Add a new colour or a fresh finish to a room
Painting the walls and ceiling can be one of the most enjoyable parts of decorating a room. It's an easy way to refresh a space, or add character with a new colour.
To get the best finish, it's worth doing some thorough preparation before beginning and then working systematically around the room. With the right tools even the more difficult tasks, like painting the ceiling, can be made easier and more efficient.
In this guide, we'll be;
- Painting the ceiling, coving and walls in a room
- Using a water-based interior emulsion paint - for advice choosing the best paint for your room, check out our Interior paint buying guide
- Completing these tasks with either a brush and roller, or paint pads
Tools & materials required
You will need
- Paint brushes
- Paint can opener or a flat-head screwdriver
- Paint stirrer
- Paint guard - also known as a decorating shield
- Paint kettle and paint kettle hook - to keep your paint in place whilst you work at height
- Paint roller, sleeve and tray
- Roller extension poles - useful for both ceilings and walls
- Radiator roller - if needed
- Roller cleaner
- Paint pad and paint pad tray - if needed
- Step ladder or work platform
- Retractable knife
- Decorators coveralls - to keep your clothing clean
- Shoe covers - to avoid treading paint into other rooms
Before you begin
It's important to make some final checks before you get started on your decorating project.
- Are the walls and ceiling prepared and ready for painting? Our guide to How to prepare your walls for decorating will walk you through this essential process.
- Have you got enough paint? Check the details on the back of the can to make sure you've got enough for the surfaces you need to cover. Our paint calculator can also help.
- Have you allowed yourself enough time? Take into consideration the drying time and number of coats of paint needed. Remember also that you'll want to complete all coats of paint on the ceiling before you move on to the walls.
It's best to paint your room in a logical order, starting with the ceiling, then moving onto the walls and finally woodwork and doors.
Begin your painting nearest the largest window in the room, or a light source, and then in bands away from, and in parallel to, this. The light will reflect off the wet paint making it easier to see where you've been and identify any missed areas. If you want to take a break, try to do this when you reach the corner of a room rather in the middle of a wall, as this helps to prevent tide lines as the paint dries.
- Think about how you're going to reach all surfaces safely. You'll need a sturdy step ladder or work platform to cut in around the edges of the ceiling and walls, as well as paint coving. Consider using a roller on a pole where possible to paint ceilings and walls so that you can work at ground level rather than on steps.
- If you have children or pets at home, keep them away from wet paint and whilst paint is drying to avoid any messy accidents.
How to paint a ceiling with a brush and roller
Once your room is prepared, you can begin decorating the ceiling. Whilst this can look tricky, with the right tools you can make light work of a task that'll help your room to look fresher and brighter.
Using a paint can opener, or a flat-head screwdriver, carefully open the paint can. Take a paint stirrer, and following the instructions on the can, stir the paint until an even, flowing consistency without any lumps is reached.
Paint cans can be cumbersome, so pour a smaller amount of paint into a paint kettle. Use a paint kettle hook to keep your kettle securely in place if you are working on a step ladder.
Before you paint the bulk of your ceiling, paint into the edges of the ceiling and around any ceiling lights or alarms with a small brush. This technique is called cutting in.
- If you're going to paint the walls after the ceiling. Use a 50 millimetre (mm) / 2 inch (”) paint brush to brush a strip of paint (of about 25mm) onto the walls, which you can paint over later.
- If you aren't going to paint the walls. Paint along the edge of the ceiling using a 50mm (2”) or 75mm (3”) brush. An angled paint brush will help you to paint a neat, straight line but if in doubt of how steady your hand is, use either masking tape to mask the edges or a paint shield to protect the wall.
Paint the edges where the ceiling meets the wall in one go to give the best finish. If you don't complete it all at once you could end up with a visible band around the edges from the paint drying at different times.
Top tip: Keep a decorators cloth to hand
Whenever you are working with paint, keep a decorators cloth or clean rag to hand. This can be used to wipe and mop up any small drips or dabs of paint where you don't want it. Most modern interior emulsion paints are water-based, so a damp cloth is usually all it takes to neaten up a smudge in the wrong place.
With the perimeter of the ceiling painted, it’s now time to paint the rest.
Fill the reservoir of the roller tray one-third full of paint. Using a roller with an extension pole attached, dip the roller sleeve into the paint and roll it firmly up and down the ribbed incline of the tray to spread the paint evenly. Avoid overloading the sleeve to prevent paint splattering.
Apply the paint to the ceiling using the roller. Move the roller over the surface, using random strokes and a light, even pressure. Each time you dip the roller in the paint, move it to an adjacent unpainted area and work back to the painted area in overlapping strokes to blend in the wet edges.
Once complete, allow the ceiling to dry following the advice on the paint tin. If more than one coat of paint is required, allow the recommended drying time and then repeat steps 2 and 3.
Top tip: Keep tools ready to use for the next coat of paint
Sometimes you'll need to apply multiple coats of paint to a ceiling or a wall within the same day. You won't need to clean your tools between coats of paint if you wrap them securely. Wrap brushes, rollers and paint trays tightly with cling film and put aside until you're ready to recoat. This prevents the paint from drying out until you're ready to get back to work.
How to paint coving with a brush
If your room has coving between the ceiling and wall, paint this before starting on your walls.
Use a work platform or step ladder to reach the coving, and a paint kettle with hook to keep your paint securely in place.
Using a narrow brush, apply paint from the kettle to the coving in long, sweeping strokes. A 38mm (1 1/2") or 50mm (2") precision tip or angled brush will help to make light work of this.
Try to avoid overlapping onto the ceiling either by keeping a steady hand or using a paint guard. On the lower edge of the coving, allow the paint to overlap slightly onto the wall below.
Work your way systematically around the room, using long, even strokes to ensure good coverage and to blend edges.
How to paint a wall with a brush and roller
Once your ceiling and any coving has dried, it's time to begin work on the walls.
The steps you'll take are similar to painting a ceiling, only we'll tackle some of the particular challenges unique to walls - such as painting around radiators, windows and door frames.
As with painting a ceiling, begin by cutting in around the edges of the room. This will include where the ceiling or coving meets the top of the wall, where the bottom of the wall meets the skirting board and around any windows and door frames. You may also have light switches, sockets, heaters and radiators you'll need to cut in around.
Use a good quality 38mm (1½”) or 50mm (2”) precision tip or angled brush for this. These brushes should help you to paint a neat, straight line.
Pour emulsion paint into the reservoir of the paint tray until it is approximately one-third full. Dip the roller sleeve into the paint, and spread evenly by rolling it firmly on the ribbed incline of the tray. To reduce splatters as you work, avoid overloading the sleeve with paint.
You can use a roller with or without a roller pole to paint walls - whichever you find most comfortable. A roller pole can make it easier to reach the top of the wall, but you can also use a step ladder or work platform to reach if you prefer.
Work out from the edges by rolling paint in 1m wide ‘W’ patterns and go back over the W to fill in the open areas. The aim is to apply the paint evenly and always work from a 'wet' edge. The edges need to be blended in to stop a ridge of paint from forming. Use a light, even pressure when working with the roller.
Try not to work too fast or you will create a fine mist of paint spray. Each time the roller is dipped in the paint, move it to an adjacent unpainted area and work your way back to the painted area in overlapping strokes to blend in the wet edges.
Whilst the paint is still dry, use a radiator roller to coat the wall behind each radiator in the room.
Once the first coat of paint has been applied, leave to dry following the instructions on the paint tin.
If you're applying more than one coat of paint, it’s a good idea to remove and reapply any masking tape that has been used to protect other surfaces between coats. As the paint dries and joins to the tape, it can pull off the paint as the layers build.
Remove the masking tape slowly at a 90 degree angle before the paint fully cures. If the new paint does begin to tear, gently score the edges using a retractable knife and straight edge. Reapply tape to the surfaces that need to be protected before you apply the next coat of paint.
If further coats are required, repeat steps 1 to 4 until you reach your desired finish.
Now that you've finished your painting, it's time to give your brushes and rollers a good clean so they're ready for use next time.
Brushes Brush all remaining paint residue to scrap paper or card to reduce the volume of paint on the brush. The bristles can then be washed clean using water, and a splash of washing up liquid if needed. Rinse the bristles through with clean water until all traces of paint have been removed. Use a clean rag or paper towels to dry the brush, and then leave to dry flat.
Rollers Begin by rolling as much remaining paint onto paper or card. Next, place the sleeve under warm running water until the water almost runs clear. Running a roller cleaner over the sleeve with a twisting motion can help to make this easier. Add a dab of washing up liquid to the roller and thoroughly wash in warm water. Pat dry with a clean rag or paper towels and leave to dry standing vertically on one end.
How to paint walls and ceilings using paint pads
Paint pads are an easy-to-use alternative to brushes and rollers. The rectangular shape makes them great for painting right up against the edges of walls and into corners, and larger pads make them suitable for decorating bigger areas like ceilings. They cause less spray than rollers, but they do need reloading more often, so the job may take longer.
Begin by brushing the surface of the pad with the flat of your hand to dispel any loose fibres from the paint pad.
Pour the paint into the paint pad tray, then draw the pad over the built-in roller or over the ribbed part of the tray to distribute the paint evenly and remove any excess that could cause drips.
Start painting near a corner and work in strips about four times the width of your pad. Keeping the pad flat on the surface, move it up and down the surface with a gentle scrubbing action.
Similarly to working with a brush and roller, work methodically around the room starting with the ceiling and then each wall in turn. Allow each coat of paint sufficient drying time before re-coating.