Painting Ceilings

Painting ceilings can be a challenge to the do-it-yourself homeowner.


One reason is that ceilings are painted much less often than walls, so many people that have some experience with painting walls have much less for ceilings.

For another reason…painting ceilings have some added challenges that walls do not. You are not working on a vertical plane. You are working horizontally, and almost directly overhead. This is (no pun intended) a pain in the neck.

Painting ceilings may also include the extensive use of a ladder to reach 8, 10, even 12’ ceilings. I’ll try to remedy that later, but there are some everyday tips and instructions that can make painting ceilings much easier.

One very important time-saving tip I can give you is this: If you intend to paint an entire room (ceiling and all four walls), paint the ceiling first. Then you can avoid the “wall draping” part of step two, a laborious process to protect your walls from splattering paint.

Here’s a list of supplies that you’ll need to paint your ceiling:

Necessary Paint Products

  • Flat or Eggshell Finish Paint

  • Water Base Primer (if necessary, read step one below)

Necessary Paint Supplies & Applicators

  • 3/8” Nap Roller Cover

  • Roller Frame

  • 2” Angled Nylon/Poly Brush

  • Extension Pole for Roller Frame

  • 2” Painter’s Tape

  • Lint-Free Rags


Preparing To Paint

Since most ceilings are already painted with flat paint and do not have holes for hanging pictures, décor, and the general bumping and staining that walls tend to accumulate, it is usually a fairly simple job to prepare for painting ceilings.

There are occasions, however, when there may be small screw or nail holes, hairline cracks, or serious stains (smokers, oily kitchens) that require some preparation.

Regardless of the condition of your ceiling, it will need to be cleaned to remove any dusty buildups, cobwebs, or general stains that accumulate on ceilings.

If your ceiling only requires minor cleaning (as most ceilings do), a mild mixture of dish soap and water, applied with a sponge-headed mop, will do the trick.

Those with more stubborn stains or very oily surfaces may need to try a hardier solution of TSP (tri-sodium phosphate, widely available) and water to prepare the surface for painting.

Patch any small nail holes, screw holes, or small hairline cracks with lightweight spackle. Let dry and sand flush.

Lastly, spot prime any areas you patched with spackle. If your ceiling is new, unprimed plaster, it will need to be primed entirely before beginning to paint. Finally, if the paint already on your ceiling is a glossy finish paint, it will need to be primed.



When painting ceilings, cover everything in the room that you do not want paint splattered on! Painting ceilings throws tiny speckles of paint everywhere.

Clear the room of anything that can be removed, then cover everything else with painter’s plastic – furnishings, décor, floors. This includes the walls, unless you intend to paint them directly afterwards.

The process of covering walls with plastic is called draping. It is a fairly simple process, but time consuming.

Begin by “taping off” the areas where your walls and ceiling meet, but don’t press the bottom part of the tape against the wall. Using painter’s plastic, press the top edge of the plastic to the underside of the tape, allowing the plastic to “drape” down the walls beneath the tape.

This will protect your walls from getting speckled with ceiling paint.


Painting Ceilings

When painting ceilings, a flat lustre paint is the preferred choice. Regardless of appearance, most ceilings are not flawlessly drywalled or plaster. Flat paint helps to hide these imperfections. The glossier the lustre, or finish, of the paint you use, the more it highlights imperfections in your surface’s plaster.

One major reason glossier finish paints are used on some surfaces is wipeability. Flat paint has almost no wipeability. Walls become dirty with fingerprints, crayons, scuffs…we all know how kids are…and how clumsy we adults are as well.

Ceilings are one surface that rarely gets touched by dirty fingers and crayons, so a good “hiding” flat finish is perfect for ceilings.

My other major suggestion when painting ceilings is buy an extension pole for your roller. Extension poles can help you avoid climbing up and down ladders all day. They can also help you avoid a trip to the chiropractor.

I know this seems a simple enough suggestion, but I’ve seen too many people try to paint their ceilings with a plain old roller and ladder. Trust me, an extension pole is well worth the $10-$20 they cost.

Cut in only small sections with a brush as you go. Don’t “cut in” the entire room all at once, cut in only what you can blend with your rolled sections while it is still wet.

I’ve said it many times throughout the site, but the key to great-looking paint jobs is maintaining a wet edge to work with as you paint. This ensures that your paint blends well together, and dries smooth and level.

Unlike painting walls, where you roll the paint in different directions to achieve better coverage, you work in only one direction when painting ceilings. Choose the shortest part of the room (for example, in a 12’x8’ room, the 8’ run) and roll the paint straight across, from one wall to the other.

Once you have painted a four or five foot wide section, go back and “finish off” what you have already done while the paint is still wet.

To “finish off” a section, you simply take the roller back over top of what you have already painted, from one wall to the other in a continuous stroke.

Use very little pressure…you’re not attempting to apply paint, only to level out any lines or ridges left by the edges of the roller.

Lastly, keep moving. Remember, maintaining a wet edge is the key to an even paint job. Roll the paint on, “finish off” each section, then move on to your next section, all while the paint is still wet.

Continue this process all the way across the ceiling…roll a section, go back and “finish off” while it is still wet.

Apply a second or more coats as necessary.


Removing the Tape

When you are finished painting, remove the tape along the adjoining walls and trim work by gently running a utility knife or a razor blade along the edge where the tape and paint meet, then pull the tape off very slowly.

Painting ceilings can be a time consuming process, but is well worth the time and effort. It is a great place to add color to a space without “suffocating” the room in color.

Painting ceilings is also a great way to revitalize a very drab, lightless space. You would be amazed how much more lively a space appears by painting the ceiling with a fresh, bright coat of white or cream.

I hope these instructions were helpful. Enjoy your newly painted ceilings.

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