Whether it’s grease from cooking, spider webs, old paint jobs, or time slowly yellowing your ceiling, popcorn ceilings get dark and dirty just like any other ceiling and need to be repainted.
Removing a popcorn ceiling isn’t always an option either due to many reasons.
In this post, I’m going to teach you how to paint popcorn ceilings quickly and easily, while still getting great results.
Painting popcorn ceilings can brighten up a room significantly making it feel bigger, cleaner and even help the overall mood of the room.
While you may not have thought about it before, painting popcorn ceilings can actually be quite a challenge.
Texture tends to fall off when you roll the ceiling, lines can form in your finish, and paint drops and splatter tend to get all over the place. It can be quite easy to make a mess of things if you don`t know what you’re doing.
Tools & Materials Needed To Paint A Popcorn Ceiling
- 4 Step Aluminum Ladder
- 1 Roll of Painters Plastic – 12`
- 3 Rolls Low Adhesion 3M Painter Masking Tape
- Rough 9″ Nap Purdy Golden Eagle Roller Cover
- 9″ Wooster Roller Frame
- 2`-4` Extension Pole
- Handy Painters Tray – Best Paint Tray Around!
- 12` x 15` Canvas Drop Cloth
- 3″ Paint Brush
- Handy Paint Pail
- Flat White Ceiling Paint
- Small Utility Knife
Rolling vs Spraying Your Popcorn Ceilings
Part of knowing how to paint popcorn ceilings is knowing if you should spray or roll your ceiling. So should you roll your popcorn ceilings when you repaint them or should you spray them?
If you have a sprayer already or have one you can borrow, the answer is easy. Spraying your ceilings provides a handful of benefits over rolling.
Spraying is faster, significantly faster. I can spray all the ceilings in a new construction house in an hour. It would take me a day to roll out.
Spraying will leave a better finish, and won’t cause your texture to fall off. Popcorn texture usually isn’t bonded incredibly well to your ceiling drywall. It often falls off (sometimes in big chunks) when rolling new paint onto your ceiling. Spraying won’t cause any of your texture to fall off as long as you don’t put too much paint on.
The problem is though that most homeowners aren’t going to have a paint sprayer readily available for a ceiling repaint job.
That’s ok. Just because a sprayer might be better doesn’t mean you have to use one.
If you only plan on painting one ceiling (maybe a bedroom), I would even recommend to not bother with setting up a sprayer due to setup times and clean up (it can be a hassle).
Also, the tools for rolling out a ceiling are much, much cheaper.
Sealing In Ceiling Stains
Many ceilings have stains on them. They can be water stains, grease stains, or “unknown” stains.
Don’t think that you can simply paint over these stains. Flat white paint will not hide the stain. When your paint dries, the stain will bleed straight through.
Get a can of Kilz Oil Based Spray Primer and spray the stain with this primer before painting. Make sure to let it dry before painting as well (30 min). Kilz will block the stain and your paint will look perfect. (Check out my review of Kilz 2 here)
How To Paint A Popcorn Ceiling in 10 Easy Steps: Brush and Roll Method
(check out Spraying Your Ceilings if your texture is falling off!)
Painting a popcorn ceiling is easy if you know what you’re doing. Follow these steps and you’ll have great results.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials and Set Up Your Workspace
The first step in painting popcorn ceilings is to gather all your materials and set up your workspace. It`s actually a lot like cooking, you don`t want to start your job only to realize you don`t have everything you need.
A few notes about the materials needed for popcorn ceiling painting:
I like to clear a space where I can place a 4` x 5` canvas drop cloth and lay out all of my tools and any materials on the drop cloth. This allows me to stay organized and make sure that I have everything I am going to need.
For prepping off walls and furniture, I like to use 12` painter’s plastic. This length allows me to prep off nearly any wall that I run into plus have an extra foot or two to pull out onto the floor.
The last item to note is the 3/4″ nap Golden Eagle roller cover. This is a very specific roller cover I use for ceilings. The thick 3/4 nap means it is thick enough to hold plenty of paint and fill in around all of the thick textures. It also rolls evenly and the knitted polyester usually doesn’t pull off the popcorn texture as you paint.
Step 2: Prep Walls, Floors, and Furniture
Prep work is hugely important when painting your popcorn ceilings. The paint will get everywhere and make a mess trust me! If you have one inch of your floor not covered, that is the spot paint will find!
Start by making sure your room is clean and clear of everything you can possibly remove from the room. If the furniture is unable to be removed, place a drop cloth in the middle of the room and place the furniture on the drop cloth.
Next, cover the furniture with your 12′ painter’s plastic and tape (the best painter’s tape for every project) the edges down to the top cloth to make sure they don’t come up during painting.
If you plan on repainting your walls after you finish painting your ceiling (which I recommend if possible), then you won’t need to prep off any of your walls, just run some plastic over any windows and doors.
To do this, cut out a square of plastic that expands over the window/door at least a good foot in every direction. Take your tape and run a strip of tape along the top of the plastic over the window. Once the top is taped, tape down each corner of the plastic so that it is tight and won’t allow paint drops to access the window.
If you don’t want to paint your walls after painting your popcorn ceiling, you will need to prep your walls. To do this, I start by running a strip of tape along the walls right where the wall meets the ceiling. Go ahead and press this firmly against the wall. Make sure to use 3M’s Low Adhesion Masking Tape so that you don’t damage the walls when you are finished and remove the tape.
Next, take your 12′ painter’s plastic and run it along with the piece of tape you just taped on the wall next to the ceiling. Place a small piece of tape every 1-2 feet to keep the plastic in place. Once you have gone around the entire room you can go back and run a long piece of tape to connect your plastic to your first piece of tape.
After the furniture and walls are all covered, you will need to prep off the floor. You can do this in a few ways. If you have enough drop cloths, you can use these and cover your floor, make sure no flooring is showing, painting ceilings can be pretty splattery! Another option is to use your box of painter’s plastic to cover the floors. I often time use painter’s plastic and use pieces of tape to tape the edges of the plastic to the trim around the room to keep it in place. You will have to be gentle when walking on the floor to keep from ripping the plastic though.
How To Paint Popcorn Ceilings Step 3: Prep The Ceiling For Painting
Now that your walls, floors, and furniture are all covered, this is the time to check and see if your ceiling needs any repair. I’m not going to cover major drywall and taping repairs here, but if needed, now is the time to complete these projects.
If you just need to patch some popcorn texture to cover up small blemishes, then Popcorn Ceiling Patch by Zinsser is perfect. Popcorn Ceiling Patch is a ready-mixed ceiling texture you can brush or knife on to fix any small blemishes.
This is also the time that you should plastic off any light fixtures on your ceiling. Start by running your masking tape about the part of the light that is attached to the ceiling. Next, cut out a large piece of plastic and attach it to the tape already on the light. Wrap the plastic and tape it shut so no paint sneaks in and gets on your light.
Step 4: Paint Edges & Around Lights With Brush
When you are ready to paint, the first thing I recommend doing is going around the edges of the room with a brush and your ceiling paint.
Your roller won’t be able to get into the small edges, so a nice 3″ paintbrush is perfect for this step of the project. Use your brush and work the ceiling paint into all the edges between the wall and ceiling, I like to brush the paint out about 2″ from the wall.
This will also paint over any old “whoops” paint spots on your ceiling where you may have gotten paint on the ceiling the last time you painted the walls.
Once all the edges are painted out, use the same brush and brush the ceiling paint around any light fixtures. Again, I like to paint out about 2″, this gives me just enough room to get close with my roller later on.
Step 5: Roll The Ceiling’s First Coat in a North / South Direction
Once you have completed your edge painting, it’s time to start rolling some paint onto the popcorn ceiling. Get your paint and roller set up, hopefully, you are using the Golden Eagle roller cover I recommend (it’s perfect for this project!).
I also highly recommend using a 2′-4′ or 4′-8′ extension pole depending on your height and your ceiling height. This will save your arms, neck, and back as well as drastically speed up your painting project. Also, by using an adjustable extension versus a fixed-length extension, you give yourself the ability to get the perfect length for your body.
On your first coat when painting your popcorn ceilings, you want to make sure to have all of your roller strokes going in the same direction. Make sure to fully cover all areas on the ceiling and go slow so as to not create a lot of splatter. This will take a while and will most likely tire out your neck, shoulders, and arms, even with an extension pole.
When rolling, I like to overlap about 50% on each stroke. This ensure’s even paint on the entire ceiling.
Another note when rolling, don’t press the roller too hard into the ceiling (or any surface when painting), this will flatten your roller over time and minimize the amount of paint that it is able to hold. Ideally, keep your pressure against the ceiling light and allow the centripetal force to move the paint out of the roller and onto the ceiling.
Of course, if your ceiling was in pretty good shape, it may only need one coat. If that is the case make sure your one coat looks good to avoid roller lines.
You may run into the issue of popcorn texture coming off into your roller as you are painting. A bit of texture coming off is normal and shouldn’t be a worry. However, if you start to notice it coming off in large chunks, this is a problem. You will likely need to switch over to spraying your ceiling. Jump to the Spraying Your Popcorn Ceiling section for more on this method.
Step 6: Allow All Paint To Dry
Go grab a sandwich, play a game, and check Facebook, just don’t watch the paint dry!
Step 7: 2nd Coat Cut All Edges & Lights With Brush
If a second coat is needed (personal note: I almost always do a second coat. If you have already gone to this much work, do the second coat and make it look perfect!), then go back and repeat step 4, cutting in around the edges and light fixtures.
Step 8: 2nd Coat Roll Ceiling in East / West Direction
When you roll out your second coat, you will want to change directions from your first coat. By doing this you greatly reduce the chances that you have any lines in your final finish. So, if you went North / South on your first coat, make sure to go East / West on your second coat.
Step 9: Check For Imperfects & Touch Ups
Now the ceiling should be done, but before you pull your prep down and clean up your tools, look over your project really close. If you find any imperfections, now is the time to fix them since you still have everything set up. If you clean everything up and find an issue later on, odds are you won’t want to get your tools out again and you will let it slide.
How To Paint Popcorn Ceilings Step 10: De-prep & Cleanup
Your ceiling should now look great, but before you go and pull down all your plastic and prep, give everything an hour to dry. If you pull down the prep right away, you may have wet paint on the plastic and get paint on your floor or furniture. Also, make sure to clean your roller and paintbrush before they dry out.
Spray Painting Popcorn Ceilings
If you have access to a paint sprayer, spraying your popcorn ceilings is drastically easier and more effective than brushing and rolling them.
Spraying can eliminate the problem of the ceiling texture coming off on your roller when painting the ceiling. It is also drastically faster as you don’t need to cut in around lights, walls, or anything else.
If you do choose to. spray your popcorn ceilings, you can still follow the ten steps above only now you don’t need to cut in the edges or lights with a brush and you should take your time to make sure your prep work is 100% (sprayed paint tends to find the smallest of gaps in plastic and tape).
Tips For Spraying Painting Popcorn Ceilings
- Use a quick sweeping motion with your hand, never stop moving your hand.
- Overlap each stroke by 50%.
- Start moving your hand and spray gun before pulling the trigger and let go of the trigger before you stop moving your hand. This will help prevent runs and large globs of paint.
- Overspray onto your walls. You will be painting over them later. I like to start and stop the paint on the walls. If the ceiling paint gets too heavy on the walls and runs, I can roll this out when I’m done and even sand it if necessary.
- On your first coat spray from north to south and on your second coat spray from east to west. This will help ensure you don’t have any paint lines on the ceiling when completed.
- Finally, check for any runs on the walls after spraying as this is a very common issue even for experienced painters. Keep a brush on hand and just spread out the runs on the tops of the walls after spraying your ceilings.
- Make sure to wear a paint respirator. Your lungs always need to be protected when spraying, even if the paint doesn’t smell or is a zero VOC (there is still latex paint in the air and it will go into your lungs).
If you do plan on spraying your ceilings, make sure to check out our post on The Best Paint Sprayer For Every Painting Project.
What Paint Should You Use For Popcorn Ceilings
The truth about ceiling paint is that you can get away with using really cheap paint on a ceiling.
Ceilings are never touched, bumped or abused, so cheap paint works perfectly on them.
If you go into any Home Depot or Lowes you can find Behr or Valspar ceiling paint usually for $15 per gallon if not cheaper.
These ceiling paints typically come pre-colored to a “ceiling white” that is slightly tinted lower than bright white in order to help reduce shadows and imperfections on ceilings.
If you want to read a more in depth post about the best ceiling paints, check out my post The Best Ceiling Paint For Your Home.
Choosing A Ceiling Paint Color
I wanted to briefly touch on my opinions for ceiling color.
Most brands offer a “Ceiling White” paint color meant for ceilings. This is a slightly grey-white that is meant to better hide imperfections.
Personally, I don’t like it.
I like my ceilings bright white.
This makes the room reflect the most light possible which makes them feel bigger and more spacious.
Oh, and ALWAYS use flat paint on your ceilings. Any sheen on your ceiling tends to look awful and magnifies imperfections.
What Is A Popcorn Ceiling
A popcorn ceiling is a ceiling sprayed with an acoustic texture made up of small styrofoam balls in a mixture of drywall compound.
This is a common texture that is used on ceilings for many reasons.
First, it is cheap. It’s cheap because this texture is incredibly easy for a professional to apply. They simply mix up the texture, load it in their spray gun hopper, hook up an air compressor (or use an all-in-one unit like the ), and spray it onto the ceilings. After application, it is simply sprayed white by a painter and the ceiling is done.
Popcorn ceilings are also popular due to the fact that they help reduce noise in rooms and hide imperfections in ceilings.
The Pros and Cons of Painting Popcorn Ceilings
As discussed above, the pros are actually many and quite practical.
Popcorn acoustic ceilings are cheaper because they require less time, labor, and skill than smooth ceilings or other textures such as knockdown. Popcorn ceilings are so easy that a homeowner who has never done one can typically produce a good-looking ceiling on their first try.
Personally, I did all of my basement ceilings with the Wagner Spraytech Texture Sprayer and they look perfect.
Since the texture has styrofoam in it, it is actually a great sound absorber and can significantly reduce echo and noise in a room. In my home, this is great for kids’ bedrooms.
Finally, because you are spraying a heavy texture up onto your ceilings, a popcorn ceiling texture can hide all kinds of imperfections in your ceiling’s drywall. In my basement you cannot find a flaw in my ceilings, not because they aren’t there, but because of the popcorn texture.
Popcorn Ceiling Cons
The main con of a popcorn ceiling is that many people feel it dates the home. It is definitely not the popular choice for ceiling textures at the moment. Knockdowns and flat ceilings are far more popular.
Another con, though not currently a problem, is that prior to 1977, many popcorn ceiling textures contained asbestos. So if you are painting an older ceiling, it could be worth your while to have the ceiling checked for asbestos and being careful not to disturb the texture.
Want To Know How To Remove Popcorn Ceiling Texture?
Unfortunately, asbestos was often used in popcorn ceiling texture from the 1940’s to roughly 1980. So if your home was built pre-1980, you should do a test for asbestos before you any work on your ceiling.
If asbestos is found, it is often best to consult a professional to determine the safest path forward.
You can buy an Asbestos Test Kit on Amazon and complete the test yourself.
Wrapping Up Popcorn Ceiling Painting
Congratulations, you painted your popcorn ceiling! Hopefully, the project looks great! A nice freshly painted ceiling adds a lot of brightness to a room!
Planning any other painting projects? Check out these DIY Painting tutorials:
- How To Remove Popcorn Ceiling Texture
- How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets Like A Pro
- How To Paint Trim
- How To Paint A Door Without Brush Marks
- How To Stain A Deck
Need more help? Check out our Drywall Resouce Page for all things drywall.
Wednesday 8th of July 2020
If some of your popcorn came off in few spots while rolling (in two spots, in 2-5 inch circles) but you felt the finish was uneven would you take the chance and do a 2nd coat? I'm very concerned about more falling off on the 2nd coat or if it would be more bonded together. Thank you in advance for your opinion.
Wednesday 8th of July 2020
Hey Michelle, Popcorn coming off while rolling is always a risk (and a pain in the butt!). I always assume a second coat will be needed when painting ceilings. I like to go in the opposite direction on the second coat to avoid streaking. For example, the first coat goes north and south while the second coat goes east and west.
If you wait for the first coat to cure, at least 24 hours, this should help minimize the risk of popcorn coming off. The only other solution is to use a sprayer, but I'm assuming that isn't practical for you. Maybe a little touch up with a spray can of texture might be necessary when completed.