Painting a steel cellar door is by no means a glamorous project, but it can be an important part of home maintenance, especially if the existing paint is cracking, flaking or peeling.
Given the challenging face-up exposure of most cellar doors, paint failure may simply be the result of extreme weathering and age. Or, it could be due to other factors, such as poor surface preparation, application of “incompatible” paints (use of a latex paint over an alkyd coating), or use of a lower quality coating.
If your cellars doors are yearning for a face-lift, and you’re yearning for a paint job that will last, it’s important that you go about things the right way, even more so than when doing other types of painting. Below are step-by-step instructions on how to proceed. (But note, if you suspect that the existing paint contains lead, do not attempt to remove it or you could create a health hazard; instead, call in a professional painter qualified to handle lead assessment and abatement.)
1. Remove the old paint down to the original primer or bare metal. The easiest way to accomplish this is to apply stripper to the paint and wait at least an hour. Once the paint begins to delaminate and bubble, use a wood or plastic wedge to scrape off as much stripper and loosened paint as possible. Then switch to a razor scraper or metal scraper to remove any paint that remains. The former will allow you to remove the paint in long strips if you catch an edge; the plain metal scraper will require more muscle.
2. Remove any remaining paint with a sander. Very likely, some stubborn paint will remain on the surface even after stripping and scraping. It’s important that this, too, be removed. Use an orbital sander with 60-grit sandpaper for this part of the project. If there are tight spots where the sander won’t reach, wrap 100-grit sandpaper around a small block of wood and use some elbow grease to remove the paint.
3. Thoroughly clean the surface. First, sweep off the cellar doors; then carefully vacuum both the doors and the surrounding area to remove paint flakes, dust, and debris. Next, wipe down the doors with mineral spirits, especially if you plan to use a solvent-based primer.
4. Prime the cellar doors. Apply a heavy coat of primer — preferably a solvent-based product such as Rust-oleum® rusty metal primer — to the entire surface, making especially sure to treat any rusty areas. The primer will add tackiness to the surface, which in turn will enable the topcoat of paint to adhere better. Allow the primer to dry for at least 24 hours.
5. Paint the surface. Complete the project by applying two coats of top-of-the-line 100% acrylic latex exterior paint in flat, satin, or semi-gloss finish (glossier paint will provide more protection). The easiest way to paint cellar doors is to cut in the edges and tight spots with a brush, then use a roller to finish the job. Allow the first coat of paint to dry for at least four hours before applying the second coat. At that point, the project is finished.
Painting the lowly cellar doors may not be your highest home painting priority, but it is nevertheless necessary from time to time. By following the steps outlined above, you can make this a very infrequent project and focus on more pleasurable things.