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How to Paint a Ceiling without Making a Mess

Accent Ceiling Painted with Sherwin-Williams SuperPaint in Urbane Bronze (SW7048)

The color of your ceiling has a large effect on the overall ambiance, outlook, and lighting of your home or apartment. Giving your ceiling a fresh paint coat is a great way to brighten up your home and give your living spaces a sense of character and comfort.

Painting a ceiling can be a long, arduous process—but it is often necessary and worth the visual impact. Follow this guide to painting flat ceilings from helpful tips about the right material choices, best techniques, and the potential decision to hire a professional.

Remove Furniture from the Room

Clear the furniture out of the room before painting a ceiling is essential for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, removing furniture from the room will protect it from paint splatter and drips. Second, it will give the painter room to work. Because you will be looking up at the ceiling, it’s also essential to clear any additional tools and equipment out of the room. After all, you don’t want to trip.

Cleaning the Ceiling

Clean the ceiling before painting is essential because paint doesn’t stick to dirt and dust. Take the opportunity to remove any floating cobwebs in the corner.

If there is water, mildew, or smoke damage on the ceiling, it is vital to block the stains with a stain-blocking primer properly. If a stain-blocking primer is skipped, it could take countless layers of the best paint to seal the stain. I recommend using an oil-based primer like Zinsser cover stain or a shellac primer like Zinsser BIN. Both of these primers come in an aerosol can for easy and fast application. Oil-based primers work best for water stains, while shellac-based primers are more effective against smoke or nicotine stains.

Finally, this is a great time to repair any ceiling cracks or divot before painting.

Protect the Floors and Fixtures

Protect the floors with a high-quality canvas drop-cloth before painting a ceiling. The canvas absorbs droplets of paint so that you aren’t tracking it all over the house. If you use a plastic drop cloth, which you shouldn’t, the drip from the ceiling could track along with the floors, creating a mess. Use a stepladder to mask off ceiling fans and light fixtures.

Remove Vents and Can Lights

Remove all vent registers on the ceiling and canned lights before painting the ceiling saves time. First, removing these items saves you time and is quicker than masking. Second, it saves time by not having to cut-in around the registers and vents.

Use a Brush to Cut-In

Use a 2-1/2″ or 3″ angled sash brush to cut-in around the edges of the wall and light fixtures. Cut-in four inches wide from the wall and fixtures. If you are not painting the walls, use tape to protect the walls. If the walls are going to be painted as well, we will also paint an inch down on the wall where it meets the ceiling. Begin in one of the corners in the room.

We like to cut-in four inches from the corner on the ceiling and approximately one inch down the wall. Cut the ceiling around the room. Cutting-in means painting along the perimeter of the ceiling where it meets the walls.

Divide the Ceiling into Sections

When painting with a roller, divide the ceiling into manageable grid-like sections. This allows you to keep track of progress and to keep a wet edge. Work in the most substantial grid sections you can manage. Start painting a room from a corner.

Choose the Right Roller and Extension Pole

When it’s time to roll, use a low nap roller for smooth ceilings, and a 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch nap for textured ceilings. Buy a quality roller frame. Invest in an extension pole. This will take a lot of the strain out of reaching above your head to paint, and will help you reach higher spots and angles easier. Additionally, an extension pole helps you reach the ceiling without a ladder.

Use Proper Painting Techniques

When painting a ceiling, it is crucial to use proper painting techniques. Paint in small sections of about three to four feet square, depending on your reach and how close you are to the ceiling. Roll the paint back and forth in straight lines, overlapping each line, and try to distribute the paint evenly in the section you’re painting. It’s essential to roll the paint slowly. The faster you roll, the more splatter you’ll create. When you’ve finished a section, move on to a section beside it, and overlap the previous section.

It helps to put a light on a ceiling. It allows you to see imperfections and to see wet paint.

Each time you load your roller up, load it up good with plenty of paint. It should almost be dripping off the roller before you begin to apply paint. Many first-timers barely get enough paint in and on the roller sleeve leaving “dead” spots on the ceiling where not enough paint was applied. Please don’t allow your roller to run out of paint or to run dry, because the roller is more likely to streak when it runs out of paint.

Next, you should “lay it off” the paint or, in other words, go back to the beginning of that section and give it one final smooth roller stroke. Just remember: Lay it on Nice & Thick, Lay it Off Nice & Smooth.

Use Quality Ceiling Paint

It is worth purchasing quality ceiling paint when repainting a ceiling.  Purchase good quality ceiling paint, not the cheap big box stock.  I have tried many different ‘value’ ceiling paint, and it always takes multiple coats and leaves strakes.  It is a wise purchasing decision to buy quality ceiling paint. I like Benjamin Moore Ceiling Paint and Sherwin-Williams Eminence for painting ceilings.

Ceiling paint is thicker and has a higher viscosity, which reduces drips and splatters.

Purchase and apply flat paint to hide imperfections in the ceilings.  Furthermore, you will need to choose a paint color for your ceiling.  It is fashionable to paint ceilings white because white makes a room seem large and bright.

Apply a Second Coat

Apply a second coat of paint to the ceiling if necessary. If you opted to paint your ceiling a brighter color, or feel that the white shade you chose could stand out more, a second coat may be needed. When painting a second coat, roll the ceiling perpendicular to the first coat, in a crosshatch pattern.

Hire a Professional

Ready to have your ceiling painted but don’t want to do the job yourself? Hire Ainsworth Painting to do the job for you.

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