Should You Wallpaper Ceilings Or Walls First? (Helpful Tips)

Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by Barry Gray


Wallpaper is making a trendy comeback in the 2020s, visibly so in the insta-world and it’s a lot funkier than the drab striped or floral variations that were popular in the 70s. Instead of leaving the ceiling bare when redecorating, you can wallpaper it along with the walls. But which should you do first, the ceiling or the walls?

When wallpapering a space, the ceiling is always done before the walls, laying it longitudinally across the room, starting from the window, and working away from it. If one had to paper the walls first, the finished work could be damaged by equipment or have wallpaper paste splashed onto it.

It is entirely possible to DIY wallpapering a ceiling, and it stands to reason that it will be a little more difficult than doing the walls. So if at all possible, it’s best to have an extra set of hands and eyes to do the best job possible when you’re working against gravity. It’s also worth taking the time to prepare the ceiling to get the best possible finish, without having to fix any messes.

Where To Start When Wallpapering The Ceiling

wallpapering the ceiling

As much as I would love this to be the case, wallpapering the ceiling doesn’t just start by brushing on the paste and sticking the paper up on the ceiling. Preparation is key to getting a professional-looking finish, so make sure that you have the right equipment and materials, and don’t be tempted to do a rush job in the pre-hanging phase.

Things To Consider Before Wallpapering A Ceiling

You may have been inspired by wallpapered ceilings splashed across social media, or you may have issues with your ceiling and want to hide the imperfections, but before beginning the process, you should ensure that your ceiling is suitable for wallpaper.

The ceiling needs to be structurally intact, with a smooth, clean surface. Cleaning will always be part of the preparation process, but one should think carefully before papering over a cracked ceiling. If it is an old house or building, and the ceilings are prone to cracks, the wallpaper will in all likelihood warp and buckle as new cracks develop.

Popcorn ceilings are not suitable for wallpaper. This ceiling type has a speckled or bumpy surface which was popular about 50 years ago. In the unlikely event that the wallpaper would stick well to the uneven surface, it would look more like a child’s art than a well-decorated, upgraded space.

Choosing The Correct Wallpaper For Your Ceiling

choosing the correct wallpaper

Wallpapering the ceiling can be a tedious job, but with the modern versions available the process can be a little more bearable. There are 3 kinds of wallpaper available:

  • The traditional paper that needs the application of glue.
  • A pre-glued variety which makes it a little easier, but still needs water to activate the glue.
  • Wallpaper with a backing that peels off.

The peel-off kind is much easier to work with, but doesn’t always outlast the higher-end traditional wallpapers.

You should also carefully consider the colors and designs because wallpaper is not something that one changes often. Tastes change so while Winnie the Pooh may be perfect for a 4-year-old, 10 years later your teenage daughter would probably be mortified every time her friends enter her bedroom. Removable wallpaper would work well in this situation, where you simply peel it off.

Ensure that you order enough wallpaper before starting the work. Patterns sometimes go out of stock. Also be sure to add extra if you need to pattern-match, or line up certain motifs.

Preparing The Ceiling For Wallpaper

prepairing the ceiling

The quality of the finished product will depend on the preparation. Take the time to do the following:

  • Scrape the whole ceiling down with a paint scraper, removing any flaking paint or other debris.
  • Clean the entire surface with sugar soap and a second time with clean water, and allow to dry.
  • It is advisable to use one of the special primers available that are designed to minimize glue damage associated with wallpaper before starting to paper.
  • Do not paper over any pre-existing wallpaper – the new paste would soak into the old wallpaper, loosen it and all of it could come tumbling down.
  • The best paste to use is the variety that you mix yourself. It can be mixed in a bucket and poured into a paint tray as required.
  • It’s ideal to have a pasting table to do the gluing. If you do it on the floor, you are likely to stand on the paper and spread the paste all over.

Applying The Wallpaper To The Ceiling

applying the wallpaper

Now that the preparation has been done, it’s time to measure the starting line for the first strip of paper. Use the width of the wallpaper, and mark that distance from your starting point, which is normally a corner. Mark out points across the ceiling joining up to form a line that is perpendicular to both long walls. Now your first strip will be perfectly straight when placed on the line.

Measure the length of this line and add about 4-inches to the measurement to calculate the length of the paper strip. This helps when matching up repeating patterns on the wallpaper. Paint the glue onto the wallpaper with a 3-inch brush, ensuring that you haven’t missed any spots. Fold the glued side over itself and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Applying the wallpaper is easier if there are two people, one to stick the wallpaper to the start line, and the other to hold the batch waiting to be applied. The person on the ground can use a dry mop or broom to hold the waiting wallpaper. If bubbles or creases appear, use a slightly soapy, damp sponge to rub them out. It will also clean excess glue from the paper.

The only obstacle in your way on a ceiling would be the ceiling rose. Turn off the lighting circuit, and cut around the piece where you have papered over the ceiling rose. It can be trimmed later when you make the finishing touches. As each strip is placed next to the previous one, take care to line up the seams and motifs in the pattern for an excellent finish.


Logically, ceilings should be wallpapered before any work is done on the walls to avoid repeat cleaning and touching up measures on the walls. Wallpapering the ceilings can bring new life to your spaces so don’t treat them like a forgotten relative. Brighten up your world and wallpaper!

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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.