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As long as they're not springing leaks, ceilings are easy to neglect. But look up and you may notice a surface that's grown dull and dingy. Or maybe you've patched a hole or two and never gotten around to hiding the imperfections with a fresh new coat of paint.

There's no need to put off painting your ceiling any longer. It's entirely doable -- just messy. If you don't want your floor to end up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting, follow these instructions to keep the job nice and tidy.

Beginner and up

A couple hours for a small room, more for larger rooms.

About $50 for primer and paint, and $50 more for additional painting supplies.

Acrylic primer and paint
A paintbrush for cutting-in
One roller frame
One roller cover
One screw-on extension pole or a ladder
A roller tray or roller grid
Drop cloths (plastic or canvas)
A bucket and lots of water for cleanup
Painter's tape is optional, but helps reduce mess
Safety glasses to protect your eyes from paint spatter


A Lightweight Roller.
Ceiling paint is best applied using a paint roller. This consists of two pieces: the frame and the cover, the cover being a fuzzy sleeve that locks onto the frame. To reach the ceiling without having to drag a ladder around the room, the roller is usually attached to an extension pole.

Controlling the roller when it's up above your head is surprisingly hard work. That's why it's key to choose lightweight roller frames and extension poles. Your arm muscles will thank you later! Invest in a quality brand like Purdy or Wooster and you won't go far wrong.

Wooster Super Doo-Z paint roller cover

Invest in a quality roller frame and cover. Photo: The Wooster Brush Company

Choose the right roller cover. While you're out shopping, choose a quality roller cover. You'll achieve a more professional finish than you would buying a cheapie.

Know your nap.
Also be sure to get the right nap for the job -- "nap" being the length of the fibers on the roller cover. Low-nap covers are used on smooth surfaces, with a 3/8 inch nap being standard and suitable for most jobs. Low-nap covers reduce drips and are easier to work with. Textured and popcorn ceilings, however, require a longer nap cover.

Tip: Still not sure what to buy? Check out Purdy's handy product selector.

Roller tray vs. roller grid. Most DIY'ers are familiar with plastic roller trays. However, roller grids that fit inside buckets and cans (filled only about one third full of paint at a time) are probably the better choice for all but very small jobs because the paint is safely contained.

Roller trays, on the other hand, are incredibly easy to fumble or drop – as anyone who has ever used them can probably attest. (I'm a careful painter myself, but I know I've had some awfully close calls using trays!)

Paint selection. The exact paint you use is up to you, as is the question of whether or not to apply a primer coat first. However, for a lower splatter-factor, grab some ceiling paint. It's designed to be more manageable at awkward angles than regular paint. Lastly, if you're painting a moisture-prone room, opt for specialized mildew-resistant kitchen and bath paint.

Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint

To reduce the splatter factor, opt for ceiling paint. Photo: Olympic


1. Get organized. Start by moving all furniture to the middle of the room. Cover everything with drop cloths -- and I mean everything because even very meticulous painters will experience some splattering. Next, apply painter's tape (if you're using it) around the entire edge of the ceiling.

2. Clear the area. No-mess painting requires concentration. Now might be a good time to declare the room a no-kid, no-pet zone!

3. Cutting in. Use your paintbrush to paint the outside edge of the ceiling in a strip about three inches wide. Cutting-in should generally be done in sections, alternating with roller work for a blended finish. In very small rooms, however, it's fine to cut-in first then use the roller to fill in the rest of the ceiling.

4. Paint like a pro. Okay! Time to really get to work. Coat the roller with paint and begin applying it to the ceiling in smallish sections, about three-feet square at a time. For full, even coverage, it's important to use your roller in a zig-zag pattern, blending carefully as you go within and between sections.

The key to a smooth, mess-free finish is simple: don't overload the roller with paint. A saturated roller will drip paint when you raise it towards the ceiling. Another giveaway: the roller skids, squelches and bubbles paint instead of rolling smoothly back and forth.

On the other hand, don't use too little paint or you'll end up with uneven or inadequate coverage and/or roller marks, requiring a second coat to cover up your mistake – and double the work!

Proceed steadily but don't rush. If you're hurrying you'll be tempted to overload the roller. You'll also be tempted to roll too fast. This makes the roller spin, spraying tiny spits of paint everywhere.

Finally, don't panic if your first attempt is less than perfect. You will improve with practice!

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