How to paint a ceiling with a roller and brush

An expert step-by-step on how to paint a ceiling for streak-free results, using rollers and a brush.

How to paint a ceiling
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your rooms need a makeover, simply learn how to paint a ceiling like a pro and you can give any space you'd like, a total refresh. A coat of brilliant white paint on the ceiling will always make your space look brighter and it's an essential part of painting a room too. You can of course go for a colored ceiling to make more of a design statement if you'd like, the world is your oyster...

Whether you're painting a smooth, textured or even popcorn ceiling, this is how to tackle it like a decorating expert.

1. Select your paint and tools

Choosing the best paint for the job is where to start and we're using Dulux Magic White paint which paints on pink and dries white so that if you're painting on an already white ceiling like us, you'll know which areas you've covered and which you'll still need to get to. You'll then need a good brush and the best rollers for the job also. Note that if your ceiling is flat, a short haired or sponge roller will be fine and if you're painting a textured ceiling, you will need a roller with a longer pile. Here is a full list of tools for this DIY:

  • Old bed sheets or dust sheets
  • Screwdriver
  • Sugar soap
  • Bucket & mop
  • Masking tape
  • Ladder
  • Small to medium sized brush
  • Roller with handle
  • Tray
  • Extension pole 
  • Ceiling paint
  • Safety glasses

Top tip: Don’t scrimp on ceiling paint: the lower the quality, the more coats you’ll need. With high-quality paint, two coats should be enough. 

1. Prep and protect the room's contents

Start by moving furniture into the centre of the room so that you can cover it and your floor. Remove any light shades and fittings also to help you have better access, right up to the edges which will give you that pro finish you want.

2. Think about safety working at heights

As far as household painting goes, painting a ceiling can be tricky and even dangerous, if done hastily and without proper safety measures in place. Especially if you have a particularly high ceiling.

Make sure that your ladder is steady at all times; clear the area immediately around it of anything that might be a trip hazard and ensure your space is well lit, wear a head torch if needed. 

Most importantly, be patient: move your ladder along after finishing a section, rather than over-stretching. (Even if you don’t fall, you may end up pulling a muscle.) We also recommend using safety glasses to protect your eyes from spilling paint, dirt, and debris. 

3. Mask off cornices, coving and lights

Mask off the areas around any lights and above and below your cornices. If you want to paint your coving at the same time, simply mask off the area where the coving meets the wall leaving the area to paint exposed.

4. Remove any debris

If you're painting onto already painted plaster ensure you remove any dust and crumbling debris from the surface before you paint. Scrape away any loose areas with a screwdriver or hard bristled brush.

Zoe Warren, interior expert at actually recommends sanding. 'Sanding is of the most important things you need to do before painting an untextured ceiling, as it will help smooth out any bumps and get rid of crud stuck on the ceiling.  When sanding, you should use a 100-grit drywall sanding paper to create a smooth surface that is  perfect for painting.'

5. Clean the ceiling with sugar soap

It's best to use a sugar soap solution with a sponge mop for this as using a handheld sponge will be hard on your shoulders. 

6. Prepare to cut in

Getting started with painting a ceiling means cutting in with paint for a good finish. Fill a small painting pail with a little paint, ensuring you mix it well before pouring. Paint an area 1-2" wide around the perimeter of the taped off ceiling. This will mean you won't need to roller right to the edge, which can get messy. Cut in around light fixtures also.

If you wanted to paint your coving or mouldings also, now is the time to do it.

7. Paint the rest of the ceiling 

Work in small areas, painting in a zig-zag shape, carefully overlapping the last stroke with each movement. Use light strokes to ensure an even, professional looking finish. Work across the entire ceiling until it's fully covered and don't worry if it looks a little patchy as the second coat will sort this out.

Allow drying time before moving on, this is usually a couple of hours but do double check the paint tin.

8. Apply the second coat

Once the first coat is dry, repeat the last step, cutting in and painting using the zig-zag method. There's no need to brush the coving this time.

  • You'll want our guide to painting walls next if you're redecorating the entire room.

9. Finish up and tidy

When then next coat of paint is dry, remove the masking tape, dust sheets and admire your work. We've chosen white but of course you could experiment with color for more impact.

Is it okay to cut in the ceiling one day and paint the next?

We would recommend that you paint the rest of your ceiling while the cutting in paint is still wet as they will blend better and give your room a more professional finish.

Painting popcorn ceilings

Textured ceilings (or popcorn ceilings, as you might hear them referred to) can be repainted with any paint, although you may need to use a brush to get good coverage. If you want to achieve a textured or popcorn ceiling, you will need to use a specific, textured ceiling paint.

Zig-zag for a pro finish 👌

Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor, consumer rights, and gardening.