Best Exterior Paint for Doors and Trim

Here's why semigloss is your best bet—plus, the top four exterior paints from CR's tests

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Painting your exterior front door can be a big decision, with several color and finish options to choose from. The aesthetics of the main entryway are so important, in fact, that studies have found when painted the right hue, homes can fetch upward of $6,000 more in resale value. But despite the shade you ultimately select to heighten your home's curb appeal, there's only one real option for the finish.

It has to be semigloss.

The same goes for exterior trim. Semigloss paint gives you a smoother surface than lower-sheen finishes and has a degree of shine, providing a visual contrast.

“Semigloss finishes are usually easy to clean, so they'll continue to look good for years,” says test engineer Rico de Paz, Consumer Reports’ resident paint pro. He also recommends a semigloss finish for porch railings, adding that you should use a porch-and-patio paint for the porch floor and stairs.

Before you tackle this project, check the paint can for information on the ideal conditions for application. Daytime temperatures between 50° F and 90° F with little or no wind are generally best for exterior paint jobs.

Once you have the right conditions, you can take on repainting your front door. It’s a very doable job if you follow the right approach. Here are de Paz’s three key tips:

1. Protect the area. Open the door, then seal the doorway with plastic to keep dust and bugs out of your house. Cover the floor with newspaper or a drop cloth.

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2. Prep the surface. Wash the door with a sponge and a mixture of water and a low-suds detergent, such as Spic and Span. (Sudsy detergents will leave the surface too slippery.) Rinse the surface, then dry thoroughly. Gently scrape away peeling paint with a putty knife. Sand with 200-grit sandpaper and wipe clean with a tack cloth designed to remove dust, then tape around the hardware.

3. Paint a section at a time. If your door is paneled, start with the panels. Using semigloss exterior paint and a 2-inch angled sash brush with synthetic bristles, paint around the edges of the panels. Switch to a mini-roller for flat areas. Finish with the outer sections, following the grain of the wood. Allow the door to dry for an hour or two (check the instructions on the paint can), then apply a second coat. The door will take several hours to dry completely, so leave it open to prevent it from sticking to the door frame.

If you’re debating which color to paint your door, gather a little inspiration from Pinterest.

How CR Tests Exterior Paints

In our tough exterior paint tests, we evaluate how the paint will look after three, six, and nine years. Our tests have found that a brand's flat, eggshell, and semigloss paints perform similarly overall, so we combine the scores to make it easier for you to compare brands.

You'll find 16 paints in our exterior paint ratings with Overall Scores ranging from 29 to 76, as well as several paints we're still in the process of testing. Another resource: our paint buying guide.

Top Exterior Paints from CR's Tests

The best paint in our exterior paint ratings? Behr Marquee Exterior; it's $51 per gallon at Home Depot and is a new front-runner for the category.

For around $10 less and almost as good, there's Behr Ultra Exterior, also sold at Home Depot. Clark+Kensington from Ace Hardware is another solid choice with a comparable rating at just $35 per gallon. Sherwin-Williams Emerald is impressive, too, but it has a harder time resisting dirt than the other two, and it's $72 per gallon.

CR members can see more detailed ratings here:

How to Paint

Do you have some painting projects planned for your home? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports' expert Rico De Paz shows host Jack Rico how to give walls the perfect coat.


Headshot of CRO Home Editor Tanya Christian

Tanya A. Christian

I've spent more than a decade covering lifestyle, news, and policy. At Consumer Reports, I'm happy to sit at the intersection of these specialties, writing about appliances, product safety and advocacy, consumer fairness, and the best tools and products to help you spruce up your home. When I'm not putting pen to paper, I'm exploring new cultures through travel and taking on home makeover projects, one room at a time.