Can You Stain One Side of the Door and Paint the Other?

There are situations where you’d want your door to match the trim of the front room and have a different look from the rear room.

A good example is when the trim inside your bathroom (cabinet, baseboard, door,) is all stained wood and the bedroom is painted white – the door between them probably needs to accommodate both tones.

But, Can You Stain One Side of the Door and Paint the Other?

It’s going to depend on the material. Furthermore, you will need to look at a bigger picture: what do you do to the jambs? What should be stained, what should be painted? Where do you start and stop?

All-Wood Doors

If the door is made of wood, then you should probably stain one side.

However, the wood needs to be stain-grade, or else you won’t be impressed with the final product.

But, what the heck is ‘stainable wood?’

See, wood is milled differently.

Stain grade wood – whether hardwood or soft – is normally planed and sanded to accommodate a stain finish when put to actual use.

During the usual milling process, where you stop determines the purpose of that wood (rough, paint grade, stain grade, and so on).

If you mill your wood to the last stage, you end up with a stain-grade product perfect for all sorts of ‘woodwares’ that need to be stained, including doors.

Another thing: not just any type of natural wood can be stained and end up well.

Pine, walnut, mahogany, oak, and cherry are all stainable woods – the more porous the wood the better.

So, if your door is made of any of the above woods or was milled for staining (rated as “stain-grade”), you are free to stain one side.

But that’s the staining part, what about painting the other side of the stainable door?

Good news: it’s perfectly OK to paint stainable wood.

You just need to sand it with no less than 150 grit sandpaper before anything.

Once it’s thoroughly sanded, you can apply a neat layer of acrylic paint and everything will look great afterward.

If you don’t like some of the attributes of acrylic paint (it’s slightly water-resistant but doesn’t create a truly waterproof coat), you can opt for oil-based paints especially for doors leading into the bathroom, pantry, kitchen, and similar places.

So here is the verdict: if your door is good for staining, you can paint the other side without worry.

You can actually stain almost any kind of wood but the results you get with stain-grade wood are noticeably different.

Check where your door falls between those two groups.

What About MDF Doors?

If you have ever been to a furniture store, you may have noticed that MDF (Medium-density fiberboard) almost rivals wood as the most preferred ‘woodware’ material.

It is a unique kind of wood – and engineered wood, to be specific – produced by mashing softwood or hardwood fibers and combining them with a resin binder and wax under pressure.

The end product is a plywood-like building material that’s denser and stronger than particle board.

Chances are high your home’s doors are made from MDF. Of course, there are different types of MDF but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

The question here is, can you paint your MDF door on one side and stain the other?

Yes – you can stain MDF, but the result will be nowhere near what you’d get with natural wood, more so a stainable or stain-grade wood. There’s an explanation behind it – MDF does not come with a rich grain like wood.

Furthermore, MDF sucks at absorbing even the best stains out there while natural wood is super good at it.

If you must stain the side of an MDF door, start by sanding the surface with 120 grit sandpaper while wearing a mask.

Go slow when staining your MDF door – let one coat dry fully before adding the next, each should be as thin as possible.

And since MDF comes with zero grain, staining will only add the specific color you want but won’t enhance the surface features.

As such, you should focus on ensuring uniformity.

Thereafter, add an equally thin layer of polyurethane not just to protect your stain but make it look neat as well.

When it comes to painting, MDF is among the most qualified materials for it.

In fact, MDF is more preferable to wood because it doesn’t warp but is more expensive. Oil-based paints are the best for the job.

If you loathe the complexities that come with oil-based paint, you can opt for latex and non-water-based acrylic paint.

So here’s the verdict: unless you want to stain one side of the door just for the sake of it (adding color, not the texture that comes with staining), don’t do it as it’s not worth the hustle.

However, if you badly want your door to be two-tone, proceed to apply paint and stain on each side – no harm.

Additional “Painting” Topics
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Can You Paint Siding On A Mobile Home?
Does Dark Exterior Paint Make Your House Hotter?
Is It Okay To Paint The Ceiling With Gloss Paint?
Is It Okay to Paint Basement Pipes?
Should The Closet Be Painted The Same Color as The Bedroom?
Should You Caulk Kitchen Cabinets Before or After Painting?
Should You Paint Both Sides Of The Kitchen Cabinet Doors?
Should You Paint Your Detached Garage The Same Color As Your Home?
Should You Store Canned And Spray Paint In The Garage?
What Do You Add to Paints to Prevent Skinning?
Can You Repaint the Outside of a Mobile Home?
Will Paint Dry on a Cold Wall?

Can You Paint and Stain Metal Doors?

Metallic doors aren’t commonplace in modern homes but you could install one.

You can paint your metal door as you wish. In fact, metals, more so steel, are some of the paint friendliest surfaces you could work with.

Unless the surface is rusty, you can start painting the side of the door immediately after minimal wiping.

When it comes to staining, however, metal doors are very much like MDF doors – shouldn’t be stained unless you’re only interested in color enhancement, not texture.

Also, unless you want to update an old, tarnished metallic door (why do you even have such a door on your home?), don’t waste your resources on it.

Still, stain coloring doesn’t look particularly great on metallic surfaces, as staining is almost always associated with woodwork.

Readymade Two-Tone Doors

There do exist readymade bi-tonal doors that are stained on one side and painted on the other, even designed in such a way that you can add a stain and paint of your preference later on.

Unfortunately, they are extremely difficult to source as many door makers don’t deal in them because of low demand.

TRUSTILE used to offer such doors a while back.

OK, You’ve Painted And Stained The Door – What Do You Do With The Rest (Edges, Frame, etc.)?

This is one of those pressing questions with no one straight answer.

Everything else beyond what I’ve outlined above should be executed in line with your taste.

Do you want the edges of the door to feature the same color as the space it opens into? Go ahead and give it the same trim.

If you are dealing with a mixture of MDF/wood framing, don’t stress yourself.

Choosing to paint one side automatically overrides the concern on the other side – just stain the side of the room you don’t want to paint.


So, can you stain one side of the door and paint the other?

Yes, if the door is all-wood but stainable or stain-grade woods are more preferable.

MDF doors too can be painted and stained.

Staining, your MDF door, however, will only bring the color, not the texture.

You can paint metallic doors but the stain on the other side – just like on MDF – won’t bring out the color, just the texture. Staining seems to be a reserve for wooden surfaces.