Painting a Ceiling
Masking and Covering

The necessary masking for painting a ceiling requires covering all areas that are exposed to paint, sanding dust, or any other paint related substance.

Brushing and rolling paint only requires enough masking to cover areas affected by paint drips and roller splatter. Spray painting requires the thorough masking and covering of all areas vulnerable to paint overspray.

Masking Non-Painted Items
Consider non-painted devices that need to be protected while painting a ceiling.

  • Recessed lights – It is best to remove the light trims. If you do not want to remove them, use a low-medium adhesive masking tape with or without masking paper to cover them. Do not use the lights while they are masked. If masking tape or paper makes contact with hot light bulbs, it could start a fire! Remove the masking as soon as possible.
  • Light fixtures – It is preferable to loosen the cover plates and pull them away from the wallboard. You can also protect the cover plates by applying a strip of masking tape with or without masking paper. Use a safe release masking tape so as not to damage the finish on the cover plate.
  • Smoke detectors and fire sprinkler heads – Carefully cover these items with masking tape and masking paper. They must always remain paint free. Once the painting is completed remove the masking immediately.

Masking Floors
Whether you are painting a ceiling by cutting in and rolling or spray painting, you should cover the entire floor.

Painters drop cloths are the best way to protect carpet from paint and dust. Start by placing runner drop cloths around the perimeter of the room. Runners are typically sized at 4ft x 12-15ft. Use larger drop cloths, 9ft x 12ft or 12ft x 15ft, to cover larger areas of floors. For projects in which excessive amounts of paint may reach the floor, use butyl backed drop cloths.

The adhesive backed plastic is great for carpeted stair treads because it stays in place. It is also a superior product to use on carpeted floors at the base of a wall where wallpaper is to be removed. It will help prevent moisture from penetrating into the carpet.

Hardwood, Tile, Vinyl
The traditional way to cover hardwood, tile, and vinyl floors is with painters drop cloths. However, they do have a tendency to slide around on hard surfaces, exposing areas of floor to paint fallout.

A great alternative for covering hard floor surfaces is with red rosin paper. It sits tight to the floor and gives you a durable surface to work on. Place the first row of red rosin paper within one inch from the wall. Lay consecutive rows overlapping about one inch until you reach the other side of the room. Use an inexpensive production masking tape to tape the rows of red rosin paper together. Use a low adhesive, 1 ½ inch masking tape to tape the perimeter of the paper to the floor. Make sure the masking tape is tight to the baseboards or to the bottom of the walls.

An easy way to cut the red rosin paper is with a utility knife. Be sure not to cut directly on the floor to avoid damage to the floor.

Masking Walls
When painting a ceiling, the walls become vulnerable to paint fallout. It is best to protect them if they are finished with wallpaper, integral color plaster, unpainted brick, a faux finish, or you just do not plan to repaint them. Covering the walls is essential if you are spray painting a ceiling but it is also a safe approach if you roll and cut-in the paint.

One method of masking a wall uses painters plastic and a 1 ½ or 2 inch, low adhesive masking tape. Apply a strip of masking tape on the wall tight to the corner of the ceiling. Leave the bottom edge of the tape loose so you can attach the plastic sheeting. Cut a section of painters plastic from the roll approximately the length of the wall. Starting at one and working toward the opposite corner, tuck the edge of the plastic sheeting under the masking tape. Use your fingers to firmly secure the tape to the plastic.

Another method of masking a wall uses a hand masker, with folded masking film and a low adhesive masking tape. Starting in a corner, pull about three feet of masking tape together with the masking film from the hand masker and place the tape carefully along the top edge of the wall tight to the corner of the ceiling. Repeat the process until you reach the opposite corner. Use the blade on the hand masker to cut the tape and film so it can be unfolded. 99 inch width masking film will cover most standard height walls from ceiling to floor.

When covering a brick wall or fireplace begin with a strip of 2 inch red vinyl tape. Regular masking tape does not stick well to brick. Once the red vinyl tape is in place, follow the same masking procedure above.

If you plan to repaint your walls, a little ceiling paint on the walls is inconsequential. If the color difference is drastic, you could choose to place a single row of masking paper at the top of the wall. This will keep the majority of the ceiling paint off the walls.

Masking Cabinets
Covering cabinets is very similar to masking walls. You can use painters plastic along with masking tape or a hand masker with masking film and masking tape. The 48 or 72 inch film is an appropriate size for most cabinets. Painters drop cloths, plastic, or red rosin paper work well for covering counter tops.

Masking Trim: Crown Moldings and Baseboards
Doors and windows are also exposed when painting a ceiling. If you have already decided to cover the walls with masking film, the same film will also cover the door and window openings as well.

If you decide not to mask the walls, you should put a layer of masking paper atop the door and window casings and window stools. This will help keep paint drips and roller splatter off these moldings. Finally, if you are going to spray paint the ceiling, cover the door and window openings with masking film. This will also help prevent overspray from drifting into other rooms of the house.

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Professional Painting, Inc. is a full service painting company serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1988.