Helpful Tips for Painting a Ceiling

man painting a living room ceiling
 Elisabeth Schmitt / Getty Images

If you fear painting your ceiling, you are not alone: most painters, professional, amateur, and otherwise, dislike painting ceilings. Ceiling painting is strenuous, drip-prone, and hard to judge if you are getting all of it covered.

To add insult to injury, in most cases you are only re-painting the ceiling white again.  While it is always nice to freshen up your space, this is not a change that will rock your world.

 With that in mind, here is how to make your ceiling painting project go as smoothly as possible:

Forget the Paint Sprayer and Go With the Roller

By the time you get the sprayer set up and every non-paintable item covered--which pretty much describes every single item in the room--you could have already painted your ceiling with a roller.

Paint rollers will give you the best coverage with much less splatter than paint sprayers.

Fancy Scaffolds Will Not Work, Extension and Ladder Work Best

Scaffolding would be the best bet, except that it takes forever to build up a room's worth of scaffolding (or moved around a smaller portion of scaffolding to follow your painting). Plus, the only real scaffolding you should use comes at cost from a rental yard, not from scraps of wood and cinder blocks laying around your yard.

Use a roller extension, but be sure to use the shortest possible extension to minimize the weight of the pole.

For example, if you have a 17-foot extension to paint an 8-foot ceiling, that means that nearly ten feet of aluminum pole are collapsed into the handle. This creates more weight for you, thus greater strain on your shoulders, arms and lower back.

Know That Ceilings Are an Entire Painting Project

After a long weekend of painting your room's walls and trim, it is tempting to want to dash off a coat of paint on your ceiling.

Wrong. Ceilings are often called the "fifth wall." It is a saying that emphasizes the oft-forgotten design aspects of the ceiling. But it also emphasizes that ceilings are a big, gnarly project.

Devote an entire weekend to a ceiling or two, and you will be happier.

Go With Flat White Ceiling Paint

In my family, the biggest painting point of contention is: "Why can't we paint the ceilings some funky color?"

If you want funk, you have innumerable other surfaces on which you can add that funk. Accent walls are practically begging for funky colors; ceilings, not so much.

It is no mistake or accidental omission flat white is still the preferred finish for 99% of all ceilings.

Flat white ceiling paint has the advantage of:

  1. More Light: High degree of light bounce, giving your entire room more light.
  2. Infinite View: White provides a limitless vista that your eyes have a hard time focusing on. In other words, when you look at a blue surface, it appears to have a stopping point. However, when you look at a well-painted flat white surface, it appears to go on infinitely. This gives the room the feeling of more space.
  3. Flat Is Best: Flat or matte, as opposed to satin, eggshell, glossy, or otherwise, further enhances the appearance of a limitless vista. Reflections of light on a ceiling, due to any type of gloss, will tell the eye that this is where the surface "stops."

    Prepare For Drips, Because They Will Happen

    Just try painting a ceiling without creating drips. This will not work.

    Even the most fastidious professional will create drips when painting ceilings. Yes, you might get by without drop cloths (if you want) for walls and other vertical areas, but this is impossible to do with ceilings.

    Working in Grids Helps You Keep Track

    Work in (imaginary) 3-foot by 3-foot sections.

    If you work larger areas than that, you lose track of where you have painted, especially since this is a white-on-white project.

    One trick is to cast a laser level's light on the ceiling. The line keeps you on track, and you can move it as you go on.