How to Paint a Wall Without Getting Paint on the Ceiling

With the right ceiling protection, you can paint a wall with confidence.
With the right ceiling protection, you can paint a wall with confidence. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

When you're painting walls, there's always risk for unsightly paint splatter on the ceiling. Unwanted ceiling paint is frustrating for any DIY homeowner, because you need to go through the hassle of matching the color and covering up the mess with a cumbersome extended roller brush. However, the right precautions and painting tactics help you avoid getting excess paint on the ceiling.

Things You'll Need

  • Tented step ladder
  • 2-inch wide painter's tape
  • Newspaper
  • Plastic tarp
  • 2- or 3-inch brush
  • Primer
  • Light-nap paint roller
  • Latex or oil paint

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Set up a tented step ladder, also called an “A-frame ladder,” at the base of the wall you're painting. Always opt for tented ladders, since leaning a ladder against the wall is less stable, and standing on furniture is equally hazardous.

Apply 2-inch wide painter's tape to the edge of the ceiling, protecting the ceiling's borders from accidental brush strokes.

Slide newspaper underneath edge of painter's tape facing the ceiling.

Tape the loose end of newspaper to the ceiling. This gives you an extra foot or two of buffer-space in the event of splattered paint droplets from your roller brush.

Tape the trim at the bottom of the wall, and lay a protective tarp on the floor to further protect the space from paint spills.

Prime the wall if necessary. When you're painting over a previously painted wall, the new paint will adhere to the wall easily, and you typically don't need primer.

Use a 2- or 3-inch wide brush to paint all the edges first, including the ceiling edges and corners. If you try to use a large roller brush for edging, you will end up with much more splatter.

Paint the rest of the wall using a light-nap roller brush. Light-nap rollers provide smooth coverage, but they don't soak up very much paint with each application, so splatter is minimized when compared to a medium- or heavy-nap roller.

Apply a second coat if needed after the first coat has dried.

Remove the painter's tape, tarp and newspaper only after the final coat has fully dried. Early removal could result in unwanted paint transfer to the ceiling.


  • “Complete Painting”; Larry Johnson; 2007
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