Most decorative ceiling tiles are not made to be restored. Damaged tiles must be replaced, because the material they're made from is extremely fragile, and even a slight amount of damage could be impossible to conceal. There are a few small tricks of the trade that can be brought to bear, though, including hand tooling edges, resurfacing tiles, or painting over the whole ceiling, as the steps below outline.
Step 1—Protect the Area
Cover the entire floor under the area to be restored. You will be spraying paint upwards, which will cause significant dotting at floor level. Putting down thin plastic sheets will make cleanup fast and easy. Be sure to wear safety glasses any time you are working with ceiling tiles. They are notorious for creating dust at the slightest movement, and you will be looking directly upward into the path of the falling particles.
Step 2—Rearrange the Tiles
If one of your ceiling tiles is damaged, an easy solution is simply to move the damaged tile to an area where it's less likely to be noticed. Move damaged tiles from the center part of the ceiling and place them in corners to minimize their impact. Edge pieces are the best choice for replacements, especially along the rear of the room. Avoid placing tile with damage in an area that is visibile to anyone entering through the doorway.
Step 3—Vacuum the Tiles
Using the hose and stair tool of a household vacuum cleaner, clean the basement ceiling tiles carefully. Removing built-up dirt and dust will allow the paint to stick more uniformly, and will avoid dusty patches in the finish coat of paint. Take extra time around light and ventilation fixtures, where dust is often drawn by air currents.
Step 4—Replacing Bad Tiles
Rearranging tiles is only a practical solution when their flaws are slight. Any badly damaged tiles have to be replaced. There are no ways to fill gouges or cuts in ceiling tile, and broken ones cannot be repaired. Remove the damaged tiles carefully and replace them with new tiles. Remember to keep the direction indicated on the tile back aligned with the other tiles in the ceiling.
The paint for suspended ceiling tiles needs to be a special variety, known as a non-bridging paint. This type of paint allows you to paint the ceiling tiles and grid work all at the same time, without having to remove individual tiles. Tiles will not stick to the grid as it dries, and can be easily lifted out later.
Paint the ceiling in long, even strokes, holding the can approximately 8 inches from the surface. Once you have begun spraying in a particular direction, continue using that same pattern throughout. Changing the pattern of the spray mid-task will result in highly visible differences when the paint dries.