How to Paint a Ceiling for Beginners (10 Easy Steps)

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You’re sick and tired of looking at it.

You know, the insect graveyard on your ceiling from all that swatting you did. The cobwebs hanging down from the corners and the light.

Or that yellow stain from when the upstairs toilet ran over. Ugh!

It’s time to paint that ugly ceiling. But maybe money’s tight an understatement these days), and you can’t afford to hire a painter. Or, perhaps you’re apprehensive about trying to do it on your own.

Don’t freak out.

I got you!

I have 30 years of experience in the Painting and Home Improvements industry, and I will teach you How to Paint a Ceiling for Beginners (10 Easy Steps).

When you finish, you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to get this job done and save a ton of money in the process.

Let’s get started.

Before You Begin

What type of ceiling do you have, and what’s the condition? The kind of ceiling will determine how it’s painted. Is it a flat surface or textured? Jot it down.

Start by inspecting the ceiling for cracks, stains, and nail pops. Make a note of anything you find.

Next, check if you have a can of wall paint for the room in which you’ll paint the ceiling. The wall paint will come in handy for touch-ups later.

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Step #1 on How to Paint a Ceiling for Beginners (10 Easy Steps)

Make a list of what you’ll need

  • Ladder or step stool
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Drop cloths (to cover the perimeter of the room)
  • 150 Grit Sandpaper (for a flat ceiling)
  • Sanding pole (for flat ceilings/same pole can be used for rolling)
  • 9-inch Roller Tray
  • ⅜ inch nap roller cover (½ inch if ceiling is textured)
  • Pole or Broomstick (for rolling the ceiling)
  • 2 ½ inch angled paint brush
  • Paint pot & 5-gallon bucket
  • Stirring sticks (free)
  • Rags
  • Hat and eye protection
  • Flat latex ceiling paint: Sherwin Williams Paint Calculator

Pro Tip: Don’t skimp on the ceiling paint. Cheaper paint splatters more.

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  • Primer * (we’ll touch on this in a bit)
  • Lightweight spackle (If the ceiling has cracks and holes)
  • 3-inch spackle knife
  • Tube of latex caulk
  • Caulking gun
  • Straight edge tool
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  • Pro Tip: Furniture slider pads are a great tool to have. Use them to move furniture quickly and efficiently to prep the room for painting.

Step #2: Remove What you Can From the Room

Before painting the ceiling, you don’t have to remove everything from the room. But, you will need to organize things.

  • Remove hanging pictures and art from the walls
  • Take out small furniture (lamps, end tables)
  • Cover electronics with plastic sheeting
  • Cover hanging light fixtures with plastic

**When covered in plastic, don’t turn on the light**

  • Move all the furniture to the middle of the room
  • Cover all the furniture with plastic sheeting
  • Place drop cloths around the perimeter of the room
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Pro Tips: *Leave enough space to “cut” in around light fixtures*

*“Cut in” around light fixtures twice, then move furniture back*

Step #3: Prep the Ceiling

Flat Ceilings:

  • Use the pole sander for sanding the ceiling lightly. Use short, back and forth motions, and be careful not to let the pad “flip.
  • Patch holes and nail pops with the lightweight spackle. When the spackle dries, lightly sand the patch, so it’s level with the ceiling.
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  • Fill cracks with caulk and wipe off the excess with a damp rag.
  • Spot prime all patches and stains with primer.

Pro Tip: Purchase a spray can of primer. No brush needed

Textured Ceilings:

Don’t attempt to sand a textured ceiling. Use a rag or towel to “swipe” off the ceiling and remove cobwebs and dust.

  • Fill holes with the lightweight spackle. “Shape” the spackle to match the texture and allow it to dry.
  • Don’t sand the spackle but make sure it’s completely dry before spot priming.
  • Fill cracks with caulking and wipe off the excess with a damp rag
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Before you paint the ceiling:

Most ceilings don’t need to be fully primed. Chances are, the ceiling was primed when installed, but if unsure, you should prime it.

  • Mix all the paint in a 5-gallon bucket and stir with a paint stick.
  • Pour some paint into the roller tray and dip the roller in the paint. Try not to overload the roller and roll out the excess paint on the ribbed portion of the tray.
  • Test the ceiling by rolling a small 2-foot by 2-foot section. Stop if you see the roller removing the old paint or the textured finish. You may need to hire a pro to spray the ceiling if that happens.
  • If the wet roller “pulls” off the old paint or texture, then the ceiling will need to be fully primed. Follow the steps for the painting below but with one coat of latex primer.

Step #4: Cut in the Ceiling

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Some think painter’s tape applied around the wall edge is the best cut-in method. Painters tape is a great tool but can cause damage to the wall.

Check out my post on The Pros and Cons of Painters Tape to learn more.

  • Cut in the perimeter of the ceiling using the straight edge tool. Wipe off the tool’s blade with a damp rag after each cut. Rinse out the rag in a bucket of water after a few passes.
  • Paint around light fixtures and recessed light flanges. You can pull down the flange a few inches to make the cut easier.
  • With hanging lights, you need to remove the nut and lower the cover plate down from the ceiling.
  • Remember to do the cut first and then roll the ceiling. Cutting in first allows the cut to dry while you roll the ceiling, so you can start the second coat immediately when you finish.

Step #5: Roll the First Coat on the Ceiling

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Paint the ceiling in square sections. Divide the room into four quarters.

  • Start in a corner and roll a “border” along the cut lines away from the corner on both sides, forming an “L.” Be sure to roll out to the middle of the room in both directions.
  • Roll the paint in 2–3 foot patterns that eventually extend one foot beyond the center of the room.
  • Roll the paint in both directions and fill in all the spaces.
  • Repeat on the other sections until the entire ceiling is painted.
  • Inspect the walls for drips and spatter and wipe with a damp rag.

Pro Tip: Ceiling paints have a slight tint. When the paint is wet, it has a pink or blue hue but dries white, making it easier to see where you left off.

Step #6: Cut in the Ceiling Again

Repeat the process in Step #4.

The 2nd coat of the cut will go much faster than the first.

Step #7: Roll the Second Coat on the Ceiling

Repeat the process from Step #5.

  • Roll the ceiling opposite to the first coat to ensure complete coverage.
  • If the ceiling cut got on the walls, you could touch it up with the wall paint (if you have any).

Step #8: Remove the Plastic Sheeting

  • Remove the plastic by carefully folding it inwards towards itself. Don’t let the top side of the plastic touch any furniture or electronics.
  • Don’t save the plastic; throw it away.

Step #9: Remove the Drop Cloths

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  • The drop cloths will have wet paint on top, so fold them inwards to avoid contact with the floor.
  • Take the drop cloths outside or into a garage where they can be shaken and folded later.

Step #10: Put the Room Back Together

Pro Tip: Wipe your feet on the drop cloths before you exit the room.

  • Push recessed light flanges back in place.
  • Reattach the hanging light cover to the ceiling.
  • Hang pictures and art
  • Place furniture back into position

You Did It!

Remember that insect graveyard? Where is it now?

What about the cobwebs and stains? Not there anymore.

You started not knowing what to expect or if you could do this. How about now?

You did it! By following How to Paint a Ceiling for Beginners (10 Easy Steps), you’ve become a painting Ninja!

You’ve saved a ton of money and have the knowledge and skills to do more DIY projects. Can you smell the savings?

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Let’s get started on the next project. We’ve got a whole lot more we can do together. Follow me;


Can you just paint a ceiling?

Yes and No. If a ceiling was primed in the past and has no visible imperfections, it’s possible to paint a ceiling with no preparation. Follow the guide in Step #3 to test for issues.

Is it better to paint a ceiling with a brush or a roller?

It’s best to use a brush and a roller when painting a ceiling. Only using a brush is time-consuming and leaves a poor finish on the surface. A roller will leave a better appearance on the ceiling; however, you can’t use it to “cut in” the perimeter.

What’s the easiest way to paint a ceiling without straining your neck?

Rolling a ceiling with a long enough pole will ease neck strain. Using a short pole will result in standing directly under the painting area, causing the neck to bend and contort more.

How do you paint a textured ceiling?

Textured ceilings require a roller cover with a thicker nap. A ½-inch cover is suitable for most textures. Thicker textures and roller covers equal more spatters, so wear eye protection.

How to paint a ceiling without making a mess?

Using high-end ceiling paint will lessen paint spatters and provide better coverage. Roller covers create spatters. It’s a fact of life. Take precautions and expect a messy situation.


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