It’s a Hard-Knock Life: 6 Tips to Maintain Your Exterior Wood Doors

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated March 25, 2022
 A wooden front door on a vine covered house
Photo: Spiroview Inc. / Adobe Stock


  • A well-maintained wood door can last more than 20 years

  • Wash your doors at least once per month with mild soap

  • You may need to refinish a door that has paint chips or cracks

  • Maintaining your door’s weatherstripping can lower your utility bills

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We’ve all had those bad-weather days where we decide to hunker down inside to watch TV or curl up with a book. But your external doors don’t get the same kind of break. They’re exposed to the elements year-round—from wind, rain, and snow to blistering sunlight and sweltering heat. Over time, this inflicts wear and tear on the wood door, which is why you should regularly maintain your exterior doors.

Depending on the type of wood, a well-maintained exterior wood door can last more than 20 years. How? Proper exterior door maintenance will stave off corrosion, rust, and rot. Here’s what you can do to keep your exterior wood door looking brand new.

1. Add Dusting to Your Weekly Cleaning Routine

We already know the importance of dusting inside our homes, but you should be dusting outside, too. Dust can contain water-soluble salt, which is a one-way ticket to corroded, worn-down doors. Dust can actually scratch wood over time and wear down its protective coating. Dust your exterior doors once per week to prevent corrosive salt from settling in and causing damage.

2. Clean Your Exterior Doors with Mild Dish Soap

Whether your exterior doors are made from wood, metal, or fiberglass, cleaning them regularly can prevent rust, erosion, rot, and other signs of wear and tear. You can clean your exterior wooden doors using:

  • Mild dish soap

  • Warm water

  • A soft sponge or a lint-free cloth 

Avoid using abrasive materials like steel wool or a scrubber brush to clean your exterior door. They can scratch your door and wear down its protective coating. Most homeowners should clean their doors at least once per month. You might have to clean your doors as much as once per week if you live near the ocean (salt from the ocean is corrosive) or in an area with high levels of air pollution (grime from the highway can quickly build up).

3. Polish Your Exterior Wood Doors

A front wooden door of a house
Photo: miko_neko / Adobe Stock

Once your exterior doors start to look a bit dull, it’s time to give them a good polish. Luckily, it’s not all that different from polishing your shoes. Just grab a rag and gently apply some furniture polish to both sides of the door. You may want to use:

  • Polyurethane polish: Waterproof and durable, but it can yellow in the sun over time 

  • Varnish polish: Long-lasting and UV resistant

  • Wax-based polish: Shiny appearance that hides scratches

  • Lacquer polish: Dries quickly in a glossy or matte finish

4. Refinish Your Door Once It Shows Signs of Wear

All exterior doors have a protective coating, but that can wear down over time and leave your door vulnerable to moisture. That’s never a good thing. For wood doors, that leads to rot. You should refinish your door when you start seeing signs of wear (think: chipped or peeling paint, splinters, faded paint, cracks in the topcoat, or rust on metal fixtures). 

Refinishing your door requires some DIY know-how, so you may want to hire a door restoration professional. For this job, the door refinisher will need to:

  • Take the door off its hinges

  • Tape up or remove fixtures, such as knobs and locks

  • Use a chemical stripper to strip the old finish

  • Sand the surface, removing imperfections like rust or splinters

  • Wipe the door down with a lint-free cloth to remove dust

  • Treat rust spots with a rust inhibitor

  • Apply two to three coats of exterior finish or paint to all six sides

Many homeowners opt for a polyurethane finish because it’s waterproof. You may also want to choose an exterior paint with UV protection to prevent future fading. Lighter stains and paint colors tend to last the longest, but either way, you should always apply paint per the manufacturer’s instructions for best results.

5. Check Your Weatherstripping

All doors have weatherstripping, which is a foam or rubber lining that runs along the bottom and sides of your door. It prevents outside air from entering and inside air from seeping out, which is essential for your home’s energy efficiency. Hello, utility savings! Weatherstripping your exterior door and windows can save you 5% to 10% on your monthly utility bills.

Check your door’s weatherstripping by placing your hand around its seams. If it’s deteriorating, you’ll be able to feel a draft. In some cases, you may be able to fix the weatherstripping by reinserting pieces that have come loose. In other cases, you’ll need to replace it. 

You can DIY the job by cutting out the old weatherstripping with a razor and replacing it with new weatherstripping (available at most hardware stores for less than $25 per linear foot). You can also hire a professional handyperson, who you can also ask to check your windows while they’re at it.

6. Don’t Forget the Hardware

It’s easy to ignore your exterior wood door’s hardware, which includes the locks, kobs, hinges, and metal mail slot. It’s not exactly staring you in the face like a glaring paint chip. Nonetheless, it’s still important to keep your hardware clean. 

You should get in the habit of cleaning your hinges at least once per year. To fix stiffness and squeaks, coat the hinge’s pin in a silicone spray or white lithium grease (available at a hardware store or an online retailer). You can also use bar soap or a little petroleum jelly in a pinch, but the results may not last as long. 

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