How to Paint a Ceiling: Top Tips for a Streak-Free Finish

Lift and brighten any ceiling space in your home with a new coat of paint by following these tips for streak-free professional-quality results.

If you think painting a ceiling is just like painting a wall, think again. There's a lot more to consider, like paint drips, different surface materials, and the added challenge of painting upside-down. But this is still a project you can do yourself. When selecting paint for your ceiling, opt for flat, matte, or eggshell finishes, which tend to hide imperfections. With a sturdy ladder and our tips below, you'll be done in a weekend.

Editor's Tip: If you're painting an entire room, paint the ceiling first. That way you can cover paint splatters on walls later.

cabin with light blue painted ceiling

How to Paint the Ceiling

Once you've gathered everything that you need to start painting your ceiling, grab a helper and get started.

Supplies Needed

  • Large drop cloths
  • Ladder
  • Painters tape
  • Plastic or newspaper
  • Spackling compound
  • Putty knife
  • Sanding block
  • Primer (optional)
  • 2- or 2-1/2-inch angled brush
  • Paint
  • 9-inch roller brush

Step-by-Step Directions

Here's the best way to paint your ceiling with tips from our experts.

using painters tape to mask wall from ceiling
Marty Baldwin

Step 1: Prep Room

Before you can begin painting your ceiling, you need to prep the room. Cover furnishings and flooring with drop cloths to protect surfaces from paint splatters. Even better, relocate furnishings to another area of the house so you can move around the room unencumbered.

Protect the top of the wall or crown molding with painters tape unless you plan to paint the wall. In this case, you can overlap the wall slightly and paint over it later. Protect the edges of light-fixture rims or canopies that touch the ceiling using painter's tape, or unscrew and drop the canopy slightly away from the ceiling so you can paint near the opening. When you finish painting, return the canopy to its original position. Protect ceiling-fan blades with plastic or newspaper secured with tape.

Step 2: Clean Ceiling

Make sure you have a sturdy, safe stepladder that remains steady as you reach for the ceiling. Shine a light on the ceiling so you can spy imperfections and fill with spackling compound. Let filler dry and sand smooth. If your room has a popcorn ceiling texture that you'd like to remove, start here for how-to instructions, and remember that you'll first need to check for the presence of asbestos.

Next, block any stains you've spotted. Whether they're spots from grease, smoke, or a leaky roof, cover ceiling stains first with a stain-blocking primer so the color won't leach through the finish coat.

painting edges around ceiling with brush
Marty Baldwin

Step 3: Cut In with Paint

Use a 2- or 2-1/2-inch angled brush to cut in a 3- to 4-inch-wide band of paint around the edges of the ceiling. This allows you to roll on paint afterward without getting too close to the walls and accidentally getting paint on them from the roller. Start in one corner of the ceiling and paint out in both directions several feet before applying paint to this first section of the ceiling while the edge is still wet. Or if you have a helper cutting in, immediately follow the helper and apply paint to the ceiling with a roller.

using roller to paint ceiling
Hannah Bruneman

Step 4: Continue Painting

Use a 9-inch roller with a 1/2-inch nap to hold a generous quantity of paint. Add an extension handle so you can roll paint on the ceiling without getting on a ladder. As you roll, apply only moderate pressure so paint doesn't splatter. Roll the paint in small sections, using a back-and-forth motion, starting in one corner of the room and working your way across. Don't roll the paint on in zigzag or W-shape patterns.

Step 5: Finish and Apply Second Coat

As you work your way across the ceiling, position the roller a foot away from the wet edge and roll the next section into the wet edge, overlapping it slightly. Keep rolling until the entire ceiling is covered. Let dry and apply a second coat, cutting in as noted before and then rolling on another coat perpendicular to the first coat for best coverage.

Tips for Painting a Popcorn-Textured Ceiling

If you plan to keep the popcorn texture on your ceiling, use the flat tip of a screwdriver to knock off a thin band of texture where the ceiling meets the wall. This will allow you to achieve a cleaner edge when you paint your ceiling's edges, whether you opt to use painter's tape or just a steady hand.

When it's time to roll on the top coat, use a segmented foam roller or a thick-nap (3/4-inch) roller. To prevent the texture from over-saturating and peeling away, apply paint with a light hand, and try not to roll back over an area once you've applied the paint. Let the ceiling dry thoroughly before applying a second coat.

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