How to Paint a Ceiling

Painting ceiling

 The Spruce / Margot Cavin

In This Article
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Yield: Paint a 15-foot by 20-foot ceiling
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100 (per 300-square-feet of ceiling area)

If you are reluctant to paint your ceiling, you are not alone. This strenuous project comes with its share of drips and drops, plus it's often hard to know if you're properly covering the ceiling. But there are ways to paint a ceiling that help you eliminate most drips and let you judge whether you are covering the entire ceiling.

Tips for Painting a Ceiling

Use Ceiling Paint

Ceiling paint is formulated differently than wall paint. Ceiling paint's thicker and stickier formulation is meant to eliminate most drips.

Correctly Size the Paint Roller

Ceiling paint is best applied using a roller cover with a 3/8-inch nap if painting a smooth ceiling and a thicker nap for textured ceilings. Painting over your head is made easier when you use the right size nap roller cover. Thick-nap roller covers pick up more paint than is necessary, creating more weight on the end of the pole. Not only that but thicker nap rollers are more difficult to roll across the ceiling.

Keep Track of the Paint

To keep track of what section of the ceiling you've painted, cast a laser level's light upward to the ceiling. Switch the laser level to its grid pattern. Paint within one of the grids, then move the laser line as you finish painting a section.

If you don't want to use a grid, then position your light source to help you better see the paint on the ceiling. Usually, if the light source is facing in your direction and pointing up to the ceiling, you'll better see the contrast between the old paint and the new paint.

Which Color to Use for Painting a Ceiling

Flat or matte white ceiling paint is the most popular type of paint for a few significant reasons:

  • Flat and matte paint hides imperfections on the ceiling more than satin or glossy finishes that highlight every flaw on the surface.
  • The white bounces and reflects more light in the room resulting in a brighter space.
  • White ceiling paint provides a limitless vista for your eyes that gives the illusion that the room is larger than it is, whereas a colored ceiling offers the illusion of a smaller space.

Paint Ceiling First or Walls First?

If you are painting the entire room, it often doesn't matter if you paint your ceiling before or after your walls. Regardless of which order you paint a room, you will inevitably drip or splatter a little bit of ceiling paint on the walls or wall paint on the ceiling that will need touching up.

Generally, it's best to paint the ceiling first. Since the ceiling color is white, any extra paint that ends up on the walls will be covered over with wall paint, which usually is some type of color darker than white.

Tools and supplies to paint a ceiling
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Paint roller frame
  • Paint roller cover(s)
  • Paint tray and liner(s)
  • Angled paint brush or paint edging tool
  • Drop cloth
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Painter's tape
  • Putty knife
  • Extension pole
  • Wood paint stirring stick
  • Paint can pour spout
  • Latex or nitrile gloves
  • Ladder/step ladder
  • Vacuum


  • Interior stain-blocking primer
  • Flat, white ceiling paint
  • Spackle compound
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Medium-grit sandpaper


  1. Prepare the Room

    Remove as much furniture from the room as possible. Lay down paper or canvas drop cloths on the floor. Lay drop cloths or plastic sheeting on top of furnishings left in the room. The best way to know how much covering to lay down is to assume that every flat surface below the ceiling potentially could be dripped on.

    Lay drop cloth before painting
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Protection from Roller Splatter

    Though paint rollers will give you the best ceiling coverage with much less splatter than paint sprayers, they will still produce a fine, invisible mist of white droplets that will land on surfaces. Just because you can't see drips doesn't mean that the surfaces aren't being covered with paint.

  2. Remove Obstructions

    Turn off power to the room before removing light fixtures. Remove light fixtures and any smoke detectors. You can leave solid electrical box faceplates because they can be painted over.

    Remove light fixtures before painting
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin


    Smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, and carbon monoxide detectors should never be painted over. Remove smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Either paint around fire sprinklers or gently cover them with plastic.

  3. Protect Surfaces

    If you are painting the ceiling after you've painted the walls, now is the time to hang plastic sheeting around the room to protect the vertical surfaces from ceiling paint. Hang plastic sheeting over windows and doors. Then put protective painter's tape over ceiling trim and molding.

    Protect surfaces and ceiling trim before painting ceiling
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  4. Prep the Ceiling

    Vacuum the ceilings to remove dust so the primer and paint can better adhere to the surface. Spackle any small holes or tiny cracks in the ceiling (this is an optional step that requires about two more hours to your work time to let the spackle dry so you can sand smooth). Sand any other rough spots on the ceiling with 100-grit sandpaper (optional). Then vacuum the ceiling again after sanding.

    Prep ceiling by sanding any rough spots
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  5. Prepare Your Supplies and Tools

    Set up the paint liner in the paint tray just outside or to the side of the room so you don't trip on the items while painting. Use the can spout to pour primer into the tray liner. Put a new roller cover on the roller frame. Prepare to put your roller on the extension pole after dipping it into the primer or paint.

    Pour paint in tray
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin 

    Avoid Back Strain

    Use the shortest possible extension to minimize the weight of the pole. For example, using a 17-foot roller extension to paint an 8-foot ceiling creates too much strain because nearly 10 feet of the pole is collapsed into the handle. This excess weight creates strain on your shoulders, arms, and lower back.

  6. Prime the Ceiling

    Cut in edges of the ceiling using an angled brush or paint edging tool and primer. Roll on the rest of the primer. Then let the primer dry completely.

    Prime ceiling
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Use Stain-Blocking Primer

    Use a stain-blocking primer to prepare the ceiling's surface for paint. Primer also helps hide more flaws, covers over worn colors, and prevents any stain bleed-through.

  7. Paint the Ceiling's Edges

    After the primer has dried, use an angled brush or paint edging tool to paint the edges of the ceiling with the ceiling paint. This band of paint should be around 2 inches to 3 inches wide. You do not need to let the paint around the edges dry before the next step.

    If you are painting the ceiling white for a second time, it's important to know that not all white paints are the same shade. Old white paint will be darker than new white paint. Even two different brands or batches of new white paint can differ. That's why it helps to box the paint. Boxing means to pour several cans of paint into one, large bucket and then mix it for color consistency.

    Paint ceiling edges using angled brush
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  8. Paint the Ceiling in Grids

    Change the roller pad on the roller frame. Add a fresh liner to the paint tray and then pour paint into the tray. Fill the roller with paint that is in the paint tray.

    Paint the ceiling in 3-foot by 3-foot sections (a small enough area to keep track of what you've covered with paint). To prevent permanent roller marks, start each new section by overlapping onto the wet edges of the preceding section. Painting over wet edges helps to seamlessly blend sections. Apply a second coat of ceiling paint if necessary.

    Paint ceiling in grids of 3x3
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin