Painting the Fifth Wall

Ceilings can seem like the hardest part of a room to paint. Thankfully, you don’t need to go DaVinci style and hang from it to paint. It would make it easier for you though. Your arms can hurt after holding the roller up for a long time, paint could drip onto your face, and messing up means more time holding the roller up. You can avoid this with proper room preparation and painting style. Let’s dive into how to paint a ceiling!

How to Paint a Ceiling

The first thing to do before any project is to ensure you have the correct, and the best, materials for the job.


These are the materials you can use to paint your ceiling:

  • Ceiling/Primer paint in one
  • Roller
  • Brush (2-2 1/2 inches)
  • Bucket
  • Drop Cloths
  • Hat and safety glasses
  • Ladder tall enough for you to reach the ceiling

Once you get all of the house painting tools and equipment, it’s time to prepare the room for painting your ceiling.

Ceiling Paint Prep

  1. Move all furniture out of or into the center of the room. Cover with drop cloths.
  2. Do you have any fan or light switches? Shut off the circuit breaker to the room and set up a work light if necessary. Remove the cover plates from the switches and cover with tape.
  3. Fans? Remove the blades, loosen the cover plate, and slide it down. Cover the rest with plastic. Do the same for any hanging lights. With recessed lights, you’ll need to remove the bulb and pull the trim down a little. After releasing the springs/wires holding it in place, cover it with plastic or tape.
  4. Clean the ceiling by vacuuming corners and then wiping it down with a damp rag. If it has stains, use TSP (trisodium phosphate) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. Prime the ceiling, which is only necessary if it:
    • is bare drywall
    • has stained or repaired areas
    • is bare wood
    • has high-gloss finishes
    • will go through drastic color changes
  6. If the ceiling is oil-based, you can paint over it with acrylic paint.

Once the prep work is done, you can get to painting your ceiling! Read on to find out how.

The Ceiling Painting Process

  1. If you’re not painting the walls, apply painter’s tape around edges for a nice, crisp edge. If you are painting the walls, nix the tape and paint a couple inches down the wall.
  2. Take a 2-2.5” brush and small bucket up the ladder and paint towards the tape from a few inches out (3-4” should do the trick). Feather the edge, which means paint it lightly. This keeps overlap lines from appearing later.
  3. Now it’s time to roll (not Rick Roll)! Use a low nap roller for smooth ceilings and a 1/2″ or 3/4″ nap for textured ceilings. An extension pole can help you reach the ceiling without a ladder.
  4. Take the roller and roll it into the paint, then out to remove any excess paint. Start in a corner and paint in 4×4 sections at right angles (a crisscross pattern). Finish painting the section in one direction before going in the other. Roll slowly so the paint won’t spatter.
  5. Once you finish a couple sections, go back and lightly smooth out the paint with a blank roller.

Roll in straight lines, not a W or V pattern, towards yourself to minimize paint getting on you

For vaulted ceilings start at the highest point and work your way down. Brush small areas in straight lines and after you complete a couple of sections smooth out the paint with a blank roller.

Leave high ceilings to professionals

Now you know how to paint a ceiling!

Complete: Ceiling Paint Project

What color and finish did you use? Hopefully, it turns out exactly how you imagine so the shoulder aches can be worth it. But wait, what’s starting to appear in the middle of your ceiling? If it’s a brownish looking stain, your ceiling has water damage. After you repair the leak, you may want to fix the damage it left behind.

Learn how to repair a ceiling with water damage >>