How to paint a room that has peeling paint

Fresh paint is the best and least expensive way to remodel. Patching cracks in walls is a fairly easy task, but the issue of paint peeling can be perplexing. This article addresses some of the main causes for repairs to a ceiling that is painting, but the same principles apply to paint peeling from walls. This article will address the peeling, some simple ways to stop the problem and the technique to quickly paint any ceiling.

Determine the source of the peeling paint. Use the moisture detector on various sections of the ceiling where the paint has peeled. Moisture is usually a factor in peeling. The moisture problem may have been corrected but if the detector indicates that moisture is still present, find the source of the water and repair it. The paint will continue to peel until the source of the water is fixed.

Prep the room. Remove any furniture (or move pieces to the centre of the room and drape with a tarp or canvas cover). Place tarps on the floor. Cover window coverings with cling film and apply plastic covering over any woodwork with the blue painter's tape. This will allow the painter to focus on the ceiling work and not on any drips or spills.

Remove the old paint. Hand tools usually work best for small areas. If the entire ceiling is peeling, rent an orbital sander. Scrape large paint peels off first and then sand the area. Divide the ceiling into quadrants. Work from the corner to the centre of the ceiling.

Be sure to save a few chips of the old paint, just in case there is a problem with later steps. Place the samples in a small zip-topped plastic bag.

Sand uneven portions of the ceiling where the paint has been removed. Use the hand or electric sander to even out the ceiling where the paint has been removed. If there are many layers of paint, this may involve applying a plaster filler. If the filler is necessary, wait until full daylight and use a spatula to apply the plaster in even strokes. Let the first coat dry, sand the area and look to see if the ceiling is even. This may be done by looking at the ceiling at an angle in different types of lighting. Use a lamp at night to examine the ceiling to ensure the new plaster is completely even. In cases where many layers of paint have been removed, a professional plasterer may be required to "feather" the areas where the peeling was removed. This will make the ceiling look smooth and even.

Spackle any remaining holes or grooves. Use the spackle to fill any small holes or grooves made with the scraper. First sand with the rough grit sandpaper and then sand again with the fine grit paper. Use a tac cloth to wipe any grit and spackle before painting. (Tac cloths are specially treated to capture small dust particles that will clog brushes and paint rollers.)

Paint the ceiling with a good quality sealer. This is probably the most important step in restoring the ceiling. If moisture is not the source of the peeling paint, failure to use the correct paint may be the cause. Oil-based paints and water-based latex paint do not mix. If paint has been applied to the ceiling without first applying a sealer, peeling will continue to be a problem as the earlier paint bleeds through into the new paint. The sealer will also save steps by eliminating extra coats of paint required to cover any old stains or dark marks.

Let the sealer dry and examine the paint. If staining marks are still visible, add a second coat of sealer. If the sealer is peeling, take the paint samples from the original ceiling to a paint professional and ask to have the paint chips analysed. If this research doesn't provide an answer, the problem may be in the ceiling material itself, the mix of the plaster or composition of earlier paints or stains.

Apply the ceiling paint starting with the trim work, once all causes of the peeling have been identified and removed. Use a trim brush or small foam brushes on the edges and corners of the ceiling.

Use a tray and roller to apply paint to the larger areas. Some painters use extremely thin rollers and an extension handle when working with a flat ceiling. The smaller, thin roller gives a professional matt look to the paint.

Let the paint dry completely and apply a second coat of paint.


Paint during daylight hours. Night or dusk shadows are not adequate to see imperfections in the work. If working with a partner, have one person start on one corner opposite the other person. This will allow room for sanding and scraping. Meet in the centre.


Take a paint chip peel for lead testing. If the paint has lead, use clothing and respirator precautions or hire professionals to remove the paint and seal the ceiling. Once that has been done, it is ready to paint. Check to make sure that the paint is the correct match with the sealer. Oil paint is appropriate with an oil sealer. Water-based paint should be used with a water-based sealer.

Things You'll Need

  • Moisture detector
  • Medium and large scrapers (metal, wood or plastic)
  • Medium and fine grit sandpaper
  • Plaster filler (optional)
  • Plaster tool (optional)
  • Tac cloth
  • Ladder
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Plastic or canvas tarps
  • Painter's tape (numerous rolls)
  • Sealer
  • Ceiling paint
  • Large brush
  • Small trim brush
  • Paint tray(s)
  • Paint roller(s)
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About the Author

Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.