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How to Paint A Ceiling

Updated on November 28, 2017
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter sharing house painting tips and product reviews.

The Easiest Way to Paint A Ceiling

Painting a ceiling is probably the least enjoyable part of a painting project, but by using the right tools and system, you can paint a ceiling a lot faster with less fatigue.

For most ceilings, except smaller bathroom ceilings, the fastest and easiest way to paint a ceiling is with an 18-inch roller. The 18-inch roller by Purdy, or Wooster, work great. The weight and cost is greater than a standard 9-inch roller, but it's totally worth it for the time and effort saved.

In my opinion, the best roller nap size for a ceiling is 1/2-inch, or 3/4-inch. Personally, I like 3/4-inch nap, especially for painting high ceilings. The roller holds more paint, covering drywall faster with less dipping in the paint tray.

Paint the Ceiling Before the Walls

The biggest mistake made when painting a whole room is painting the ceiling after the walls. When done this way, all the walls need to covered with plastic, creating additional work and wasted plastic.

Always paint the ceiling first, followed by the walls, then you don't have to worry about paint sprinkles falling onto the walls, since they'll be painted anyway. If paint drips on the wall, wipe them off with a rag.

If you're only painting the ceiling, the walls need to be covered with plastic before rolling. Cut-in the corners and around fixtures before rolling.

Use An Extension Pole

I cringe when I see people on home improvement shows rolling a ceiling with only the handle itself and no roller, which is one of the worst ways to apply paint. Making use of an extension pole is a must. A pole makes it a lot easier to apply paint without overexerting your arms and back.

I have tried several painting poles over the years, but the Purdy brand poles last the longest. For a standard eight foot ceiling, a pole that extends a maximum of eight feet works best. For painting high ceilings, a sixteen foot pole is needed.

A painting pole, accompanied by a ceiling paint roller and brush extender, makes it possible to paint an entire ceiling without even using a ladder.

Use A Brush Extender

A brush extender, or brush adapter, is an awesome tool for cutting-in hard-to-reach places not accessible with an extension ladder, or to simply paint ceiling corners of walls that will be painted anyway. Whenever I'm painting the walls and ceiling in a room, I use a brush extender to fill the corners instead of climbing up and down a ladder repeatedly.

The paint brush is inserted into metal prongs on top of the tool, which screws directly onto any extension pole. You can adjust the angle of your brush using two wingnuts on the tool.

Prep the Ceiling for Paint

Make sure the room is carefully covered with plastic and drop cloths before doing any work. If the walls aren't going to be painted, you'll need to cover them with plastic. The best way to mask walls with plastic is using a 3M hand masking tool.

Water Stains, Nicotine and Dark Colors

Stains from nicotine and water damage need to be primed first before painting. If there are only a couple stains, you can spot prime them using a spray can of primer, but if the ceiling is in bad condition, the whole surface should be primed. The best primer to use is an oil-based primer sealer.

If the new paint color is much lighter than what's on the surface, the drywall should be primed with any basic latex primer to help with coverage.

Repair the Drywall

Drywall imperfections on ceilings can stand out like a sore thumb if neglected. Patch drywall cracks and nail pops, using joint compound. The repair patches should also be primed before painting. Latex primer, or oil-based, is fine for that.

Best White Paint for Ceilings

Unless you're painting a bathroom, flat paint (non-shiny) is great for ceilings. The best bathroom ceiling paint is a matte, eggshell, or satin finish.

Sherwin Williams CHB

An inexpensive paint that covers great on ceilings is CHB flat paint from Sherwin Williams. CHB paint dries completely flat, hiding surface imperfections really well. I use CHB for most ceilings, except bathrooms.

Sherwin Williams Duration

When painting a bathroom ceiling, or a ceiling in an enclosed kitchen, Duration is a great option. The paint stands up well to heavy moisture and prevents mildew. It also washes really well without ruining the painted surface. The cost isn't cheap, but the paint quality is higher than cheaper paints like CHB. In a bathroom, the matte, or eggshell finish, is best.

Sherwin Williams Super Paint Flat

The coverage with Super Paint is excellent. When painting white over a similar white, one coat is often enough for solid coverage. Super Paint flat is a great ceiling paint option outside of a bathroom. The flat finish is truly flat with no sheen to it.


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