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How to Paint A Ceiling

Updated on July 17, 2012

Tips for Painting Ceilings

Painting a ceiling is usually the most physical part of a paint job and probably the least enjoyable, but a fresh coat of paint on a dirty ceiling can make it look new again. The process of painting a drywall ceiling is similar to painting a wall and requires the same surface preparation, unless the ceiling consists of paneled wood. If that's the case, read this article: Tips for Painting Paneling.

This article explains how to prepare and paint a ceiling, using the least amount of physical effort.

Paint the Ceiling Before the Walls

Always paint the ceiling first when repainting the whole room. That way, getting ceiling paint on the walls when cutting-in won't matter, since it's going to be painted anyway. If you were to paint the ceiling last, you would need to tape plastic to the walls for protection against paint sprinkles.

Buy A Painting Pole

If you don't have an extension pole for painting, buy one. A painting pole, accompanied by a paint roller and brush extender, makes it possible to paint the entire ceiling from the ground, without even using a ladder. The two most common painting poles are the 2 to 4 ft. pole and the 4 to 8 ft. pole. If you are painting really high ceilings, you'll need a much larger extension pole that extends at least 16 feet.

Buy A Paint Brush Extender

A paint brush extender is an excellent tool for painting ceilings and hard-to-reach places. Basically, it's a metal adapater that screws onto the end of a painting pole. The paint brush is inserted into the end of its holder and you can manually adjust the brush angle by turning a screw.

Instead of repeatedly climbing up and down a ladder all day long, to brush-in ceiling corners, use a brush extender and do it from the ground. I always use a brush extender when painting ceilings because it saves a huge amount of time and labor. However, an extender would not be the best choice if only the ceiling is being painted because you would need to carefully brush the ceiling paint up to the wall edges. In that case, working off of a ladder would probably be faster and cleaner.

Cover Everything with Plastic

Buy a big roll of painter's plastic and drape a sheet of it over furniture. Cover the floors with drop cloths. If you are not painting the walls, you will have to spend more time taping plastic over the walls for protection.

Water Stains, Nicotine and Dark Colors

If any of those 3 things exist on the ceiling, you'll need to use primer before painting. Water stains and nicotine are problematic and need to be primed with an oil-based primer, not latex. If you have an existing water leak that hasn't been fixed yet, it will have to be fixed before painting the ceiling, otherwise the stain will come back again.

Nicotine stains on ceilings are the worst and will definitely bleed through the new paint if primer isn't used. Sometimes nicotine residue on a ceiling is hard to see because it isn't always dark in color. If heavy smoking occured in the room to be painted, oil-based primer should be rolled onto the entire surface of the ceiling.

Repainting white on white is easy, but painting white on top of a dark colored ceiling will probably require 1 coat of primer first. Painting white over a dark brown ceiling can turn into a nightmare without primer.

Repair the Drywall

Drywall problems on big ceilings can stand out like a sore thumb. The best material to use for repair work is drywall joint compound. It barely shrinks and it's easy to sand if applied properly. Check the ceiling for nail pops, pits and anything else that's noticeable. Make all repairs and sand the ceiling thoroughly.

Buy the Best Ceiling Paint

Flat paint (non-shiny) looks best on ceilings, but some people like a shiny ceiling. The best Sherwin Williams paints to use for ceilings are Promar 200 flat, SuperPaint flat and CHB (only comes in flat). CHB is the cheapest and looks fine on ceilings. I use all three and they're good paints for ceilings, as well as for walls. I would avoid using Behr ceiling paint. It leaves horrible roller marks all over the ceiling.

Fill the Ceiling Lines

As I mentioned earlier, if you use a brush extender, cutting-in the ceiling lines is easy and you won't have to mess around with a ladder. Insert a 3-inch paint brush into the extender, screw it onto a 4 to 8 ft. painting pole and fill all of the ceiling lines with paint. It's best to finish the brush work 100% before rolling the paint. You will also need to carefully brush around ceiling fixtures.

Paint the Ceiling

Pour ceiling paint into an empty 5 gallon bucket and insert a metal painting screen in the bucket too. You can use a paint tray, but a bucket is way easier to carry around the room and less likely to make a mess on the floor. Use the metal screen in the bucket to remove excess paint from the roller before raising it to the ceiling.

I like to start at one end of the ceiling and work towards the other side of the room. Roll half of the ceiling, all the way across the room first, and then roll the second half last. This tends to make the job go a little faster on wider ceilings. Some ceiling paint jobs only take 1 coat, but it will probably take 2 coats to look its best. Painting white over dark brown ceilings can take 1 coat of primer and 2 coats of paint.

This article was written by Matt Goetz, owner of the northern Illinois paint contractor Advantage Painting Services. Looking for painters in Crystal Lake, IL? Our company provides painting services all over Mchenry County. View work samples in our before and after photo gallery.


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