How to Stain a Door the Easy Way

10 Materials
4 Hours

This is a project I have been wanting to do for months, ever since I read about this wonderful thing called gel stain! I had looked up tons of tutorials and reviews on how easy it was to use and that there was not sanding or stripping involved which really got me interested! So the day the box came in I could hardly wait to get started. As I was preparing for the project I thought, what would be better than sharing a step-by-step tutorial and my experience with gel stain, and how to stain a door the easy way!
how to stain a door the easy way
how to stain a door the easy way
When I first saw this house, I fell madly in love with the front door. At the time, I really didn’t notice how worn and scratched it was. There was also some tape stuck to the front of the door where someone had tried to hang a wreath. I just couldn’t believe someone would do that to this beautiful wood door!

I had been putting this project off for a few months because I had always heard stories of staining going wrong on real-wood doors, and it made me a little nervous. Plus, I wasn’t too happy with the idea of sanding and stripping the door. I was just really scared I was going to mess up the door. As I was doing my research on techniques for staining I came across this thing everyone was talking about and recommending…..(aff link) gel stain .  The no stripping or sanding really made it a win, win!
how to stain a door the easy way
Gel stain was explained to me that it was like painting, but was still as durable as stain.
After research on the brands and colors, I decided to go with (aff link) General Finishes Antique Walnut . It is on the darker side, but not as dark as their Java finish. One thing I also found during my research was that most people would only recommend the General Finishes brand and that the same result wasn’t promised with other brands. For this tutorial I am only testing out the General Finishes brand.

*You will want to make sure you use eyewear and gloves, and open the windows (if you’re not in a well ventilated area).
how to stain a door the easy way
Step 1: Prep
  • Your first step will be to remove the door from the hinges with a screwdriver. (As you can see, I left my door attached to the hinges and took the risk because I couldn’t have my door off for 24 hours at a time since I didn’t have a second door. I had not problems with this and the stain did not mess up from me leaving it on the hinges, but it is up to you if you feel it will be easier to work with).
  • You will then remove the hardware with a screwdriver and put all the pieces together in a ziplock or somewhere you don’t lose them. 
how to stain a door the easy way
  • Clean off the front door very well with a rag and some dish soap to get all the dirt particles off. Try to get it as clean as possible.
how to stain a door the easy way
  • Next, you will want to lightly sand the door with your 3M sanding block. You aren’t trying to remove the old finish, just scruff it up a bit.
  • Clean off any dust particles from the sanding. I got my vacuum out and gave it a good brush over to make sure I got it all. You don’t want any of those little particles getting into your stain.
  • Wipe on the de-glosser and allow it to dry completely before moving on. Mine took 10 min, but make sure to read the directions.

how to stain a door the easy way
  • Last step in your prep is to make sure and cover any areas you don’t want stained with Frogtape. In my case, I taped off my windows.
how to stain a door the easy way
Step 2: Stain
  • Get on your gloves, open up your gel stain, and gently stir it up good.
  • Take your lint free cloth or old sock and start to lightly apply the stain. Don’t over do it on this part. It only takes a light coat.
*While I was applying to stain, I looked over it and it looked really streaky. Thankfully I had read that this is how it will look after the 1st coat and that after the 2nd coat is when it starts to look normal. So don’t worry if you apply your first coat and it looks really streaky.
  • Do not wipe away any excess.
  • Let it dry for 24 hours.
  • After 24 hours – repeat with your second coat.
  • After your second coat is dry (around 24 hours), you will want to wait an additional 48 hours before you apply your top coat.
how to stain a door the easy way
Step 3: Apply Top Coat
  • To apply top coat (48 hours later), stir the top coat and use a clean cloth to lightly but quickly wipe it on the door.
  • I then waited 8 hours and applied my second coat of top coat.
  • After everything is fully dry ( I waited another 8 hours), reassemble the hardware.
how to stain a door the easy way
You’re Done!
I really enjoyed this project and I couldn’t be happier with the results. The hardest part was the drying time. I ended up putting my deadbolt back on every night so I could properly lock up my door. I had no issues with the stain rubbing off where I put the deadbolt back or where I shut the door at night! Hope you enjoyed!
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Holly Conway

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 12 questions
  • Russ
    on Nov 17, 2018

    So you left your front door wide open for 24 hrs? Twice? :)

    • Holly Conway
      on Nov 17, 2018

      I did leave the deadbolt back on the door at night. I left the handle off, but used the deadbolt. It didn't affect the stain, but I left the handle off just in case!

  • Katy
    on Nov 18, 2018

    Your door looks fantastic! I have already bought stain to redo mine but seeing the General Finishes I may rethink it and go that way. One question - it appears to have sort of a satin finish, I was hoping for a little shinier is that possible?

  • Julie
    on Nov 18, 2018

    Windows started to have steam n wet. Is there anyway to fix?

    • Jeanne Martin
      on Nov 19, 2018

      If it's inbetween the panes (on double pane windows/doors) you will have to get it professionally resealed. Fog inbetween panes means the airtight seal is broken. Not sure if this is your problem as you call it steam?

Join the conversation

3 of 48 comments
  • Sharon R
    on Nov 17, 2018

    We had a little flimsy fireplace mantle and decided to have one made and be ready for us to paint. Once it was installed, I just couldn't bring myself to paint it - so, I tried General Finishes gel stain (it was worth a try) and was thrilled with how easy it was to apply and how it turned out!! Wish I had a before pic...but it was just plain, painters grade bare wood!

    • Holly Conway
      on Nov 17, 2018

      Your fireplace looks sooooo beautiful! I am glad you had a great result. I was also amazed at how easy it was to use and everyone recommended it and I am glad I gave it a try too! I am in love with your mantle!!

  • Holly Conway
    on Nov 17, 2018

    Thank you! I was so happy with General Finishes and will for sure be using them again!

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