How To Paint A Ceiling

Ceilings may require different paint applications to walls because of roof leaks, tobacco stains or cooking oil (heat rises). The ceiling color can also make your room look larger or cozier; we’ll show what to look out for and how to paint your ceiling properly.

When painting your ceiling move all the furniture out and cover the floors with canvas drop sheets. Mask where the ceiling meets the walls with painters masking tape. Sand a plain-surface ceiling with 100 grit sandpaper. Wash the ceiling with warm water and sugar soap. Paint with stain-blocking primer paint if the ceiling is stained. Apply purpose ceiling paint which doesn’t splatter, takes a long time to dry and is flat rather than glossy. Cut in the corners with a sash brush then use a lambswool roller with a ½” nap* on an extendable paint pole.

*nap: The painting fabric of a roller. The thicker the nap the more paint a roller will hold and the rougher the surface you can paint. The smoother the finish you want the lower the nap of roller you should use.

What Tools Do I Need To Paint A Ceiling?

Canvas drop sheets Roller tray Vaseline (face) Clean rags
Putty knife Paint stirrer Safety glasses                Buckets
Cleaning rags Extension pole Sugar soap Sash brush
Breathing mask Painters tape Step ladder 2” brush
Baseball cap 3M handheld masker Edge painter
Roller with ½” nap Garbage bags Floodlights pointed upwards to the ceiling

How To Prepare A Ceiling For Painting

Step 1.

Move the furniture out of the room or put it in the center of the room. Paint is a-gonna fall so be sure to cover everything at floor level with canvas drop sheets. A paint drip from ceiling height will go straight through a thin drop sheet. A step ladder is much less likely to move on a canvas drop sheet compared to a plastic or cotton drop sheet.

Mask windows with a 3M handheld masker or use garbage bags and painters masking tape. Mask downlights, crown moldings, cornices, vents and edges. If you don’t want paint on it, mask it.

Step 2.

Wear a face mask, safety glasses and hair net. Apply Vaseline to your face thickly so that you can easily wipe off the inevitable paint you’re going to get on your face.

Step 3.

If need be, Repair Drywall before painting.

Step 4.

Sand a plain-surface ceiling with 100 grit sandpaper on the end of a sanding pole. This will remove dirt, tobacco and cooking oil residue that finds its way onto ceilings because heat rises. Wash the ceiling with warm water and sugar soap then rinse with clean water.

Stubborn stains can be washed with TSP E (Trisodium Phosphate E for environmentally friendly). Follow the instructions carefully and wear safety glasses, baseball cap and a mask.

Mask the wall where the ceiling meets the wall on plain surface ceilings.

Textured Ceilings: Do not sand a textured ceiling. Wash with dishwashing liquid. Popcorn or Vermiculite ceilings do not go well with water at all. Scrape away stains as best you can. Paint over the stained area with the finish coat and allow to dry before painting again.

Stains can leak through the topcoat so be prepared to apply a stain-blocking primer coat.

Masking textured ceilings when painting walls is impractical. One approach is to run a putty knife along the edge of the ceiling scraping away the texture at the edge leaving a groove. Clean out the resulting dust. Now when you cut-in your sash brush will follow the groove and not paint the ceiling. You won’t notice the missing texture.

How To Paint A Ceiling

Flat Plaster Board: Paint over with stain-blocking primer to cover flaws, water stains and tobacco stains. Repair the cause of the stains first. Paint won’t stop water leaks for instance.

Use a primer with a stain blocker combination paint and you will require only one topcoat: This is particularly important for textured ceilings to reduce the weight load of the paint which might cause the texture to come away.

Step 1.

Stir primer and final paints thoroughly with a 1” paint stirrer.

After priming, cut in from the walls for a length of about 10’ using a sash brush. Ideally, have two people on the job: one on a ladder cutting in and the other on the floor with a roller brush on an extension pole working the paint from the cut in across the ceiling while the cut-in paint is still wet (called “keeping a wet edge”). This will ensure that the rolled on paint will blend well with the cut-in paint.

Pour about two cups of paint into the roller tray then skim the roller across the paint a few times being sure to fully coat the roller but not saturate it.

First Coat: Roll in one direction keeping a wet edge in sections of about 5 to 6 square feet then return at right angles (90 degrees) to the first roll direction as you go. This will prevent lap marks and ensure a smooth finish

Alternatively, move the roller in a zig-zag or W fashion. Either way, keep the roller moving on the ceiling surface with even pressure until you need to reload.

Once you’ve painted a large section of the ceiling “feather” or “lay off” the paint with an unloaded (no paint) roller applying almost no pressure. Start in one corner and move the roller in one direction with a very light touch. This will smooth out the still wet paint for a great final finish. Keep overlapping with each stroke so that there will be no lap lines.

Second Coat: Wait at least two hours (check paint instructions on the can) then repeat the whole process starting with cutting in. Paint in straight lines overlapping by about an inch to avoid lap lines. This will ensure an even seamless finish.

Feather the paint to minimize lap marks as the paint dries. It’s hard to keep a wet edge across a large expanse like a ceiling but if you feather out the paint with the drying roller in different directions you will avoid lap marks.

Paint Choice:

  • Flat finish latex paint or 100% acrylic paint if you have to paint over oil paint. Use acrylic to oil converter primer coat first.
  • Choose matte paint with topcoat and primer in one. Matte does not reflect light and will take attention away from the ceiling unless you want the light enhancement effect of gloss, in a bathroom for instance.
  • Use paint with a long drying time, doesn’t spatter and is matte in finish (look for a ceiling specific paint)

How Much Paint Will I Need?

  • One gallon should cover 350 to 400 square feet
  • Add 15 to 25 percent more for textured ceilings

Purpose ceiling paints spatter and drip less. Follow paint use instructions closely: Some require thinning with water or paint extender while others expressly advise against thinning.

Use a roller with a ½” lambswool cover: This will apply paint across the large expanse of a ceiling with the best overall finish.

Textured Ceiling

Textured Ceiling: Use a segmented foam roller to paint a textured ceiling. Paint in one direction only to avoid damaging the texture. Overlap each stroke by about an inch and be careful not to push too hard.

Use a roller and an extension pole to paint ceilings up to 8’. You will need a step ladder for ceilings higher than 8’.

Popcorn Ceiling


Popcorn Ceiling: Roll in one direction only. Rolling back and forth will cause the popcorn to peel. Test popcorn ceilings for tolerance meaning the water in the paint might cause the popcorn texture to come off. Test a hidden area first. If the popcorn surface has already been painted then it’s probably alright to paint again.

Wait for the paint to dry completely then apply a second coat rolling perpendicular (90 degrees) to the first coat.

Vaulted Ceiling



Vaulted Ceiling: Start in a high corner of the vaulted ceiling then stroke downwards like you would on a wall. Keep overlapping with each stroke.


Cleaning Up: Clean your paintbrushes and roller naps with warm soapy water. Make sure that all the paint and soapy water is out of the bristles and fabric then wash thoroughly again with warm water. Hang your brushes on hooks to prevent misshaping.

Related Questions:

How Do I stop persistent moisture stains on my ceiling? Hire a professional to explore the crawl space between the ceiling and the roof. Storm damage or cracked pipes, leaking air conditioning units – something is leaking. Repair the leak then address the ceiling stains with a stain-blocking primer.

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