Sanding and painting ceilings
June 9, 2010 8:25 AM   Subscribe

What's the best and easiest way to sand and repaint a ceiling?

We painted the drywall ceiling of our 13'x20' living room, using a ceiling paint that goes on purple and turns white as it dries. The purple/white combination made it hard to notice roller tracks and rough spots, which means our ceiling now looks pretty awful.

We need to sand the tracks and other imperfections, and repaint. The ceiling is reachable by ladder. Do we want to:
a) Use a pole sander? (If so, what grit?)
b) Buy a power sander? (If so, what kind, and what grit?)

The floor is covered with a disposable drop cloth. We know to wear masks while sanding, and to clean the ceiling afterwards.
General advice on ceiling painting would also be gratefully accepted - I'd prefer to not do this a third time.
posted by zamboni to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Just based on re-finishing some of the ceilings in my house (after removing popcorn ceiling texture and discovering the ceiling underneath was never properly finished):

Use a pole sander? (If so, what grit?)

I did not find pole sanders to be much use for anything but a rough sanding of drywall mud. There is not enough control and you really need to be up close to see what's going on anyway. A hand-held sanding pad used from a ladder worked better for me, and it needs to be fairly coarse if you're trying to remove bumps from paint.

Buy a power sander? (If so, what kind, and what grit?)

I wouldn't use a vibrating power sander on drywall as it tends to crack the joints and crumble the drywall around the screw holes. I wouldn't use a belt sander either as it tends to dig in and gouge it very quickly. I have not done either of these things myself, but have helped friends repair the damage from power sanding drywall.

General advice on ceiling painting would also be gratefully accepted

Depending on the lighting conditions in the room, it may be difficult to see imperfections. You want bright, grazing light. One of those portable construction lights on a tripod, which can be jacked up to near ceiling height, was immensely helpful for seeing imperfections and roller tracks and so on.
posted by FishBike at 8:40 AM on June 9, 2010

What brand of paint are you using? I can't imagine anything leaving such deep tracks that a layer of primer and then a couple layers of decent paint (benjamin moore is reliably great) won't cover it. A regular old roller and good paint will take care of it, I bet. The whole point of good paint is that it smooths itself out and doesn't retain the texture of the brush/roller.

Drywall's smooth texture is, admittedly, a liability the first time you paint it. Next time try going over it with a very wet mixture of drywall mud to texturize it a bit.
posted by pjaust at 8:44 AM on June 9, 2010

Without actually seeing your ceiling it is hard to comment appropriately. What may look "...pretty awful..." to you may not be noticeable to the casual observer. OTOH, it may be a real mess. I'm going to assume the latter and also assume that it is because the roller you used was either too nappy for the surface and/or was too loaded with paint. You have a thin coat of paint in the center of the roller path and very thick "tracks" from the edges being too loaded and not painted out. If this is the case, you have a long, hard project ahead of you.

First, using a medium grit on a pole sander, work along the wall in the corner of the room that does not get very much light. Sand a small (one foot by one foot) square, using light pressure and very slow strokes. Look at it. Are you able to get the tracks and rough spots out? If so, expand your work area to three foot by three foot. You will need to change the sandpaper when it clogs up. Failing to do this will both make the job take longer and make it possible to dig gouges into the surface. You may want to follow this with a very light sanding, using fine grit and long straight strokes.

Don't be too aggressive. The drywall surface paper is not that thick and you really don't want patches of bare plaster showing through.

When you re-paint. work with an almost dry roller. Apply enough paint to get coverage and then gently roll out any drips or tracks. Don't overwork it. And be prepared to apply a third or fourth coat of paint to get the ceiling to appear to have even coverage.

As to a power sander, I would not use one. You don't want to hold a machine overhead if you don't have to, and it can be too aggressive for the job.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:51 AM on June 9, 2010

Sand by hand. It is tiring but the results are better, IMO.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:48 AM on June 9, 2010

honestly, the best & easiest way is to hire someone else to do it. you've already done it once, and your back & shoulders & legs probably aren't letting you forget that. i admire your moxie, but i'd capitulate & pay someone to do it.
posted by msconduct at 3:51 PM on June 9, 2010

Mud over the texture, and then sand smooth.

Much easier than sanding down the texture (which is typically harder than mud, anyway).
posted by IAmBroom at 10:58 PM on June 9, 2010

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