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Painting the Ceiling | How to Paint A Ceiling Quickly With Great Results

Updated on March 19, 2014
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Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 22 years with experience in aspects ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

Seeing Is Believing...It's Time to Paint

Ceilings often go unnoticed but when you see new and old together, it becomes quite apparent.
Ceilings often go unnoticed but when you see new and old together, it becomes quite apparent. | Source

How to Paint A Ceiling More Quickly, Cleanly and Painlessly

Painting the ceiling is a great way to brighten up a room. It's also one of the cheapest ways to brighten up a room since ceilings, unless damaged, rarely need much preparation before painting and the paint can be purchased with the primer in it. So why has it been so long since you last painted the ceilings?

Let me answer that for you..."Because it's a neck breaker and takes forever".

Well, I'll give you the neck breaker part however, it doesn't have to take forever and it doesn't have to make a disaster area out of the room you're in. I'm going to share with you a few things I've learned about painting and painting ceilings in particular.

Minimize your work by:

- Simplifying Room Prep
- Learning New Painting Techniques & Tips
- Reducing Coats

Hidden In Plain Sight

Do you think your ceiling might not be as white as it seems?

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Getting Ready To Paint

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Set out some walking shoes to save a bigger mess.I'm fortunate to have a built in divider but it's not necessary. It does make a good stopping point though.Continuous ceilings make for a big project. Don't be afraid to make stopping points. This creates less inconvenience on the whole house at once.Set up a good work station with all your ceiling painting essentials.There's really no need to move all this furniture. Some of it makes a good balance point for hard to reach places as a matter of fact.
Set out some walking shoes to save a bigger mess.
Set out some walking shoes to save a bigger mess. | Source
I'm fortunate to have a built in divider but it's not necessary. It does make a good stopping point though.
I'm fortunate to have a built in divider but it's not necessary. It does make a good stopping point though. | Source
Continuous ceilings make for a big project. Don't be afraid to make stopping points. This creates less inconvenience on the whole house at once.
Continuous ceilings make for a big project. Don't be afraid to make stopping points. This creates less inconvenience on the whole house at once. | Source
Set up a good work station with all your ceiling painting essentials.
Set up a good work station with all your ceiling painting essentials. | Source
There's really no need to move all this furniture. Some of it makes a good balance point for hard to reach places as a matter of fact.
There's really no need to move all this furniture. Some of it makes a good balance point for hard to reach places as a matter of fact. | Source

Room Preparation for Ceiling Painting

Here's where a lot of time can be saved. Taping everything off, moving more furniture than necessary and placing drop cloths everywhere is overrated. Here are a few things that will help keep your ceiling paint project a bit neater and save you all that trouble.

  1. Divide the ceiling you'll be painting into sections where you can move furniture to one side and then back to the other. This beats moving everything into another room and inconveniencing even more of the house while still giving you enough room for a work station.
  2. Dust and spot clean the ceiling. In dusting I just mean to knock down the cobwebs so they don't get into your paint. As for spot cleaning, use a Magic Sponge or something to hit any splotches or dark spots that may show through your new paint.
  3. Set up a work station. Laying a 6' x 6' sheet of plastic with a flat trash bag on top makes a great work spot. This gives you plenty of area to pour paint, catch any quick drips from an overloaded roller and is easily movable. At the end of the day, you can quickly fold up shop and reuse it again tomorrow.
    NOTE: Drop cloths do not make good work stations. They will catch a drip just fine but if there should be any spillage, a drop cloth will allow the paint to soak through quicker than you might think.
  4. Set slippers just off your work station. If you've caught a drop on the bottom of your shoe, you won't want to track it elsewhere. Having slippers handy makes an easy transition should you need venture into other rooms during the project.

Cleaning Up Paint Drips and Streaks

When painting, everyone is bound to drip at some point or touch a spot they don't mean to. Keep this in mind...

  • If you drip on a hard surface, let it dry and then pick it off. Wiping while wet will only make it worse.
  • If you touch a spot you didn't mean to, scrape the wet paint off the wall...DON'T wipe. Then use a damp cloth or paper towel to clean off the remainder.
  • If you drip on carpet, pull the paint upward with a paper towel a few times using a clean spot on the towel each time and then do the same with a wet rag. Do this as soon as you drip if possible.

Most paints are water soluble these days.

Let this dry and pick it right off. DON'T WIPE and spread it around.
Let this dry and pick it right off. DON'T WIPE and spread it around. | Source

How Many Coats of Paint Does It Take To Paint A Ceiling?

The answer to this question is very dependent, however, there are a few things we can do to minimize the number of coats we'll need to get our ceiling looking bright and clean.

  1. Buy good paint! Paint is not paint. There is a very significant difference between cheap and quality paint. If you buy cheap paint, you'll only end up buying more of it to get it to cover.
  2. Take your time. Don't try to spread the paint to cover a large area at a time. Only spread your paint enough to keep it from dripping or leaving roller marks. A thick first coat could be enough and if not, your second coat will be very easy and then you can spread the paint much thinner.
  3. Dust and clean. As I mentioned above, make sure to have rid yourself of any spots that will continually bleed through. Sand those spots if need be.
  4. Edge properly. Edging or "cutting in" the room properly can really help cut down on coats. Often, we keep applying coats because the edge lines show and can't seem to even out. See below for more details on proper edging. I am not a fan of "edging tools" and prefer a brush to edge with. A brush applies a much thicker coat here and if you get the edging coated well and have to do a 2nd coat of paint, you may only have to roll a 2nd coat and not edge again.
  5. Use a thick nap roller and good brush. Again, spend the extra few dollars and avoid buying cheap paint tools. A thick nap roller will hold more paint thus a better spread and less back and forth to the paint tray. A good brush makes a huge difference. It holds paint better, spreads it better and makes for an easier clean up. Good brushes can last many more paint jobs than it's cheap counterparts.

On average, ceilings will take 2 coats but you may only have to edge once if you follow this advice.

Painter's Tips Photos

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Notice I'm not using the brush sideways. When those bristles spread out, you'll have much more control.Holding the brush sideways is good however when getting into the corners and spreading paint once your edge line is established.A full roller is usually good to cover about a 3 or 4 foot square area at a time.Load up on paint. Don't be shy. Rotate the roller back and forth to help avoid dripping while walking.Curve the corners of your edging for easier rolling since you won't have to get into the corner so tight with it.
Notice I'm not using the brush sideways. When those bristles spread out, you'll have much more control.
Notice I'm not using the brush sideways. When those bristles spread out, you'll have much more control. | Source
Holding the brush sideways is good however when getting into the corners and spreading paint once your edge line is established.
Holding the brush sideways is good however when getting into the corners and spreading paint once your edge line is established. | Source
A full roller is usually good to cover about a 3 or 4 foot square area at a time.
A full roller is usually good to cover about a 3 or 4 foot square area at a time. | Source
Load up on paint. Don't be shy. Rotate the roller back and forth to help avoid dripping while walking.
Load up on paint. Don't be shy. Rotate the roller back and forth to help avoid dripping while walking. | Source
Curve the corners of your edging for easier rolling since you won't have to get into the corner so tight with it.
Curve the corners of your edging for easier rolling since you won't have to get into the corner so tight with it. | Source

Professional Painting Techniques To Bring Out Your Best Painter

Here are a few simple painting tips that have helped me become a much better and faster painter than I ever was before knowing.

  • Load your brush and roller. Get some paint in/on there. In an attempt to be neat, people don't often realize how much more time it will take and that in actuality, a loaded brush or roller will hold the paint in better due to adhesion.
  • Use a "W" pattern when rolling paint. This is when you have just loaded more paint on the roller and apply it to the wall. This will get a good spread started that can be spread over the area much more evenly and reduce roller marks. After your first couple of rolls, you'll have an idea of how much area you can cover will one roller load...make the "W" about the size of that area and then spread.
  • Hold your brush properly. When edging, many people think you should hold the brush sideways. This is incorrect. Load the brush, push it down as shown in the photo here and let the bristles spread open. This will better release the paint and give you a much better ability to paint a nice straight line along your edges.
  • Give the ceiling a nice wide cut in or edge. This will keep you from having to get to close to the wall with your roller. Also, don't overlap your edge any more than necessary. This is what causes edge lines to show more since there is a small section that will be getting an additional coat every time you paint it and thus forcing you to edge again and potentially reversing the issue and having to roll again. Etc...etc...
  • Curve the corners of your edging. This will give you more room to work in the corners of the ceiling when you begin to roll it out.

These tips seem simple but will definitely make a big difference in how quickly you get your ceiling painted. Here a few other tips for painting you may enjoy using that aren't technique related.

- Use a "stubby" brush. The shorter handle is more comfortable to hold over a long period of time and helps get into tighter spots.

- Use an angled cut brush that's 2" or 3" wide.

- If calling it a day, wrap your roller or paint brush in a plastic bag and place it in the refrigerator. This will keep your brush and roller moist for use when you return to painting.

- Use throw away paint tray liners.

- Use a broom handle for an extension to your roller. No need to buy a specialty pole unless you're painting 20 foot ceilings.

A Freshly Painted Ceiling Really Brightens the Room

A job well done!
A job well done! | Source

Painting Is Easy...Right?

"Anyone can paint."

This is one of the most commonly spoken myths ever. Sure, anyone can change the color of a ceiling or wall but getting the job done efficiently, without runs and roller marks is a skill. I can definitely tell when someone has painted a room that hasn't had much painting experience.

Of course now, that has changed for you. Be confident that you can produce a good paint job when you apply a few of these simple ideas and techniques. You'll need a little practice getting used to holding the brush differently and seeing how well it spreads but once you get your feet wet, you'll see what a big difference it makes. Cutting down on your preparations is another thing many will have trouble being comfortable with but again, with good paint and the right tools, you'll make a lot less of a mess than you think. Take your time and be a bit more careful than usual. Though that part may add time to your project, it will hardly be as much time as you've save not taping, tarping and taking down everything in the room.

Happy painting and enjoy the look of your brighter, whiter ceilings.

© 2014 Dan Robbins

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    • CelebrateUSA profile image

      Ken Kline 2 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Painted yesterday on a perfect spring day - no wind, no bugs - remarkable. A little bit to finish up but not much. Love when painting is done.

      Great information on how to hold the paint brush.

      You did an exceptional job! Kudos for a professional paint job and many thanks for training us painter wanta bees!

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 2 years ago

      Well, the one time I painted a ceiling (a few months ago) the painting part of it was much easier than I thought it would be. I set it up the way you recommend, but still could have used some of your tips here (like the way you hold your brush).

      The hard part was the prep work. In this case it was an old ceiling with wallpaper on it that was starting to come loose in places. I had to reglue the ceiling edges, tape the joins in the middle, then spackle the whole thing to smooth it all out, and get rid of seams and other bumps (the ceiling boards had shifted a bit). After that I sanded a bit, then painted.

      I had to keep looking stuff up on the Internet, since I didn't know what I was doing, but it worked in the end. The ceiling looks 100% better now!

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Great step-by-step instructions on how to paint a ceiling! People often don't realize how dingy a ceiling gets, especially in a room with a fireplace because the smoke rises to the top of the room. Enjoyed your photos and voted up!

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 3 years ago

      builders take a note please

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