Although painting ceiling tiles in your home or office may seem difficult, it is doable with good planning, patience, and the right painting materials.
For finishing ceiling tiles, acrylic-based flat latex paint is a go-to choice as it’s available in various colors and can be applied with a brush, roller, or spray.
Oil-based paints can also be used on some tiles, but it is important to identify the type of tiles installed in the ceiling before choosing any coating. Always pick a product that is specifically designed for the type of tiles.
Paint Options for Different Ceiling Tiles
Ceiling tiles can be made of various materials, including Fiberglass, Wood, Metal, Faux tin (manufactured using thermoplastic, like PVC), and Mineral fibers usually used for Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC).
When finishing these ceiling tiles, the type of paint you opt for typically depends on the type of tile you have.
1- Tin Ceiling Tiles
In the late 19th century, tin ceilings were a common feature in Victorian-style homes. They served as both a decorative element, adding elegance to the home, and a practical one, offering fire protection. If you want an antique look on your tiles, you can achieve it yourself with painting without purchasing expensive, pre-made antiqued tin.
Painting tin ceiling tiles is a simple task. First, remove any rust with high grit sandpaper. Then, clean the tiles using soap and water and allow them to fully dry before painting.
Latex-based spray paint can be used after adequately thinning it if you plan to paint over old-fashioned tin or faux-tin ceiling tiles. Since these tiles have a lot of grooves to get the paint into, it’s best to use a sprayer (rather than a brush or a roller) to achieve even coverage. Avoid thick paint on tin tiles, and also apply a coat of primer (using a foam roller) before you begin.
2- Acoustical Drop Ceiling Tiles
Drop or acoustic ceilings are good for hiding unsightly elements such as wiring and pipes in your room. These tiles are usually made of fiberglass, foam, wood, polyester, and other substrates. Since they are quite an investment and can lose their visual appeal after only a few years, painting them is almost always necessary.
Painting an acoustic ceiling using standard paint will diminish some of the tile’s sound-absorbing abilities. So, if you want to retain the noise reduction qualities of the acoustic tiles, there is a specific paint you need to use, which is Acousti-Coat.
Acousti-Coat is a latex, flat water-based paint made using ceramic microspheres with sound-absorbing fillers. Using this paint on your acoustic drop ceiling tiles will help the material block out the noise even more.
To preserve their acoustical abilities, avoid using a primer on these tiles and apply not more than two coats of paint to ensure complete coverage. Usually, a single coat of paint is enough to cover and save the natural sound-absorbing properties of the original tile.
You can apply paint using a brush, roller, or sprayer, but allow sufficient drying time between coats according to the instructions on the paint label.
3- Asbestos Ceiling Tiles
Asbestos ceiling tiles were once popular amongst homeowners due to their superior quality. However, it is important to note that they can be hazardous if damaged or disturbed and have been banned in some areas due to health risks. If your older home contains asbestos tiles that need refinishing, it is recommended to seal any cracks or holes with spackle before applying at least two coats of latex paint.
You can cautiously paint the asbestos ceiling tiles yourself, but it’s better to hire services that offer more advanced paint sealer application processes known as encapsulation – which refers to covering the asbestos material with a sealant to prevent any health risks associated with asbestos fibers.
4- Metal False Ceiling Tiles
Metal false ceilings generally comprise aluminum, stainless steel, or galvanized iron. These materials are easy to install but can degrade over time.
To keep your metal false ceiling tiles in pristine condition, you can use oil-based enamel paints or even automotive paints, as they are highly durable, designed to resist corrosion, and come in easy-to-use spray cans in various color options as per your liking.
Usually, a coat will do the job of repainting the metal grids on your ceiling, but if you want to achieve a smoother and darker finish, you can add an additional spray coat. However, remember to provide adequate drying time before applying the second layer of paint.
5- Plastic and Wood Suspended Tiles
The primer and paint used for plastic and wood ceiling tiles are generally oil-based. The issue, however, is that oil-based products have chemicals you don’t want to breathe in for long periods. So, be sure the area is well-ventilated.
Plastic and wood ceilings will also need an oil-based primer. Otherwise, the paint will simply not stick. Also, be aware that the primer on wood and plastic ceiling tiles can take around eight hours to dry, so you must wait long before you can paint the tiles.
Latex-based paint can also be used to paint plastic and wooden suspended tiles on the ceiling. Just ensure that you use a primer that has the same base as the paint to increase the bond between the paint and plastic.
If you have cork ceiling tiles and want to paint them, keep in mind that the process is challenging due to the porous surface of the tiles. To maintain the texture of the tiles, you should use a stain-killing primer with a blocking agent since the pores can easily absorb stains.
To achieve a smooth surface on cork ceiling tiles, you can apply shellac to fill the pores, which is also a good stain fighter. It dries quickly, but using two coats for full coverage is typically necessary. Once the shellac is applied, you can use either oil or latex-based paint on the surface.
Tips for Applying the Paint to Your Ceiling Tiles
Being patient and applying the touch-up paint correctly is the key to success when finishing your old ceiling tiles in the room. So, ensure you follow the process, invest some time, and do not try to complete the project too quickly.
When you are painting suspended ceiling tiles made of metal, plastic, or wood, it will require some preparation work which isn’t challenging to do.
- Clean your tiles with mild detergent and a sponge or a damp cloth.
- After cleaning, dry the decorative tiles with a lint-free cloth.
- Gently use 180-grit sandpaper (or a similar sanding brush) for sanding the tiles.
Sanding won’t be anything you need to spend too much time on; you just need to roughen the surface a little bit so it can better hold the paint.
Drop ceiling tiles in your home or business premises can easily be removed for painting and placed back in the ceiling. This makes painting them more convenient, and you won’t need a sprayer. Instead, a brush or a mini roller set may be more efficient and effective for coating ceiling tiles.
When painting the drop ceiling grids, it’s essential to apply the paint evenly and avoid using too much on the tiles and grids. Excess paint can create bubbles and drip on the tiles.
If you’re applying spray paint, keep the spray can six inches to a foot from the tiles and apply it in straight sweeps across, which ensures even application. In most cases, you will likely only need a single coat for ceiling grid tiles, but it could be changed based on your preferences.
Do you have to take off ceiling tiles in order to paint them?
I recommend removing the ceiling tiles before painting, even though it isn’t necessary. The metal grid on the ceiling, for example, needs different types of paint, and the tiles can be easily removed. Most of these ceiling tiles are interchangeable, but if you have odd-shaped tiles, mark the back to identify them from regular tiles.
What Paint Colors are Best to Pick for False Ceiling Tiles?
Commonly, people choose to paint their ceiling tiles white or black. White is the most common for rooms that need to look brighter, and black is usually used in places like kitchens (at homes and restaurants) where smoke stains need to be hidden.
Here are some tips for choosing a paint color for your ceiling:
- Painting tin tiles on your ceiling in fun sheer colors.
- Paint the ceiling tiles of a larger room with a dark color to make it feel cozy.
- Paint the ceiling tiles and walls in lighter colors if you want to bring the atmosphere of a wide-open space.
- For a small room, open the space up using matching lighter colors on the ceiling and walls.
If the decorative tiles on your ceiling are outlined with wood trim at the intersection of the wall and ceiling, this can accentuate the wall and ceiling colors. Painting this division area white will better show the size of the room.
Who makes the best ceiling tiles?
No matter whether you need to install the ceiling tile grids in your bedroom, living room, kitchen, or bathroom, the few most popular names you can trust are Armstrong, A la Maison, Art3d Drop, and USG. All these manufacturers are known to build high-quality ceiling tiles made from materials such as fiberglass, gypsum, perlite, clay, cellulose, mineral wool, metal, etc.
Is painting the ceiling tiles safe?
Painting ceiling tiles is not known to pose any health risks as long as you are using water-based paints. These are much safer than using oil-based paints. However, keep in mind that some ceiling tiles come with fire retardant abilities, and coating them might reduce the effect. So, it’s essential to check with the manufacturer or supplier beforehand.
How much paint will you need for ceiling tiles?
A gallon of liquid paint generally covers about 400 square feet of smooth ceiling grids, while a can of spray paint usually covers around 20 square feet. When buying the paint, it’s good to get a few more cans to avoid running out before the job is done.
Can you use regular wall paint on the ceiling tiles?
Regular wall paint on your ceiling tiles is not recommended as it is thin and has low viscosity, which can cause dripping. It is best to use specifically designed thicker paints that can adequately adhere to the ceiling.
The Bottom Line
Painting drop ceiling grids can initially seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Understanding the size of your space, the materials your tiles are made of, and how much and what quality of paint to use beforehand can save you a lot of effort during the project. So, don’t fret and start with your project, and your ceiling tiles will look good as new in no time.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.