How to Paint a Ceiling

A man standing on a ladder painting a ceiling.
  • 1-3 hours
  • Beginner
  • $150
What You'll Need
Face mask
Drop cloths
Quick release painter's tape
2" paint brush
Paint roller
Extension pole
Roller tray
Step ladder

If you are thinking about painting your walls, you might want to consider painting your ceilings as well. While you might think that your ceiling looks fine, there is a chance that it is dirtier and dingier than you think, especially next to fresh paint. A fresh coat will go a long way towards brightening things up.

Painting a ceiling is actually less time-consuming than painting several walls. However, it can be more physically demanding. But don't fret; follow these simple steps and you'll learn how to paint a ceiling like a professional.

Before You Start

If you plan on painting your walls, you'll want to paint your ceiling first. This way, if you spill or splatter any paint on the walls, you'll be able to correct it. If you are not painting your walls, be careful not to splatter or drip. If you do, clean up any drips before they dry.

Step 1 - Cover Your Furniture and Floors

Cover or remove as much furniture from your room as possible. This will help keep your furniture clean, and will aid in your ability to move around the room while painting. When you've finished covering and removing your furniture, cover the floor with drop cloths. If you don’t have enough drop cloths, cover the area beneath where you are painting.

Step 2 - Taping

The goal of taping is to get a clean line of paint at the edge of the ceiling that won't get on the wall or molding. Apply a quick release painter's tape around the perimeter of the room where the wall meets the ceiling. If there is any decorative molding at the ceilings edge, use your painter's tape there.

Make sure that the tape is free from any creasing or bubbling, and try to get as straight of a line as possible.

Step 3 - Cutting In

A man standing on a ladder getting ready to paint a room.

Cutting in is the process of working from the edges and corners of the ceiling inwards. A paint roller can't get to these spots, so you'll need to use a paint brush.

Once you've applied your painter's tape, you can start cutting in. Carefully use a step ladder, and start in the corner using a 2-inch brush. Paint a 2 to 3-inch trim line about 3 to 4 feet long on one wall. Repeat on the adjoining wall.

Step 4 - Painting

Fill the deep portion of your roller tray with paint. Attach your extension rod to your roller and slowly roll your roller in the tray, covering all sides of the roller with paint. Be careful during this step, as you do not want a dripping or over saturated roller.

When painting the ceiling with your roller, use a zigzag pattern. Work back and forth over a small section of about 3 to 4 feet. Then, go over the same area using straight lines. This will help to even out the paint and prevent edge lines from showing.

Continue the process of cutting in and working with your roller until you have finished painting the ceiling. The goal is to always work with a wet paint edge. This helps to minimize paint lines.

When the ceiling has thoroughly dried, add a second coat or touch up spots as needed.

Step 5 - Clean Up

Slowly remove the painter's tape from the ceiling and wash your brush, roller, and tray. (When using acrylic paint, you can wash your brush, roller, and tray with soap and warm water.)

If you choose to use an oil-based paint, you’ll need to use a paint thinner for cleaning. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated space and wear a face mask. Do not dispose of paint thinner in the trash, as it is flammable. You’ll need to store your paint thinner until you can take it to a household waste collection facility.