Best Ceiling Paint and One Awesome Timesaving Tip

In the best case, you only want to do one coat, and this requires very good quality ceiling paint. Working and looking up is the hardest thing a painter does on a daily basis. Here’s how to just do one coat.

Most Important Tip for Painting a Ceiling: use the best ceiling paint to cut your work and stress

Even if my customers are on a budget, they understand that it saves money to use the somewhat pricey Waterborne Ceiling Paint Ultra Flat from Benjamin Moore. It is without a doubt the best quality ceiling paint on the market and it’s zero VOC (the toxins in most paints).

What kind of paint is best for ceilings?

Choose a long-lasting one-coat paint that you won’t need to repaint for a long time.

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 above is a high-quality, ultra-flat white latex paint that does not yellow, and that covers the old paint in one coat.

Flat latex paint can be used on any interior ceiling, even if they are textured. We would recommend spraying textured ceilings and rolling flat ceilings. Another reason to use very flat white ceiling paint is that the small imperfections are well-hidden (higher gloss paints show imperfections). Here is a short article on the sprayers for homeowners.

Benjamin Moore’s Ceiling Paint costs a little more but it’s designed to COVER IN ONE COAT. 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!) This great paint covers in one coat if the old ceiling is off-white or white. (Non-white surfaces will need a primer first, or two coats of ceiling paint: a hard-fast rule when changing colors).

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.

This roller cover is 50% wool and 50% poly. Wool for absorbancy, poly for longevity. It’s a pro cover, and it’s not expensive. One of these lasts me for months of daily use. Anything less sheds lint.

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 nothing else, skip to the last paragraph “Just painting the ceiling“.

Important Point When Doing Only One Coat on a Ceiling

Doing only one coat, you must go slower and cover all well. Use a good light at an angle to see skips. A quality wool/poly roller ‘cover’ or ‘sleeve’ is essential here (shown above). You don’t want to have to hear the term “flashing”. This is when the old paint has a sheen that is either flatter or glossier than what you are using, and if you miss a spot, it will ‘flash’. It’s a sore thumb.

Someone used flat to touch-up eggshell.

Multiple coats of paint build shine (sheen) so even missing a section in one coat will flash somewhat.

Sure, you can touch up skipped spots later and it will be better, but it’s not ideal. Hopefully, you will inspect the job BEFORE you clean up!

Normally with walls, when doing a second coat, you can go faster on the 2nd coat. We often do 2 quick coats for walls, but not so for ceilings, because they are hard work even for us. You always want to just do one coat when working above your head.

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, shown 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. Hello? McFly?

What the wha? 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?

We don’t use trays, but if you do, get this one with a great roller cover and brush.
  1. Dip roller with a good deal of ceiling paint (just so it’s not dripping)
  2. Push paint into the ceiling corner and slide maybe a foot or 2 or 3 to one side
  3. Lift the roller and rotate the roller cylinder about 1/3 turn for more paint
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until the roller is too dry
  5. Tip: push harder as the roller get empty of paint (less dipping)
  6. Be sure to fill all of the corners
  7. Don’t leave 3-D gobs—they will show when dry

This is nothing wrong with using your roller as a brush!

Latex only brushes find the corner by themselves. Brushes for all paints: not so much.

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.

Paint roller bucket and screen set up
Paint roller bucket and screen set up

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 white latex 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:

Painted Ceiling

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.

Have a question about the best paint for a ceiling? Please write a comment—I’ll try to reply asap!


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.

Even paint spills are no problem (should you ‘kick the bucket’ while looking up as you paint your ceiling)!

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 hardest thing a painter does.

Two recommendations for two budgets:

Two paint sprayers brands you can trust are Graco and Wagner. If and when you need parts, (the tips do wear out in time) you can find them easily if you go with a major brand.

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 spay 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.

Related:

painting tools for painting a ceiling

How to efficiently apply a good quality ceiling paint:

28 thoughts on “Best Ceiling Paint and One Awesome Timesaving Tip”

  1. What is the best flat latex ceiling paint to buy? The last ceiling took too long because every time I touched up a spot, it showed so I had to redo the whole thing????

    • In the post above, you see that we recommend Ben Moore Ceiling Paint. It’s quite expensive as white paint goes, but it covers so well… I always told customers that it’s best for touch ups too, and that way I could do the ceiling in one coat. I hate ceilings! You do too now it seems! But try to live with the white on white spots of your touch up. Send me a pic and I’ll post for others to learn from your experience. Please include a pic of the can of paint if you can. Ask me more if that did not do it!

  2. Great information. I have purchased almost all the things you have mentioned above from the benjamin moore 508 flat celing paint to the recommended roller cage and cover. My question though is, I removed the popcorn ceiling of my house and skim coat (2x) and sanded it to a smooth finish. Do I need to apply a primer or will the Benjamin Moore flat ceiling paint be enough?

    • Hi. Good choice on the Benjamin Moore. Yes, you still need a primer. Your new ceiling is like a dry sponge: even if unstained or un-yellowed it needs a primer as it will drink up the first coat like crazy. Use basic drywall primer. We have a post on it. Then it will be sealed and the ceiling paint will bond on top of that. The Ben Moore you got will only require one coat: that is why we like the best as we hate ceilings!
      Enjoy.
      Let us know of any problems.
      Brad

  3. We are getting ready to paint our interior and I have a question about the color white on my textured ceiling. Being that there are so many shades of white to choose from, should the ceiling white match the white used for the trim and baseboards? Thank you!

    • Hi Kim. Yes and no. For my taste and for practical reasons, I would not try too hard to match ceiling white and trim white. Close enough will do. If you are very picky, ask the paint store folks to show you the two colors on sample chips.
      I would say 95% of all rooms do not match. Also if you get the Ben Moore ceiling white, it is very white like Cloud White, which has turned into the favorite white of late for my customers.
      Finally, …. don’t laugh, but … nobody will EVER notice!

  4. A tree fell in roof and water spirit in my kitchen ceiling. I used like to cover the white textured ceiling. No w i have white shiny spots where mike was app!ied. I have painted over them with the best paint with primer to cover the shiny spots but they still appear after drying. Got any solutions?

    • Your English is not totally clear but it sounds like water stains? “Where mike was applied”. WHat is that?
      One sure way is to reprime with Kilz Original, and then one coat of Ben Moore Ceiling paint. You’ll pay a bit more, but have a long-lasting uniform look. Search this site for “ceiling paint” and for ‘primer’ and you’ll find these.
      Good luck. Let us know!
      –b

  5. We have a smooth ceiling that the builder sprayed off white. I painted the ceilings with Behr white ceiling paint (I know..) three coats and I can see long streaks of what looks like poor finish work on the ceiling. Will BM Waterborne paint help disguise these imperfections. The ceiling area of the kitchen/family room is roughly 50×20 with lots of windows on every side. Would spraying conceal better than rolling? Thank you for your advice.

    • Hi. You might be near the end of the road… I think one coat of Ben Moore, rolled very uniformly should do it. This is assuming the streaks etc that you see now are not from a stain under the existing paint. Paint naturally leaves some uneven residue if rolled and brushed so yes, spray is better, but that will not even out the existing imperfections, but just coat them. My advice is one coat of the Ben Moore (yellow label shown in this post) and then hopefully you don’t look up much! Use a good poly-wool roller and apply full even coat. Good luck. ps, sanding the most unsightly spots first might help, but latex is not something you can sand easily.

  6. Thank you for getting back so quickly! I will paint the way you recommend with the BM yellow label and have good wool rollers. One last question…should I go with the streaks length wise along the length of the room? Or, against them across? Thanks!

    • The direction that you roll and brush is not so important … it should not show in the end. We have a post on how to paint a room… We think in blocks. That is, one meter square, or if your roller can hold more paint, 2 or 3 square yards or meters etc. Long strips can show. Key point is to keep the ‘wet edge’ of the squares/blocks/rectangles as you roll. If it is allowed to dry, it does have a way of standing out later. We cannot prevent some of this without spraying, but as I tell customers: only you and I will see these small imperfections.
      Good luck!

    • Hi. It’s unlikely. The ceiling paint on this page (the good one with the yellow label) will cover an old ceiling in one coat, if it’s white and not stained, for example a primer will be covered well. A color, not so much
      But remember that 2 quickies are better and even faster sometimes than trying to get it all done in one swoop. Just choose a good poly/wool roller and apply with a light so you don’t miss spots. What looks perfect when wet will clearly need a 2nd coat when dry. Good luck!

  7. Hi Brad! We’ve never painted our ceilings since we moved in 15 years ago. I will definitely use the BM that you recommended. But do I need it to prime the ceilings? Thank you for your posts and for the answers to other questions here. They’re very helpful.

    • Hi. I’d say not unless you have some staining. If just normal age discoloring, we get our ceilings done with one coat of the good stuff. But please do a test: roll a section over some bad discoloration and wait and look with a bright light. If very discolored, use a primer or do 2 coats of the top coat. Good luck

  8. Hi Brad. Thanks again for all this information. Another couple of dumb questions. Regarding crown molding and painting ceiling. I’m thinking I paint the crown molding as I would the door/window trim first and then the ceiling as though it is a wall? Getting as close as possible to molding with roller and then using brush? So, (1) is it ok to let ceiling paint dry and then go in with brush or should I go in with brush while ceiling paint is still wet? Not sure if I can be that fast…(2) how do i protect the various moldings/trim from rolling spatter? Thanks again for your time?

    • Hi. That is probably a flat paint, right? Ceiling paint usually is. People don’t put flat on bath walls in general: the tread has been eggshell for the past decade or so: a good quality paint can be scrubbed. Yes, SW is one great paint, so I’d return and change the sheen. Should be no charge.

      • Brad thank for your reply. They did suggest the satin for the bathroom ceiling( as my husband likes steamy showers) but flat for the bedroom ceiling. Is this a correct recommendation?

        • Especially for bathrooms, it is a good idea. Flat is the industry standard for all other ceilings, but it’s a matter of taste: flat tends to get marked up with hands…so keep your hands off those other ceilings!

  9. I painted my kitchen ceiling for the first time In 10 years and now see there are lots of streaks and lines. So I probably should do it all again and paint using the roller only in one direction, is that correct? Will it cover my first bad paint job?!

    • HI. No, it’s not the direction, it’s the overlap most likely. My suggestion is to get the Roadrunner roller cover which is 50-50 wool and polyester.
      Maybe a 3/4 nap and roll your section … a square of maybe a yard, then before dipping with your now ‘dry’ roller, lightly ‘backroll’ the square. This means roll lightly for an even stipple.
      Start your next square and try to keep as many edges ‘wet’ as you can. Wet means to keep from becoming tacky before you overlap the next square.
      Good luck!
      b

  10. Why do you recommend 3/4″ Purdy Roadrunner roller cover for painting ceilings and not the Dove model? I’m painting over someone’s old paint. I checked Lowes to get it tomorrow and they don’t have Roadrunner model in Purdy. LOVE your website and everything you do!
    Thanks, Ilene

  11. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE SOMEONE ACTUALLY PAINT A CEILING WITH JUST A ROLLER AS YOU CLAIM HERE…WITHOUT TOUCHING THE WALLS AND STILL CREATE A STRAIGHT LINE..
    I SAY IT can not BE DONE

    • Since I’m in retirement, I have not done any lately. I will certainly do it for you, but you can try it: load up your roller and smoosh into the corner…then you only need to cut the wall color, not the ceiling. I’m not saying to NOT touch the wall…Of course you have to hit wall. Then it dries, and you simply paint the wall to the corner.

Question or Comment: Ask me anything!