheNavagePatch.com
How to Paint French Doors the Easy Way | TheNavagePatch.com
How to Paint French Doors the Easy Way | TheNavagePatch.com

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89 Comments

  1. Thank you! We have French doors into our master bath that will need to be repainted. Now I’m not scared to to it.

  2. I LOVE your blog; I have tried several of your projects (especially Halloween), but this is the MOST HELPFUL post ever! With 10 French doors in our home, we have been dreading repainting them. This will be a total game-changer! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  3. Dang, I wish I knew about this stuff before I painted our glass mullion door to the home office (we have the same door) AND all the windows when I painted the stained wood trim in our whole house two years ago. I was going nuts with blue tape and it was a pain to not cover wood with the edges of the tape. Will never do that to myself again. EVER!

    I pick up the best tips from your blog! Thanks so much for the info and the fun reads.
    BTW, I had to get my first set of progressive lenses (I am usually near sighted and wear glasses for driving, watching TV) but now I have some trouble with fine print on some stuff. GADS, old age is happening and it ain’t pretty people!

    1. Doh! that must have been a nightmare! Yeah, progressives are weird, huh? I’ve never worn glasses before. Now I feel like a drunkard when trying to navigate around the house. They’re great for driving, TV and smartphone. Not so good for everything in between, lol!

      1. Luckily I don’t have to wear the glasses all the time, but it did take a week to get used to them (look up, look down, don’t get dizzy)

  4. OMG….receiving this in the nick of time. Just bought an old-ish farmhouse that needs tons of work. Painting a set of French doors leading onto the deck are def on my list of “to do’s”. As others have said – I get the best tips / ideas from you! And a good chuckle in between the important stuff! Thanks!

  5. A thousand times, “YESSS!!” I adore mullions…painting them…not so much. I just painted the inside of ours antique gold and the tops ( flat part) satin black…like a photo frame…glutten!! franki

  6. Ohhhh dearest Greg, where were you 3 weeks ago when I spray painted my fireplace doors! It would have been perfect. Ordering a can today, I can see endless possibilities ! thanks x0x0

  7. Holy Cow that stuff is cool! Does it only work on glass or could you use it to mask other things?? Like wood… or no it is too porous? Just wondering LOL Great job, your doors and your photos look amazing!

    1. It won’t work on wood, Susan – only non-porous surfaces. Think of it as polyurethane. It works wonders on those doors, though! 🙂

    1. Me too! I don’t know how long it would last though, since this stuff is basically water-based polyurethane, and it would tend to yellow and crack over time.

  8. This one of your best tips and instructions. The doors looks awesome but I do have to give props to your “babes” and her “thingy” lol.

  9. Wow..I don’t have these but I am assuming just regular old windows ..it should work just as well.
    Is there anything better than freshly painted..anything? Well,yes,donuts and coffee..in your case martinis..my world…cats…but let’s get real, in the world of home improvement…easy fresh painting…makes such a difference! Just makes you feel good!
    Looks great..Handan is a treasure! ????

    1. Yes Bernice, it would work perfectly on windows! Yeah, in a perfect world, I’d eat donuts three times a day. Alas… And yes, Handan is a wonderful treasure! 🙂

  10. I’m going to be painting my house this fall and was dreading doing my metal casement windows but now I’m actually getting excited about how much easier it’s going to be! Thanks for letting us know about this stuff Greg and Handan!

  11. What an awesome thingy! I can now say goodbye to the blue painter’s tape. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Greg,
    Wish i knew this last year!! I have painted four of the five glass doors in my house the HARD way!
    Ugh!! BUT this fifth door will be SOO much easier NOW. Thanks so much! And may i add that
    Your craft room looks like my craft/ library room did at one time. !! I am only one person and I do not understand how it can get so out of control!! (hahaha)
    PS. Have NOT used the cricut yet. (sorry) i am very, very close to having home ALL organized after kitchen remodel last year and i literally JUST cleared a space for the cricut to be stored. But want to thank you so much for hand delivering it to me. (teehee) Thanks again!

    1. You’ll be amazed by how easy it is to paint doors this way, Cathy! I can’t wait for you to get that Cricut set up and running – you’re going to love it!

  13. Now Greg, where were you when I needed you 12 months ago? My husband got so sick of painting our french doors that he handed the job to me! There were a few profanities said under my breath, it’s such a tedious job. This ‘stuff’ would have saved all the drama. Am keeping a note of it for next time. Best wishes, Suzanne (Australia) – just realised, we probably can’t get this ‘stuff over here’.

  14. oh my gosh are you kidding me?! I have French doors with sidelights they have been in need of painting for 15 years since we installed them. They’re still doors and came primed but we never painted the outside and over the years the sun has yellowed the mulliuns. I’ve been avoiding it because I did not want to deal with taping off 60 windows inside and out.

    I know what I’ll be ordering before I tackle that job. Yours look great and your Horror Story from college was incredible, I would have quit I think. It’s a good thing your wife is so smart and saved you from another twitch-filled summer job ? you guys make a good team!

  15. I just love how Handan just…knows about this stuff! Some weird product we’ve never heard of but Handan is there to help us all!

    I wish I had some French doors. They’re truly beautiful. But I will be painting my normal, boring doors soon and there’s lots of tips here for getting a good paint job without streaks. I didn’t even bother looking elsewhere for tutorials! I’ve got everything I need right here.

    You could probably film some of those asmr videos peeling that stuff off glass. It’s so satisfying to watch, like soap cutting and paint pouring. You’d be a hit!

  16. I absolute love all your posts. I learn so much from them even if I don’t try all of them. Thank you for the “thingy” tip it is a game changer and save time and shoulder pain from all the scraping afterwards. Kudos to a job well done…your doors look amazing.

  17. So how does Handon know about all these cool things to make life easier? I know she is an engineer but does she work in construction?
    I love French doors but don’t actually have any. I do plan on painting an old china cabinet with glass doors and this will be very helpful. Can you use it with chalk paint? Thank you Handon for the info and thank you Greg for being such an exceptional product model! ?

    1. Handan found that stuff long long ago on Amazon while searching for something else. She figured it might come in handy one day, so she bookmarked it. She’s good like that! Yes, she is a civil engineer that works in construction project management. Perfect, eh? And yes, the masking liquid would work perfectly with chalk paint! 🙂

  18. I’m getting ready to do 3 sets of French doors, couple of questions, how did you clean your brushes?? Water?? And how many coats did you do? 2 or 3? Thanks in advance.
    Wanda

    1. Hi Wanda, the masking liquid is water-based, so it cleans up easily with water. I found that one thick coat does the trick. Good luck with your doors – you’re going to love how easy it is! 🙂

    1. I wouldn’t recommend it. The glass needs to be smooth and non-porous, so the the dried polyurethane coating can easily peel off. Frosted glass isn’t smooth, so the masking liquid will hold on tight.

  19. Wow, I was given a door exactly like this 2 years ago. It is dark brown on one side and yellow white on the other. I started sanding it and painting, then never finished it. It has been on my porch for several months now.
    Thank you for this, tomorrow I will get the can of “stuff” and start my project, and actually finish it.

  20. So, I just finished painted unfinished pine french doors YESTERDAY! Man, I wish I saw your post earlier. But, I was searching for an answer to my problem which is, after removing the factory installed plastic film from each glass pane, I can still see the unfinished pine wood under the glass coming through. How do I fix this?

  21. This post is coming at the perfect time for me and I so appreciate it! I have an exterior french door that desperately needs attention and I have been successfully and steadfastly ignoring it. Most of the other windows in my 1940’s home also have multiple panes which look beautiful when clean and painted, but are currently looking sad. This actually makes me look forward to this project. Thanks for making this feel doable without the need for followup therapy.

    1. Hi Summer, just as you wouldn’t seal baseboard or other trim (gloss or semi-gloss paint is very durable), there’s no need to seal the doors.

  22. Finally…..I saw this stuff in “This Old House” magazine many months ago. Of course I didn’t write down the name of it and I’m an old woman so couldn’t remember it either! I have tried searching for it but you don’t get many results if you can’t even come up with a key word. So thank you. Thank you.

  23. I’d seen this product on someone else’s blog and always had it in the back of my head.
    I have 32 casement windows, all reclaimed, collected from different places. No mullions, but they all need paint. I’m thinking this might be my saving grace.
    You did a nice job on all those panes. I’ve used your click-through, since I’m nearing the paint stage..
    Thanks!

    1. Oh, Christine, this product is a life-saving game-changer when it comes to painting windows! We’re moving into a house that has a ton of wooden windows with muntins, so I think I’ll be stocking up on it again really soon, lol! Good luck with your windows, and please let me know how they turn out!

  24. I’m so excited about this stuff because I want to paint mirror frames and know it’s a royal pain. I think this stuff will probably work on a mirror. What do you think?

    1. Oh sure, Joy! I think it would work just fine, as a mirror is simply glass with a silvered backing. Good luck with your project – you’ll love this stuff!

  25. Honestly I will be trying this very soon since we are all quarantined anyway. But the best part of this whole thing was your commentary. It made me smile on this boring, rainy day in PA. Thank you for the humor.

  26. Before I run out and buy some masking liquid in the middle of a pandemic: How careful do you have to be with getting the masking liquid on the mullions/frame? I know you score it to get a clean line when you remove it, but surely there is some masking liquid (painted, obviously) that remains. Is it noticeable if you’re not suuuuuper careful in applying the masking liquid? The more care it takes to apply the masking liquid, the less energy is saved, it seems. This seems too good to be true otherwise… 😉

    1. I’m so sorry for this late reply! You don’t need to be very careful at all. Any masking liquid that gets on the muntins will be painted over and it won’t be noticed. 🙂

  27. I loved reading this but I just wanted to interject some info to you and your readers. This is great for interior doors like yours, but please don’t use it on exterior windows or doors. You need the paint to glass contact on the outside to protect the wood on your windows. When you score it with the blade and pull out the masking it removes that protection. Water will be able to seep in and will rot the wood.

  28. Aww man, which I had known about this stuff when I was painting my door! But now that I know, there will be no stopping me! I am woman, see me paint (doors)!

  29. Hilarious story! I have french doors and 8 glass cabinet doors surrounded by wood trim I went outside brush in hand and painters tape in the other, after taping, and retaping one side I went back in. I knew there must be a better way. I prayed. I was right there with ya in the story and I didn’t even paint one yet lol

  30. OH MUH GERD! I love your blog! I came across it while searching for a topcoat that wouldn’t alter the color of a natural wood exterior door. After that first article, I couldn’t stop reading! Thanks for the fun posts and great info.

  31. My goodness. I just discovered your missive on painting French doors. What a hoot ! ?. It took me back to many of my “learning examples” , as well. We have to laugh. Thanks for sharing !

  32. Question: I’m needing to paint my French doors that are currently unprimed, just brown natural unfinished wood. I’m painting them white. If I get some of the masking liquid on the edges of the mulliuns, then won’t it coat them so that the white paint doesn’t adhere to the edges? And when I peel off the masking liquid, wouldn’t it reveal the unpainted wood edges?

    1. Hi Brad, the paint will stick to any overbrushed masking liquid. It won’t come off when you peel, because you first run a razor around the edges of each pane before peeling. It’s a great product, and it makes painting french doors a breeze.

  33. Thank you! I just bought a house with seven sets of double french doors that need to be repainted, and I’ve been expecting it to be about like your summer experience. Now I have hope.
    As you noted, the manufacturer of this product isn’t exactly blowing their budget on labeling and advertising; I’d have never found it without your blog. Even if I’d somehow stumbled across this stuff on Amazon, I wouldn’t have realized what it was – the product description just says “Purpose of use for Painting Supplies, house-paint”. I’ve seen black-ops programs that are better publicized than this stuff.
    Thank you for spreading the joy!

  34. Omg, I laughed so hard reading your post. Not only are you a brilliant handyman but I dare say a comic genius. Keep up the great work.