Do Ceilings Need To Be Primed?

Painting your ceiling can make a big difference in a room and goes a long way towards sprucing things up. So how do you begin the process of painting your ceiling? Do you need to prime it first? How many coats of primer? How many coats of paint? These are questions that are often asked, and they definitely require an answer. That's why we have gone to the best sources and found the answers for you.

It is usually best to apply a primer coat to your ceilings before painting. One function of the primer is binding to the paint, ensuring that it adheres properly, so using a primer is standard procedure. One coat of primer is usually sufficient. To prep your ceiling for paint, follow these instructions:

  1. Thoroughly dust your ceiling.
  2. Clean any areas that may have grease or other residues.
  3. Remove cracked or peeling paint.
  4. Fill cracks and holes and repair any damage.
  5. Remove any ceiling fixtures, such as lights or fans.
  6. Use 2" to 3" painter's tape to tape off the walls, where they meet the ceiling.
  7. Cover your floor with drop cloths.
  8. Use a paintbrush and primer to brush in the edges of the ceiling.
  9. Apply primer to the ceiling using a roller.

While the primer is typically applied to ceilings before painting, there are situations where this is not necessary. Keep reading to learn more about primer and when it can be omitted.

The Purpose Of Primer

The purpose of primer, Do Ceilings Need To Be Primed?

So what is the point of using a primer? Why spend the extra money and time to prime your ceiling before painting it? Primer has several purposes that can be considered when deciding whether or not you will prime.

These include:

  • Binding
  • Smoothing
  • Sealing


As we mentioned above, the primer acts as a binder, helping your paint to stick securely. Primers are specially designed to grip both the surface being painted and the paint that will be applied. Think of it as being similar to double-sided tape, sticky on both sides. You can purchase bonding primers that are even tackier, but these are rarely needed for ceilings. Surfaces that have been adequately primed are much less likely to chip, peel and crack.


Another practical purpose that primer serves is to smooth out the surface effectively. Primer paints, especially high-build primers, work to fill small imperfections. These imperfections would otherwise cause a slight difference in sheen and appearance and cause your paint to look blotchy.


One more great characteristic of primer is its ability to seal in stains. All primer is made to block stains, to some extent. Specially formulated blocking primers will even cover deep, vibrant stains that would otherwise bleed through paint. Additionally, primer seals drywall, plaster, and wood, providing an evenly porous surface for the paint to be applied to. This saves paint and results in exceptional coverage.

When Can You Skip The Primer?

A worker applying whitewash on the ceiling using a handle roller at home

While a quality primer is typically applied prior to painting, there are a few situations where the primer is entirely unnecessary. Let's look at those specific instances for a minute.

Ceilings With New Texture

If you have recently applied texture to your ceiling, there is no need to prime it before painting. However, most experts recommend using a primer before applying the ceiling texture.

If Your Ceiling Has Already Been Painted

Let's say that your ceiling has an existing coat of latex paint on it. In this case, primer is an unnecessary step in the painting process. However, if your existing ceiling paint is an oil-based paint, you will need to use a primer before going over it with latex paint. Latex paint will not properly adhere to oil-based paints.  Additionally, if your ceiling is heavily stained or coated with smoke or grease stains, you should use a primer.

How Do You Know If Your Existing Ceiling Paint Is Oil Based?

Maybe you're not sure whether your ceiling paint is oil-based or latex. To determine this, you will need alcohol and cotton balls or a rag. Wet the cotton ball or rag with alcohol, and gently rub your ceiling. If the paint is latex, the alcohol will remove some of the paint from the ceiling. However, alcohol will not affect oil-based paints.

How Many Coats Of Paint Should You Use?

A close-up of a long-handled roller brush paints a white primer on a gypsum ceiling in a renovated home

As with other surfaces, bathroom ceilings do best with two coats of paint. It is difficult to guarantee complete coverage with only one coat of paint for any ceiling. Two coats will ensure that the entire ceiling has an even covering of paint.

When it comes time to pick out your ceiling paint, you may find this article helpful: "Should Ceiling Paint Be Flat Or Eggshell?"

What type of primer is best for any ceiling?

When choosing a primer, you will need to decide how much stain blocking and self-leveling you will require. For a good, general-purpose ceiling primer, Bulls Eye primer is a good choice. Bulls Eye primer is water-based with low odor. It seals, blocks stains, and sticks to all surfaces without sanding.

Click here to buy a gallon of white Bulls Eye Primer on Amazon.

What type of primer is best for a bathroom ceiling?

Rear view of painter man painting the ceiling in bathroom

When you're painting your bathroom ceiling, moisture, mold, and mildew will be your biggest enemies.  For this reason, you will want to look for a mold and mildew resistant primer. While several different primers meet these criteria, Kilz is one of the best options. Kilz offers both oil-based and latex primers that work great for bathroom ceilings.

Click here to buy this latex Kilz mildew-resistant primer on Amazon.

Can You use ceiling paint as a wall primer?

Painting a gypsum plaster ceiling with paint roller

Yes and no. Ceiling paint will seal your drywall to some extent and help cut down on the amount of paint used. It also has a matte finish, which works well underneath a coat of paint. However, it does not have the same stain-blocking properties as a good primer. Therefore, you should not use ceiling paint as a primer if you are trying to cover stains. Additionally, primer is typically less expensive than ceiling paint.

Should you paint the walls or ceiling first?

Ceilings should always be painted first, if possible. When you use a roller to paint your ceiling, the roller can and will send a fine spray of paint through the air. This spray will inevitably land on your walls. This is probably not the paint effect you are going for, so it is best to paint your ceiling first.

In Closing

Man using long pole to paint the ceiling, Do Ceilings Need To Be Primed?

Painting your ceiling is a simple, effective way to brighten up a room and can be done fairly easily. Whether you're painting a new ceiling or sprucing up an old one, you now have the understanding to determine if a primer is necessary.

If you're prepping your ceilings for paint, you may find this article helpful: How To Clean A Popcorn Ceiling - Everything You Need To Know.

If you're ready to start painting your ceiling, check out this post: How To Paint A Ceiling Without Roller Marks? [9 Pro Tips].

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