How to Paint a Ceiling—the Easy Way

Our guide includes when to do it and what tools to use.

How to Paint a Ceiling, step ladder and paint can
Photo: Getty Images

If the mere thought of painting the ceiling makes your neck hurt, we hear you. But it's necessary to make a freshly painted room look complete. To ensure the process is as easy and pain-free as possible, follow these tips to finish the job quickly and efficiently. From starting with the correct supplies—a sturdy ladder is a must— to adopting the best technique, here's how to paint a ceiling the right way.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 2- to 3-inch paintbrush
  • 3/4-inch nap roller
  • Roller extension pole
  • Ladder


  • Painter's tape
  • Plastic tarp
  • Small bucket
  • Paint tray
  • Paint


How to Paint a Ceiling Step-by-Step

  1. Paint the Ceiling Before the Walls

    How to Paint Ceiling, Paint First
    Getty Images

    One question everyone asks: Should you paint the walls or ceiling first? If you're planning to paint the entire room, start with the ceiling. That way, you won't have to worry about splatters from the roller getting onto the walls—it will all get touched up once the walls are painted. The one caveat: If you're painting the ceiling a dramatic contrasting color to the walls, you'll want to tape off any molding and be careful not to get paint on the walls.

  2. Apply Painter's Tape

    How to Paint Ceiling, Tape
    Getty Images

    If you're only painting the ceiling, start by taping off the edge of the wall or crown molding.

    • Use a wider painter's tape to get the roller close to the corner without getting paint on the wall. This allows you to be less precise, so you can work faster.
    • Tape around any light fixtures or vents and cover ceiling fans.
  3. Cover Everything

    How to Paint Ceiling, Tarp
    Getty Images

    Sometimes, what slows down a paint project isn't the painting itself but the cleanup afterward. Save yourself the headache by removing as much furniture as possible from the room and covering anything with plastic tarps.

  4. Paint the Perimeter

    How to Paint Ceiling, Cut In
    Getty Images

    Like painting a wall, you'll want to start by "cutting in" or using a paintbrush to paint around the perimeter of the ceiling.

    • Using a 2- to 3-inch brush, start at the edge of the ceiling and paint into the ceiling a few inches.
    • Feather the strokes so the edge will blend in seamlessly once you use a roller to paint the rest of the ceiling.
    • If you plan to paint the ceiling and the walls, skip the painter's tape and cut in on the ceiling and the wall as you work around the room's perimeter.

    To make cutting in easier, make sure you're using the appropriate ladder for the ceiling height. Straining to reach is not only dangerous, but it will likely result in sore muscles the next day. Pour some paint into a small bucket to keep at the top of the ladder rather than attempting to bring the heavy can, which could cause disaster if it spills.

    If you have particularly high ceilings you can't comfortably reach with a ladder, it may be time to hire a professional painter.

  5. Choose a Roller

    Painting Tips, Woman Painting Room with roller
    duh84/Getty Images

    For smooth ceilings, a low-nap roller works well; for textured ceilings, try a 3/4-inch nap roller. When shopping for supplies, keep the ceiling height in mind and get the shortest roller extension pole to reach you comfortably. Getting too long of an extension pole means you'll be carrying more weight than is necessary.

  6. Roll On the Paint

    Painting Popcorn Ceiling

    eyecrave / Getty Images

    Roll into the paint, and then use the textured side of the paint tray to roll off any excess. It may seem that more paint would help get the job done faster, but it will cause more drips and splatters. Roll on the paint with overlapping strokes to create a smooth, uniform surface starting in one corner of the ceiling.

  7. Allow to Dry

    Once the entire ceiling is done, allow the paint to dry for 30 minutes. Then check if the surface needs any touchups. If the ceiling needs a second coat, wait until the first coat is completely dry. With latex paint, that means waiting between 1 - 4 hours before applying the second coat.

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