There are two things you might not know about how ceiling paint works. The best ceiling paint has stain blocking power that wall paint does not have.
If you want to read less, here is the quickie version…just on the top two ceiling paints.
First Big Tip for Painting a Ceiling: use the best ceiling paint to cut your work (and stress)
Our Top Choice: Benjamin Moore has the Best Paint for Ceiling
Even if my customers are on a budget, I explain, and they understand that it saves money to use the somewhat pricey Waterborne Ceiling Paint Ultra Flat from Benjamin Moore. It dries with a very good final thickness of 1.4 mil: like plastic sheeting. You can check the price online here.
It is without a doubt the best ceiling paint on the market and it’s a zero VOC paint (the toxins in most paints).
Covers 400-450 ft²/gallon.
Best Ceiling Paint – What kind of paint is best for ceilings in 2021?
Benjamin Moore is still the champ of ceiling white paint, but I’ve added a runner-up below.
You save time and money if you choose a long-lasting one-coat paint that you won’t need to repaint for a long time. The best ceiling paints hold their color (or whiteness) longer.
If you want to save money in the long run, you don’t want to be buying paint every 5 or even 10 years: you want your paint job to last. The paint you see shown here is a high-quality, ultra-flat latex ceiling white paint that does not yellow, and that covers the old paint in one coat.
Bottom line: Benjamin Moore’s Ceiling Paint costs a little more but it’s designed to cover in one. It will hide and cover most yellowing, aging, and the stray puck mark from when you were playing hockey inside. (Well, puck marks need 2 coats!) How to paint a ceiling with many marks? Spot prime with the best primer for this type of work.
If the old ceiling is off-white or white, this paint covers in one coat. Non-white surfaces will need a primer first, or two coats of ceiling paint: a hard-fast rule when changing colors.
Good Value: Kilz Ceiling Paint Stainblocking
You probably have some sort of stain or marks up there, right? Over the years, the old paint has yellowed.
What is special about ceiling paint?
You want to hide these yellowing spots, bump marks and the dreaded water leak from your crazy cousin Ernie’s annual bath.
Kilz was smart to add a stain-blocking resin to their Kilz ceiling paint.
- Dries in about an hour, depending on humidity
- Water clean up
- 250 sq. ft. per gallon on new drywall, 400-450 when repainting
- Rolls on pink and turns white when dry, meh
- Kilz admits you may need 2 coats (or more)
Can you use regular paint for ceilings?
Sure, but unlike the paints in my review here, normal paints contain an average amount of solids and no stain blockers (unless they say so). My recommendations for the best ceiling paint do and will cover better, it’s that simple. Use a good roller and check out my tip below for saving enormous time (if you are also doing the walls). If you use white wall paint instead of ceiling white paint, prime your stains first with a good stain-blocking primer.
Read one painter’s blog on this.
How to paint a ceiling that is new drywall:
You definitely need a primer to hide the tape from the rest of the sheetrock, but then you only need one coat of the Ben Moore I reviewed above. Without a primer, you’ll see the rock boundaries. But this is the one and only time that new sheetrock only needs two coats (primer plus a quality ceiling paint).
Which emulsion is best for ceilings?
When shopping, look for the paint’s claim of added ‘stain blockers’ in the solution. The chemists at these companies know you want to cover yellowing and stains. And your kid’s hockey puck marks.
Understanding ‘volume solids’ allows you to know the true cost of different coatings and to know how much paint is being used to perform its function. Generally, more expensive paints have a higher volume of solids and therefore provide better coverage.
Sealers only provide 10-25% solids whereas most household paints will leave 25-45% of the contents of the can on the wall. Two-part epoxies can be as much as 100% as they cure by a chemical reaction, not by evaporation.
Spraying a ceiling?
If you have a lot of rooms to do, yes, I would recommend spraying, and if you have textured ceilings, spraying is really the only way to go. Here is a short article on good sprayers for homeowners.
But when I’m doing one or two or three rooms only, I roll and brush even very large flat surfaced ceilings. Another reason to use very flat white ceiling paint is that the small imperfections are well-hidden (higher gloss paints show imperfections). We have more tips below.
Doing walls? You can also read more about what makes the interior wall paint in our other post. It’s a no-brainer: I usually recommend Benjamin Moore paints (company website). They spend a lot of time researching longevity and durability.
The second most important tip after choosing a good ceiling paint is to use a quality roller cover: budget rollers and brushes shed lint and bristles. Guess where the lint ends up? Did you ever feel a wall that is rough like sandpaper? That’s lint from the roller cover. Another reason that buying budget tools is more expensive in the long run.
The roller cover you see here is 50% wool and 50% poly. Wool for absorbancy, poly for longevity. It’s a pro cover, but it’s not expensive. One of these lasts me for months of daily use. Anything less sheds lint. Here is a short article just recommending some good roller covers.
Also, you need a strong roller frame that will last you a lifetime. With a good frame, you can use force to push a roller into the corners instead of a brush (video below explains). The type that comes in a kit with the pan etc, will bend easily. We also have written about power rollers: worth it if you paint often.
If you are painting ONLY a ceiling and no walls or trim, skip to the last paragraph “Just painting the ceiling“.
- Read about how rollers are easy to clean.
- Read how to easily clean a quality brush.
- At the very bottom is the chart that links to some of the affordable tools I use. (Full tool page is here.)
How to Paint a Ceiling: KEY Point When Doing Only One Coat
What you don’t want to hear: “You missed a spot”. When doing only one coat, you must go slow and make sure you cover the entire ceiling with a full coat. This is why, on walls, we do 2 quickies: it’s easier. But ceilings are hard work and can injure your neck. You always want to just do one coat when working above your head when possible: and the Ben Moore paint makes this possible.
Use a very bright work light. Look at the entire ceiling from different angles.
One key point here is the quality of the roller ‘cover’ or ‘sleeve’. Again, I stick with a wool/poly blended cover (shown above).
We use this term “flashing”. This is when you can see the difference between old paint and new, or between one coat and two. Eggshell builds in sheen: 3 is glossier than 2 coats.
When the paint you are using is either flatter or glossier than what you are using, and if you miss a spot, it will ‘flash’. It stands out like a sore thumb. That’s if anyone ever looks up, which they don’t really do.
So even doing 2 coats missing a section with one coat will cause some flashing.
Sure, you can touch up skipped spots later and it will be better, but it’s not ideal.
Key tip: inspect the job BEFORE you clean up!
Best Ceiling Paint for Old Painted Ceiling with Discoloration/Stains
If your old painted ceiling has some discoloration you need stain-blocking resins in your paint/primer. Go with the runner-up of ceiling paints, Kilz Color-Change Ceiling Paint, check price here (turns white when dry). It blocks discolorations better than the Ben Moore above, and it will also act as a primer if you have a new drywall ceiling/walls. This paint may require 2 coats.
For real water stains (clearly brown/tan), spot prime water stains, etc., with a primer with stain-blocking power. New drywall ceilings need 2 coats, but you might be able to do one drywall primer and one latex ceiling paint. I would not clean the roller when making the switch from one white to another: just squeegee out most of the old white and dunk the roller in new white paint.
Also doing walls? Here is a big time-saving tip:
Brush? On a ceiling?
No, my friend, don’t work so hard. Don’t work so long.
Our secret Professional Ceiling Painting Tip: Eliminate (Almost) the Brushing
When you are doing both the ceiling and the wall, there is no need for brushing when you use a quality paint roller and frame. A longer nap roller works better than shorter, but both can do this. This Wooster ¾-inch roller cover is great…used with a high-quality ceiling paint you’ll be laughing. (The roller cover shown at the top has a choice of nap length also).
In the corners where 3 surfaces meet, yes a little brushing is necessary and of course around the lights, etc, but not the long sections where walls meet the ceiling. I know painters who have not thought of this: they still waste tons of time dragging a ladder around and brushing the joint where the wall meets the ceiling.
What do you do? Here is a video showing what to do (this video is also at the end of the post). Here I’m demonstrating with a silly 3-inch roller, but you will use a 9-inch. Just push your roller into the corner getting ceiling paint all over both surfaces. No cutting the ceiling. Let it dry and then cut walls only. It’s good to smooth out any mounds of paint as you smoosh with the roller: they might start to drip, or show as small mounds when dry.
How do you paint a ceiling with a roller and almost no brushing?
- Dip roller with a good deal of ceiling paint (just so it’s not dripping)
- Push paint into the ceiling corner and slide maybe a foot or 2 or 3 to one side
- Lift the roller and rotate the roller cylinder about 1/3 turn for more paint
- Repeat steps 1-3 until the roller is too dry
- Tip: push harder as the roller get empty of paint (less dipping)
- Be sure to fill all of the corners
- Don’t leave 3-D gobs—they will show when dry
This is nothing wrong with using your roller as a brush!
You don’t have to worry about getting ceiling paint on the wall as you will be painting over it soon anyway! Learn how to not drip at my post about paint walls or trim first.
If using a high-quality latex ceiling paint and a good brush, as shown here, you will only have to ‘cut’ (brush) only once. Let the paint dry, then with a good brush, lay your wall color right up to the corner you filled in with white ceiling paint. Brushes with poorly made bristles (cost about 7 bucks) will not give you a nice clean line(plus the bristles fall out). The line somewhat makes itself with a good Purdy brush and they never shed bristles. A Purdy will last you a lifetime if you remove 99% of the paint in it each time you clean it.
It may cost 15-20 dollars, but your frustration with the lesser ones makes this one worth it.
To make this method work at it’s best, long roller nap length is helpful
The best is a long nap paint roller cover: we like a ¾ inch (or more), in a wool/poly blend. A nap of 1-inch or even 1¼ can work. Longer naps leave a slightly different dimple pattern on the wall, but that is not important to us—if it is to you, go with a short nap “designed” for walls, but they don’t hold as much paint and you have to dip them more often. Yes, the stipple pattern is nicer.
We use only Wooster or Purdy paint roller covers: the poly gives longevity and the wool sucks up the paint. The Wooster ¾ inch wool blend is only about 7 bucks (sometimes as low as 3!) A better value is to buy a pack of three and not worry about getting more later. This will last a homeowner a lifetime. Learn how to quickly clean paint rollers.
Pros don’t use trays: the screen and bucket etc you see here are all on our tools page. Did you ever kick and spill a tray? The bucket and screen system is just so much better.
Most people say ceiling paint should be a flat finish.
People want their ceilings to be white because the reflection multiplies your lighting and makes the room feel bigger. True. We always recommend a flat latex white ceiling paint, and flat on walls if the home has no children. The flat sheen in most paints will show handprints easily, and is difficult to clean: but how often does someone put hands on a ceiling?
Plus, the flat sheen is soft and does not draw attention to itself. Designers say: more sheen, more attention. Shineyness makes you look, so flat ceiling latex paint is the norm for good reason.
A tip you might use if you are later painting any other white or off-white: don’t clean your roller and brush after you are done with the ceiling: just use the curve in your multi-tool to scrape most of the flat ceiling paint out of the roller, then just smoosh the brush’s fibers/bristles of old paint and go right into your other white paint. Before applying your new paint, soak up a lot and work it in and out of the roller/brush: you are all set to go. (Don’t tell the boss you do this!—but it won’t matter at all in the end and save time cleaning-whew).
Just Painting the Ceiling? Big Tip:
Obviously, be sure to protect your floor and furnishings from drips: tape some light plastic to the walls near the ceiling and remove the art or carefully cover with the plastic. If you use old bedsheets etc to cover things, be sure to wipe any drips as they happen because sheets will allow the paint to bleed through onto your things.
Do You Paint Walls or Trim First?
As with all paint jobs paint the TRIM FIRST. Why? It is by far much easier to brush the line on the wall instead of the trim. If doing only one coat, paint the trim carefully making sure not to leave any skips, and feel free to get your trim paint on the wall.
The proper way to paint walls: Roll or brush first?
After the trim paint dries, roll the wall as close as you can to the trim without touching (obviously). Then “cut” with a good quality brush, we like Purdy latex-only brushes shown above. The quality bristles will find the corner for you and you don’t really even need a very steady hand. Get the 2-inch ( or 3 if you have a strong arm, as it is heavy when wet!). This brush will work like new for life (see my post on how easy it is to clean up).
This post explains in more detail why you should paint the trim first.
Drop cloths: be happy and get a canvas for the floors and plastic for the furniture.
The plain canvas is fine and the best value. But if you can afford it, go for the one that will not slip around as you walk on it: a constant source of worry for us. (The photo is a link to a different size.) buy a large and cut it into thinner ‘runners’ for against a wall.
I avoid very thin plastic. I prefer the 1-Mil thickness because it tends to stay put, and I use green painter’s tape to hold it in place. If you are only painting a ceiling, this is a must: you simply cover the walls, bringing the edge of the plastic near the top.
These drop cloths are also useful at home for all kinds of projects.
Large ceiling? Do you have other projects lined up for the future? Spray that puppy. With any ceiling paint, you will cut your time tremendously.
Spray painting a ceiling is 10 times faster than rolling. Painting a ceiling is the most painful thing a painter does.
- The best non-commercial paint sprayer today is hands down the Graco Magnum. It’s pricey but will last a lifetime with proper care. We have an entire post showing quality sprayers for different budgets.
- The budget version is the Wagner Flexio 590. It has a very reasonable price for what you get. These are slower than airless but are good all-around units.
- We never spray without a respirator, never ever. I have simplified the complex world of filters etc, but most people tell me they like the big dog full face mask you see below.
Some keys to spraying paint
- Use paper and plastic and tape to mask what is not getting painted. Take your time masking–you’ll save a lot more time in the end. Below is the graphic that will take you to all this.
- Practice first: move your hand at a uniform speed, and when you change direction, you make a quick flick of the wrist so you don’t have paint build-up (sags and runs).
- Soak the sprayer nozzle right away when on a break: this is normally going to be water, but if you spray oil, it’s paint thinner. Have your cleanup station ready–don’t let your tip get dry.
- This is all explained further in the sprayers for homeowners post.
Have a question about the best paint for a ceiling? Please write a comment—I’ll try to reply asap!
- Best drywall primer
- Be sure to select all the painter tools that you need: surprisingly not expensive
How to efficiently apply a good quality ceiling paint: