How to Paint a Ceiling

White ceiling with fan paint a ceiling white

Painting a ceiling is a little different from painting walls, primarily because of gravity, and also the height! When you paint a ceiling, some special tools can really make the difference. I did a ton of research before painting our ceiling. Of course I’ve painted before, but I’d never personally done the ceiling portion of a room and I was a little intimidated. 

Does the ceiling really need to be painted? 

In short, yes. If the ceiling is anything but flat white, repainting it can add a lot of light and airiness to the room. Maybe your ceiling is white, but the paint is older, then you’re going to want to paint it along with the walls. If it’s flat white and still crisp and new, congratulations! You can skip this task. Nice, fresh walls, next to a dingy ceiling just doesn’t look good. Yes, it’s more effort, but it’s sooo worth the final results. 

Items you’ll need to paint a ceiling

Paint

Benjamin Moore ceiling paint is the best as far as value and longevity. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but it looks better and lasts longer than less quality paints. If you’re just looking for a temporary fix, you can use something cheaper, but it really is worth it to get quality in this case. Painting the ceiling is a big task to tackle, so investing in some paint that will last for years is really worth it.

Unlike walls that you might want to restyle, you will only really want to repaint the ceiling when it starts looking bad, so save yourself some time and money and invest in the nice paint. Benjamin Moore white ceiling paint is a little cheaper than most Benjamin Moore paint, which is nice, and it’s specifically made for ceilings. It is thicker (fewer drips) and lays down more solid particles as the paint dries, (looks better, better value than cheap thin paint.)

Paint a ceiling white before and after

Part way through the project. You can already tell how much lighter and more open the ceiling looks!

Roller and Frame

Get a nice roller that won’t shed lint. A nice, cared for roller will last for YEARS. Spend $2 more to get the nice roller and it will pay off! I’d recommend at least a ¾ inch nap so it can hold substantial paint and cover any texture you might have on your ceiling.

Roller extender

So nice when painting walls, but really a MUST when painting ceilings. You don’t want to be going up and down ladders more than you need to, this will save your back and arms so much. Make sure you get one that’s light though so you’re not working harder than you have to. A few ounces makes a big difference after a few hours.

Small Roller

You have the option of doing the edges with an edger (not a bad option, just not as fast and can still result in imperfect edges), a brush or a roller. The small roller is easiest, quickest and will blend in best. The advantage of using a small, narrow roller, is that you can go right up to the corners next to the tape. If you tried that with a regular sized roller, you’d have a mess on your hands. 

Tape

If you are really experienced  and have a steady hand, you might be able to freehand straight lines with a brush. I am definitely not one of those people. Tape is a must for me. And I just love the nice clean lines you get from it. I like to use the sharp lines tape and I find it works a little better than the normal tape, and it’s worth it to me for like a dollar more. 

Paint a ceiling white before and after

Drop cloth

You can use canvas or plastic. I prefer plastic because paint won’t sink through it like it can with canvas. It will shed little dried drops of paint, though, which is annoying, but nothing a quick vacuum can’t fix. I bought a huge drop cloth thinking it would save time in the large space I was working with, but ended up cutting it down for my second coat, just because I found the smaller size actually was easier to work with. If you plan to save and reuse this drop cloth, I’d recommend getting a thick one, but if this is just going to be one and done, feel free to get the cheaper one.

You can also use regular tarps if you don’t care about getting paint on them. They are more expensive, but if you already have one lying around, it can save a few bucks. Please, use a drop cloth of some sort! Even if you’re super neat and never drip paint (ahem, like I tend to), the roller will create a “paint mist” of super tiny little paint drops that land on everything. The good thing about the paint I used is that it’s water soluble, so the paint does come up if you mess up or spill, but it’s still super annoying to try and get those tiny little dots off everything! 

You can move the furniture, but if you can get around it easily and have a drop cloth, you don’t need to.

Paint a ceiling white

Paint Tray

I like a slightly sturdier paint tray that you can reuse, but you can also get a disposable one. You might want to reinforce it to make sure it’s sturdy enough not to spill paint if you get a really flimsy one. 

Step stool

Get a sturdy step stool or ladder if you don’t have one. A kitchen chair is okay, just make sure you’re not getting paint on it and that it’s sturdy enough to support you as you reach around the ceiling. 

Okay, on to the process!

Preparation is key. It can be tempting to skip and just get right to the painting, but preparing will make the actual painting process go quicker and smoother. First, get all your stuff set up. Find a home base for them while you paint your section of room. I’d recommend setting them on a large piece of cardboard or separate drop cloth that overlaps yours. If you put them on your dropcloth, they can be in your way and you run the risk of knocking things over or accidentally pulling the dropcloth and causing spills. 

Next, you’ll want to tape off the walls. This part is soooo annoying, but really so worth it. 

Put down the dropcloth in the area you’ll be working in. You can even tape them over the walls if you’re really concerned about spills and mist getting onto your walls. If you are painting the walls you get to skip this step if you want, just make sure any paint getting onto the walls isn’t going to be hard to cover. 

If you have recessed or canned lights, pull them down. I just pulled mine down a few inches so I didn’t even have to release the silver springs, and I was able to paint just fine. Tape any light fixtures you can’t move. I’d also recommend going by those with the small roller, just like the edges if possible. 

Woo! You’re ready to paint a ceiling.

1. Start by going around the edges of the room with the small roller.

You might want to use a step stool or ladder to get close enough to the ceiling to do it by hand, or you can use the extender. DO NOT put a step stool or ladder over a plastic drop cloth! It’s really slippery and you don’t want to break a leg in this process. I just pulled the drop cloth around the stepstool to cover areas around me and held the paint tray over the area directly above the stepstool to avoid drips and mist. 

2. Next, roll your large roller into the paint tray.

Loading it up as much as you can without it dripping will help the process go faster.  Paint one area at a time in a M or W shape, overlapping your strokes. Try to keep painting on the wet edge of the paint. If you have to leave it to dry, make sure the edge is nice and thin, not a big streak of wet paint that will leave a ledge when you come back to it. The 0 VOC paints like the Benjamin Moore tend to dry quickly, so keep this in mind. 

3. When you’ve finished one coat, let it dry fully.

If you’re painting over white, you might be okay with one coat, just make sure you touch up any spots that show through. I was covering a very light gray and I thought I might be okay with one coat, but I’m so glad I decided to do two! There were  quite a few gray or light coverage spots peeking through and after the second coat, I really got that glowy look I was going for. 

4. When you’re done and it’s totally dry, you can peel off the tape.

Run your fingernail or other sharp object along the tape line to break the paint seal. 

5. Sit back and admire your new ceiling! 

Woohoo! You’re done with the project!

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