How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling? (5 Steps and Tips)

Last Updated on May 3, 2023 by Barry Gray

While a popcorn ceiling is often viewed as being somewhat outdated, you may not feel the need to remove it. Alternatively, perhaps you enjoy having this ceiling, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

No matter which of those two options applies to you, there will come a time when you need to paint the ceiling in order to give it a fresh appearance. However, some people look at the lumps and bumps of a popcorn ceiling and worry that painting it will be difficult. Yet, painting a popcorn ceiling is easy when you paint in the right direction and prepare it accordingly with dusting and preparing the room.

Well, I’m going to dispel that theory or that concern if that’s what you would prefer to call it, and instead, I will take you through the simple steps you need to follow in order to successfully paint a popcorn ceiling.

I promise it will prove to be significantly more straightforward than you had anticipated, and there’s almost no way you will not be able to get a fantastic looking end result. Also, no special tools or knowledge is required, and that’s a great thing, as there’s no reason why you cannot just go ahead and get started with this very simple project.

So, what you are about to see is you only have a handful of simple steps you need to follow in order to successfully paint a popcorn ceiling. You will find there’s not much difference between this and any other ceiling, and anybody will be capable of completing this task without running into problems.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

how to paint a popcorn ceiling

The Tools

Let’s begin by looking at the tools you will require in order to do the project. Clearly, you need paint, but I’ll talk about that in more detail shortly, as it’s always best to get the correct paint to prevent any problems in the future. 

Aside from paint, you should also have a number of dust sheets, paint brushes, a paint roller, and a paint tray. Also, some painter’s tape will prove to be useful and is one item you simply cannot be without. In addition, you may wish to use a paint sprayer instead.

Oh, but with the roller, make sure you have one that’s designed for either rough or textured surfaces. This is key, or you will simply be unable to get a clean and consistent paint job. A smooth roller is pointless, and I would never use one for this particular task. 

Finally, a stepladder and an extension pole for the roller will also be required. Aside from those things, you will not require anything else apart from some time to get the job done.

The Paint

painting popcorn ceiling

You must also ensure you have the correct paint for ceilings before you start. That typically means you are looking for a matte acrylic paint that doesn’t give off much of a sheen but will go on easily and not even offer up too many drips.

I would also just double-check that the paint brand you are purchasing clearly states it’s to be used on ceilings. This should either appear on the can, or you can check online in advance to know with absolute certainty you are getting the correct paint for the job in question. 

I find this type of paint the easiest to use for this project, and it should be thick enough that you will only be required to give your ceiling a solitary coat of paint for it to then come up looking pretty impressive.

Once you have everything in place, it’s time to get started. 

Step 1: Clearing the Room

empty room for painting popcorn ceiling

The first step is to clear the room as best you can. This is the same as you would be doing when painting a flat ceiling, and it’s simply a case of making it easier for you to move around when painting.

Also, the more things you can clear out a room, the less need there is to start covering up as many items. 

But I wouldn’t look at just furniture and what you can move. I would also remove light fixtures and ceiling fans to make your job significantly easier. 

Step 2: Cover Up

items covered in dust sheets to paint popcorn ceiling

Once you have cleared the room, you need to look at everything that is left and start covering up using those dust sheets. Also, don’t forget the floor because there’s a good chance paint splatters will hit the floor, and it can be a tiresome job trying to remove them.

You really should cover every aspect, as best you can, because even though you should be using a paint with little in the way of splatters, it’s still going to occur.

Once you have covered everything, you then need to look at adding painter’s tape to the top of the walls. This will stop you from running the ceiling paint onto the walls, which would clearly increase your workload if you then had to go ahead and paint walls to cover up the mess.’ to the top of the walls.

Take your time with adding the tape. You don’t want any gaps at the top because even the smallest space will end up with paint in it, and it’s amazing how it will stand out when you remove the tape from the walls.

Step 3: Cleaning the Ceiling

dust popcorn ceiling before painting

Before I start painting, I always clean the ceiling first. A popcorn ceiling has a fantastic ability to hold onto dust and grime, and that is something you need to get off before you can paint.

Admittedly, the level of cleaning that’s required does depend on the room. For example, a lounge ceiling will have some dust, but it won’t have the same grime as you would get in a kitchen. 

In fact, if you are looking at painting your kitchen ceiling, then there’s a good chance oils and fats are clinging to the ceiling. At that point, you may need to effectively wash your ceiling, but then allow it to dry before you start painting.

But generally speaking, giving your ceiling a dust and even using those attachments for your vacuum should suffice when it comes to getting it clean.

Step 4: Cutting In

cutting in method painting ceiling

After all of the preparation is over, it’s time to start with the actual painting. My advice is to begin at the edges of the ceiling and to do something called cutting in.

What this involves is taking a paintbrush, and it’s best if it’s something along the lines of a 2” brush and effectively painting along the edge of the ceiling where it joins the walls. Also, you have to cut in around any light fixtures on the ceiling as you can hardly use the roller right up to them.

Also, I would opt for an angled brush to make it easier. I feel it does a superior job of getting into the edge while offering you a lot more control over the brush and where the paint is going.

With this part of the task, I always ensure I take my time and use what are effectively long, sweeping strokes. Try to keep a steady hand, as that does make a massive difference in the smooth result you can then achieve.

The key here is to cover the first couple of inches out from the wall. In doing this, you do stop yourself from feeling rather tempted to go right up to the join between wall and ceiling with the roller. If you do get too close, do not be surprised if you then discover you have added some paint to the wall from the roller. 

I know cutting in can take some time, but it’s an essential part of the entire process and one you cannot avoid doing. However, you will be glad you did when you see the end result you can achieve.

Step 5: Painting the Ceiling

paint roller for painting popcorn ceiling

After completing the cutting in process, you can then paint the rest of the ceiling, and that’s where the roller comes into play. 

I said in the section about tools that you need to use the correct roller and that it has to be for rough or textured surfaces. This acts differently from a roller for smooth surfaces, and you will generally see the roller as being thicker and bulkier as a result.

But don’t worry about that or think it will make life more challenging. These rollers are specifically designed to cope with things such as a popcorn ceiling, and it is capable of achieving a great end result. The best one is a ¾” nap cover, as that will fly over the popcorn part, and I know you will be impressed with what you can achieve with it.

For this, I would use an extension pole on a roller rather than getting a stepladder and walking up and down repeatedly. It’s easier on your legs, and it also means you will be able to complete the task in less time. 

I also think the most effective way of painting a popcorn ceiling with a roller is to actually begin in the middle of the ceiling and work your way toward the edges. But you cannot paint it in the same way as you would paint walls or a smooth ceiling, and it’s because of the nature of the popcorn.

You see, popcorn can be pretty fragile, which means you must avoid repeatedly going back and forth over the same area. If you do this, there is a chance the popcorn will break off and fall to the floor, and then you start to have another problem you need to contend with.

So, this is what I would do when painting a popcorn ceiling with a roller.

First, I would ensure I had ample paint on the roller. Don’t try and save paint, or you will make life harder for yourself, and it also means the painting job will involve several coats, increasing the time it takes for you to complete the task.

Next, move in long straight strokes, and only go forward over a section, then back once, and then forward again. If you have put enough paint on the roller, then you should be able to give the ceiling a good coating at this point.

Do this all over the ceiling until it is completely covered, and try to go in the same direction at all times. This is important for what you will then do after you have completed this first sweep of the ceiling.

After this, you need to turn yourself 90 degrees and paint the ceiling in this alternative direction. By doing this, what you are managing to do is to effectively paint other sides of the popcorn that the roller could not have covered with the first approach.

This method should reduce the chances of you missing parts and for spotting to occur on the ceiling. It may not sound like much, but it’s amazing how spots can really leap out at you, and nobody wants to look up at a painted ceiling and see what is basically a mess. 

Again, if you have added enough paint to the roller, then it should result in a decent covering of paint on the popcorn. Also, don’t rush this part of the process. It’s not a race, and going too fast will result in you effectively skipping over the popcorn, leaving those unpainted parts. 

The good news is that is basically all you need to do in order to paint a popcorn ceiling. I think the only difference is the painting approach and having to go in one direction and then turning to give another coat from a different direction. Aside from that, everything is the same when compared to painting a smooth ceiling.

In short, I’d look at trying to remember these key points for painting the ceiling.

  • Always start by cutting in at the edges using a paint brush
  • Use a roller, or even a paint sprayer to get a good end result
  • Use long strokes in one direction
  • Turn to 90 degrees and repeat those long strokes
  • Double check for any missed spots, although the painting method should help

Key Tips to Get a Good Result

how to paint a popcorn ceiling

But I do want you to feel you have been able to get the best possible outcome, so here are a few tips that should make life just that bit easier. 

Get a Quality Paint

Paint is not something you should be looking at saving money on. It’s generally the case that the cheaper the paint, the poorer the application.

Ultimately, if you choose inferior paint just to save money, then there’s a good chance you will end up spending more time than you wanted to by adding more coats to get the type of coverage you wanted. 

I also feel cheap paint tarnishes more quickly. It’s really just a quick fix, so I would always push my budget as far as I could for the paint. It will save you money in the long term and also give you a far superior finish than you thought possible.

Get a Quality Roller

As well as the paint, you need to get a quality roller. You want it to not only soak up the paint for you to then apply it to the ceiling, but you also want it to then dispense the paint and not just keep it in the roller material.

Again, cheaper rollers tend to make a mess of things, and the good news is that a decent quality roller does not even have to cost a fortune. 

Earlier, I mentioned something called the nap, and I should explain what I mean by that in case it’s not a term you are used to.

Basically, the nap refers to the length of the hairs on the roller. A roller that is made for creating a smooth surface or working on a smooth surface will have almost no nap at all. 

I mentioned a ¾” nap, but it can sometimes go up to over 1 ½”. However, I don’t feel that you really need something of that length to work with a popcorn ceiling.

The role of the nap is to allow the hairs on the roller to really get down into valleys and crevices that appear on a rougher texture. That means the roller can get into the joins at the bottom of the popcorn where it meets the ceiling.

Do not go below ¾” with this, or you will find the roller will skip over the popcorn rather than coating the sides with paint. 

Tips for Cutting In

I admit that cutting in is the part of painting a ceiling I hate the most. It’s time-consuming, and yet it’s clearly a vital part of getting a smooth finish you can be proud of. However, I do have a few tips to make life that bit easier.

Work Your Way to the Edge

I prefer to work my way to the edge with the wall rather than working away from it. I start a fraction away from the join and then slowly push the paintbrush toward the join. I feel it makes for a cleaner outcome when you do this, and there’s less chance of you ending up painting part of the wall.

Wiggle to Corners

Dealing with the corners is always tough, so rather than using sweeping strokes, I tend to wiggle the brush into the corner. Again, this is something you need to take some time with, and gently wiggle and push the brush to the corner. You should find it easy enough to get a clean finish without making too much mess.

Avoid Adding too Much Paint

When cutting in, avoid adding too much paint to the brush. You do not want to overload it because that only increases the chances of making a mess and also getting paint on the walls.

You want to have just enough to give the edge a decent coverage but not enough that paint is dripping and splattering all over. Add the paint to the brush, then squeeze off some of the excess before applying. It will make a massive difference to how you can then get a clean paint line. 

Don’t Take Long

I know I’ve been saying at different times, you need to take your time when cutting in, but there is a limit as to how long it should take. 

The problem is you need to get the cutting in part done to then get on with the painting of the ceiling. The cutting in part will start to dry immediately, especially as you have little in the way of paint on the brush. This can sometimes give the appearance of an additional line that then weaves its way around the room, and it’s amazing how it will draw your eye to it.

So, move swiftly but carefully, and you should find it easy enough to get the desired clean result.

Remove Mess-Ups Immediately

The final tip is to remove any mess-ups immediately. If you do get paint on a wall, then wiping it away with a cloth immediately should remove all traces and stop you from having to paint the entire wall. 

But do try to blot the paint rather than wipe it at first to remove the majority of the paint. Wiping a blob of paint will only smear it over a larger area, and then you could run into problems regarding getting it clean.

However, the key is to do this when it’s wet, as you should not run into too many problems in removing all signs of the mistake you just made.

Overall Conclusion

And that is how to paint a popcorn ceiling, and as you can see, it’s a very easy and straightforward project to complete. How long it takes does depend on the size of your ceiling, and I would not exactly rush through the project in order to ultimately get the best result I could.

Perhaps the most challenging part of it all is deciding on the color of your ceiling. Also, double-check you have the correct paint for a ceiling in order to reduce the chances of it looking sub-par compared to what it should have been like.

But before you go ahead and start, check out these articles regarding painting and the tools you need to complete the project.

Photo of author

Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.