Guide to Refinishing Hollow Core Interior Doors

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated April 25, 2022
Girl opening door in house
Photo: 10'000 Hours / Getty Images
Difficulty

Easy

No experience? No problem.

Time to complete

3 hours

2 to 3 hours plus drying time

This easy project is a perfect way to get your foot in the door to the world of DIY home improvement

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Medium- to fine-grit sandpaper
  • Wood filler
  • Wood glue
  • Gel stripper
  • Gel stain
  • Varnish

SUPPLIES

  • Screwdriver
  • Putty knife
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Paint rags
  • Dropcloth
  • Chemical resistant gloves
  • Paintbrush
  • Foam brush
  • Goggles

If your hollow core interior doors need an update, consider refreshing them on your own. This project is great for veteran DIY-ers and newbies alike because it requires only the most basic tools and materials to complete, like a screwdriver and sandpaper, and just a few hours of work.

Use this guide to refinishing hollow core interior doors to make every entryway in your home shine like new with minimal effort.

Prepping to Refinish Hollow Core Interior Doors

There are a handful of important things to know before you can begin refinishing hollow core interior doors, like how they’re different from solid panel doors, why that matters, and how to distinguish the two. 

Get to Know the Difference Between Hollow and Solid Panel Doors

Hollow core and solid panel are the two most common types of interior doors that appear in residential buildings. As the name indicates, solid panel doors are composed of one, solid wood panel. On the flipside, hollow core doors have a cardboard or plastic interior covered by a thin layer of wood or fiberboard. 

Hollow core interior doors are less expensive than their solid panel alternatives, and the reduced price reflects their quality. They aren’t as good at blocking out sound or providing insulation, and cracks, splinters, and fading in the finish are likely to appear more quickly, too.

Fortunately, hollow core interior doors are easy to refinish, but the process isn’t identical to refinishing solid panel doors. That thin, outer layer of wood is too delicate for the chemical strippers and finishes used on solid wood panels. But gel strippers and stains are gentle enough to change this type of door’s appearance without creating any unintentional damage.

…and How to Confirm Which is Which Before Starting Any Projects

Knowing what kind of door you’re dealing with before refinishing will ensure you’re using the right materials. But if you didn’t personally install every door in your home, you may not be aware of each door’s type. 

There are a couple of ways to determine which door is which. For one, hollow core interior doors are often 25 to 30 pounds lighter than their solid panel counterparts. They will swing open more easily, and feel much lighter when removed from a doorway. You can also check for cracks between layers at the base—this will not occur in solid panel doors because they don’t have layers. 

7 Steps to Refinishing Hollow Core Interior Doors

Man sanding wood door
Photo: boschettophotography / Getty Images

Now that you know exactly where the hollow core interior doors are in your home, you can start fixing them up one by one. This guide will walk you through the process from start to end. 

  1. Remove Hinges and Doorknobs and Prep Your Area

    Lay down a drop cloth in the area where you’ll be working to catch dust, debris, and any stray drops of wood stain. Then, use a screwdriver to remove hinges and doorknobs from the door. Set these aside somewhere safe where they won’t get lost, and lay your door down to begin the next steps.

  2. Dust, Clean, and Sand to Remove Veneer from Wood

    Remove any dust with a microfiber cloth and wipe away any smudges and streaks with an all-purpose cleaner and a cleaning rag. When the door is fully clean, begin sanding to remove any shiny, glossy veneer until nothing remains. Sand by hand rather than with a power sander to protect the thin, outer wood panel from excessive force.

  3. Repair Cracks and Splinters with Wood Filler

    Use wood filler to seal any cracks in the exterior panel and fix your interior door. Remove excess filler with a putty knife, let dry, and sand once more to create a smooth surface.

  4. Seal Any Lifting Corners with Wood Glue

    If you notice that corners of the exterior wood panel have begun to lift, dab each spot with wood glue and press firmly for several minutes to reconnect. Let dry before proceeding to the next step.

  5. Use a Gel Stripper to Remove Original Finish

    While chemical strippers are too strong for delicate hollow core doors, a gel stripper is gentle and will give you the effect you’re looking for. Keep in mind that not all hollow core interior doors are finished to begin with, and in some cases, you may be able to skip this step altogether. 

    If not, start by cleaning your door once again to remove all dust and debris from sanding. Then, wearing a long-sleeve shirt, protective goggles, and chemical resistant gloves, evenly apply wood stain stripper with a paintbrush. Start with a small test area in a non-visible spot (like where the door and hinge meet), wait until it’s dry, then remove it to make sure it produces the intended outcome. If it does, proceed to cover the entire door in an even layer of stain stripper, let sit until fully cured, then remove completely with a putty knife.

  6. Refinish with Gel Stain

    Use a rag to apply a small amount of gel stain to a test spot on your door. Cover the rest of the door in an even layer of gel stain with a foam brush or rag when it's dry and you're sure it's right for you. Let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe away the excess. You may have to repeat this step a couple of times to achieve your desired depth of color.

  7. Varnish, Let Dry, and Remount

    When the stain is dry, apply varnish if you’d like a polished finish. Otherwise, leave it as-is for a matte texture. When the door is fully dry (after about a day or less, depending on the weather), use a screwdriver to reattach hinges and remount the door to the doorway.

DIY Refinishing Hollow Core Doors vs. Hiring a Pro

There’s not much of a difference in cost between doing it yourself and hiring a pro, unless you already have a lot of the materials and tools that you need. On average, you’ll pay between $40 and $90 for professional hollow core door repairs and roughly the same for the materials involved in DIYing the project, according to HomeAdvisor

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.