How to Paint a Ceiling

painter painting a ceiling

Painting a ceiling can brighten the space and make a room look bigger or cozier, depending on your chosen color. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, this task can be overwhelming. In this article, we explain the right way to paint a ceiling, including how to prep it, what tools you need and tips to make the job easier. 

What You Need

Painting your ceiling can be a fulfilling and straightforward DIY project with the proper supplies. Before you get started, make sure you have your tools ready and prep the room. This will help minimize cleanup time and ensure the best results. 


  • Paint roller cover
  • Paint roller frame
  • Extension pole
  • Paint tray
  • Paint brush
  • Ladder
  • Bucket
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Cleaning gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Ceiling paint
  • Duster
  • Drywall sandpaper
  • Sponge
  • Spackle or caulk

Prep the Room

prepare ceiling for painting
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1. Remove any Furniture

You want to paint your ceiling, not your belongings. Before you paint, make sure you clear the room by removing all of the furniture. This will help you avoid getting paint splatter on the furniture that may permanently damage it. 

2. Dust the Ceiling

Remove any dirt and grime from the ceiling before applying primer or paint. Dust can negatively affect the paint adhesion and give you poor results. You can use a long-handled microfiber duster or a vacuum attachment with plenty of reach to eliminate the dust. 

3. Sand the Ceiling

worker preparing ceiling for painting
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For ceilings that aren’t textured, sanding can help create the ultimate smooth finish and increase paint adhesion. A simple once-over sand with 100-grit sandpaper using a sanding pole makes the job easy and gives good results. When you’re done, wipe the ceiling down with a damp sponge to remove any excess dust.

4. Check for Cracks

While you’re at it, check the ceiling for cracks and holes. Painting over the cracks won’t fix them; if the paint manages to cover them up, they’re likely to reappear over time. Use spackle or caulk to repair cracks or holes before priming and painting the ceiling.

5. Remove Fixtures

You don’t want stray paint to damage your light fixtures. Removing any ceiling fixtures will also make painting the ceiling easier. Before you start removing things, make sure you turn off the power.

6. Put Down Drop Cloths

Cover the floor and any pieces of furniture that are too big to move with drop cloths. This protects the area from paint spills and splatter. You can use painter’s tape to keep the drop cloths in place. Use a combination of painter’s tape and drop cloths to cover doors or windows if you’re also concerned about paint dripping on those.

7. Tape the Tops of the Walls

If you’re only painting the ceiling, or the ceiling a different color than the rest of the room, use painter’s tape for a clean edge. Place tape where the walls meet the ceiling or over the crown molding to keep stray roller marks off the walls. If you’re painting the entire room, you’ll still start by painting the ceiling, but tape isn’t necessary.

How to Paint

painting ceiling with a paint roller
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Now that you’ve gathered your supplies and prepped the room, you’re ready to start! Follow these simple steps to make painting your ceiling a breeze.

1. Prime the Ceiling

Use a paint roller with an extension pole to prime the ceiling with a coat of stain-blocking primer. The primer provides a barrier to stains, allows for better paint adhesion, and lets you use fewer paint coats. Allow the primer to dry completely before painting. If you’re painting a lighter color over a darker one, a second coat of primer may be helpful.

2. Cut the Corners

No, we don’t mean to do a sloppy job. Cutting corners when painting a ceiling means painting where the edges of the ceiling meet the walls. Start in the corners using a brush to paint a cut-line 2 to 3 inches wide. This method ensures the paint will cover any areas the roller may miss and paint lines will be neat. While the cut line is still wet, continue to the next step.

3. Paint in Sections with a Roller

Begin by painting in a corner and rolling in straight overlapping rows. To keep the paint from spattering, roll slowly. Move quickly from one section to the next to keep a wet edge and ensure an even coat. Avoid leaving paint lines with the edges of the paint roller and feather the edges to reduce noticeable lines between sections.

4. Apply a Second Coat

A second coat may not be necessary if you apply primer correctly. However, whites and bright colors may require a second coat of paint to stand out.  Allow the first coat to fully dry before applying a second coat. Repeat steps 2 and 3, cutting the corners and painting perpendicularly with a roller, and allow the paint to dry. 

5. Clean Up

Clean your paint brush, tray, and paint roller in warm, soapy water. Squeeze out any remaining paint, rinse with clean water, and set out to air dry. You can remove the painter’s tape once the paint is dry to the touch. Then, reattach ceiling light fixtures. 

Tips and Tricks

  • Use ceiling paint instead of wall paint because it is formulated to drip less.
  • Use paint tray liners for easy clean-up
  • White ceiling paint can make rooms with little natural light feel brighter
  • Dark colors can help large rooms with high ceilings feel more intimate
  • Paint the walls and ceiling the same color in small rooms to make them feel bigger

Keep Safety in Mind

Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from paint spatter and dust. Consider wearing a dust mask when sanding. Wear a baseball cap when painting to keep paint out of your hair, and wear clothing you don’t mind getting paint on. You can reduce exposure to paint fumes by opening windows or leaving your mask on while painting. 

Always follow ladder safety rules, such as not standing on the top three rungs. When using a step ladder, having a friend hold it and be nearby in case of an emergency is a good idea. Ensure you’re working with enough light to see everything you’re doing. Since you likely had to turn off the power to the room to remove fixtures, you can use LED work lights for this purpose. 

For more information, read our detailed guide on painting safety tips.


Why does my ceiling look patchy after painting?

There are numerous reasons why your paint job may look patchy. Skipping steps in the painting process, such as dusting or priming, is the easiest way to end up with a patchy paint job. Sometimes, cheap or old paint may be too thin, producing poor results. It’s also best to use a new or very clean roller rather than an old dirty one for best results.

Can I paint over old paint?

It’s typically a good idea to prime before you start your painting project, even if you’re not removing any old paint. However, if there is no significant staining or damage and the old paint is the same as the new paint, you can paint directly over it.

What is the correct order to paint a room?

If you’re painting a whole room, it’s typical to start by painting the ceiling, walls, and trim. This means you won’t have paint drips messing up your hard work. However, to get your trim right, you can paint the trim first. It’s usually easier to tape the trim rather than the wall perimeter. This method is popular with professional painters, so why not try it yourself?

When to Hire a Pro

When planning any home improvement project, you need the right tools. While you don’t need anything too complicated to paint a ceiling, your supplies will give you the best results and keep you safe. Don’t forget to protect your furniture and floors by using drop cloths and prime your ceiling before painting.

Before you start painting, ensure that you’re prepared for the job. Textured ceilings may require specialized equipment such as sprayers, so it can be challenging for homeowners to paint themselves. Extremely high ceilings, such as cathedral ceilings, can be challenging to reach. In these cases, consider hiring a local professional.

Main Image Credit: Elnur / Canva Pro / License

Beck Carter

Beck is a creative writer from Central Texas. She graduated with an MFA in poetry from Texas State University. Beck enjoys martial arts, kayaking, and walking her wiener dog, Cookie.