Styrofoam ceiling tiles are an elegant addition to any room. They’re easy to install and don’t require much upkeep. Plus, the tiles come unfinished, so you can either leave them as is or add your personal touch to them in the way you like according to your preferences.
There’s nothing harm in refinishing styrofoam ceiling tiles as long as you are ready to take on some specific challenges and preparation work.
There might be several potential snags that can lead to catastrophe. And to avoid those difficulties later on, it’s critical to plan, set up your workstation, do all the preparation work, and paint the styrofoam ceiling tiles correctly using the appropriate supplies.
Further in this step-by-step guide, I will walk through all the necessary steps for successfully priming and painting your styrofoam ceiling tiles, along with some valuable tips for installing them after they’ve been painted. So, let’s get into them right away…
Paint Styrofoam Tiles Before or After Installation?
The easiest and most manageable way to paint styrofoam ceiling tiles or coving is when they are hung on the ceiling. This means it’s better to paint them after installation.
However, if you want to paint your ceiling tiles before installing them, it’s not a big deal, you’ll have to be more careful not to damage or break them. Also, be prepared to do a bit extra preparation work to ensure the paint job is even and consistent.
I will cover the methods in detail and those extra steps you need to consider right below.
Painting the Installed Styrofoam Ceiling Tiles the Right Way
First and foremost, here are the supplies you’ll need:
- Ceiling tiles
- Sandpaper (100-grit)
- Primer (styrofoam-specific)
- Latex paint (flat, semi-gloss, or high-gloss sheen)
- Paintbrushes (synthetic bristles)
- Paint roller and pole
- Tarpaulin or newspapers
- Painter’s tape
- Cotton rags
- Step ladder
Once you have all the supplies, it’s time to start with some preparation work…
Step 1) Prepping the work area and tiles
Since you will be painting the ceiling tiles, it’s crucial to protect your working area from paint drips and drops by covering the floor and furniture with a tarpaulin or newspaper.
Then, prep the surface of the tiles by dusting them with a broom.
Use 100-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the surface to help the primer and paint adhere better. After sanding, wipe the tiles with a damp cotton rag to remove any dust particles.
Step 2) Taping the ceiling tiles
Many types of masking tape are available, and the size of the brackets will determine the width. For the ceiling’s corners, go with a wide width on average.
Put masking tape over the edges where the wall meets the ceiling to conceal any gaps. If your tiles have metal brackets between them, cover them as well.
After that, use painter’s tape to seal off any areas you don’t want to be painted, like outlets, switchplates, windows, and doors.
Do not under-tape the areas. It’s hard to undo the mistakes if you paint over the areas you want to keep clean. However, if you cover them a bit extra, you may always have the option to touch up the tiles later.
Step 3) Applying primer to ceiling tiles
Remember that you’ll need the correct ceiling primer that’s styrofoam-specific. Since the tiles are composed of polystyrene, the primer may not work well if you choose the wrong product designed for other surfaces.
Water-based primers are generally best suited for styrofoam ceiling tiles to get better adhesion to the paint. These will also help keep the paint from drying too quickly on your surface.
Mix the primer in a five-gallon bucket according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then use a synthetic-bristle paintbrush or a roller to apply the primer in long, even strokes. If you have a styrofoam ceiling with some extra grooves or patterns on an uneven surface, you’ll also need to apply primer to them.
Generally, a water-based primer should take 2 to 3 hours before you can paint over styrofoam ceiling tiles. But it’s good to refer to and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how long you should wait for the primer to dry before painting over them.
Tip: With a paintbrush, you will need to use a step ladder for the job. But if you want, you can go with an extension pole which will not necessarily need a ladder.
Step 4) Adding the paint to your styrofoam tiles
Ceiling tiles made of polystyrene require a special paint that won’t melt or flake. The only two types to consider are latex-based or water-based acrylics, which do not contain any hazardous chemicals.
In regards to colors, you may choose any color you want for your ceiling or opt for a similar shade as the walls, if you don’t want to change the overall color scheme. Also, if you paint over a light-colored ceiling, use a white primer to ensure that the new paint color is true to the shade.
And in regards to finish, flat or semi-gloss paint is an ideal choice for painting styrofoam ceiling tiles, as high-gloss may highlight any imperfections on the surface.
When it comes to the paint quantity, you’ll need about a gallon of paint per 150-200 square feet of ceiling.
Mix your paint in a five-gallon bucket, and use a roller or paintbrush to apply it in long, even strokes. Be sure to paint the sides of the tiles as well as the front surface.
Take extra care to focus on areas where paint may drip or lines in the tile that a roller can’t cover. Use a brush to cover those areas. Or use an exact shade and finish of spray paint to cover the areas that are not easily accessible.
Allow the first coat of paint to dry for at least three to four hours.
Step 5) Touching up the tiles and adding additional coats
After the paint has dried for a couple of hours, check the tiles for any areas that need a touch-up.
If necessary, add a second coat of paint while paying extra attention to grooves and corners. Most likely, these are the spots you will miss.
Let the paint dry overnight, and on the following day, remove the painter’s tape slowly. There might still be some spots where the paint has bled through; touch them up.
When you’re all set, remove the tarps, and let the paint dry for at least 24 hours before you move any furniture back into the room. Also, don’t forget to rinse off your brushes and dispose of any excess paint and tapes responsibly.
Are Styrofoam Ceiling Tiles Safe to Use?
Styrofoam is a petroleum-based plastic that is produced from styrene monomers.
Polystyrene is refined after which a hydrofluorocarbon agent is added to the mixture. After the procedure, the mixture is then expanded under pressure, resulting in a Styrofoam board.
While Styrofoam tiles are primarily safe and legal to use at home and in commercial spaces, the toxic fumes emitted can be detrimental if a fire does occur.
In case of a fire mishappening, the foam will begin to burn and melt, causing noxious gases to fill the air. So, to be on the safer side, it’s good to consider the fire rating of the product you are choosing, which will help you make the best decision for your project.
Other than the above key drawback, there are many advantages of using styrofoam ceiling tiles. These include:
- Styrofoam ceiling tiles are lightweight and easy to install
- They are available in a wide range of colors and styles
- They are easy to clean, maintain, and affordable
- These tiles can help to reduce noise levels in the room
- They are good insulators and can help to keep a room cool in summer and warm in winter
Painting the Tiles Before Installation – What are the Extra Steps?
In addition to the steps from the previous section, you’ll need to add an extra step and make some changes if you order styrofoam tiles (or uninstall the tiles from the ceiling) intending to paint them.
Coating metal frames with primer is this crucial step we are talking about.
The metal securing strips will be exposed once you take down the old polystyrene ceiling tiles for painting. Remember to coat them with a metal self-etching primer (to add an acidic base coat) before installing tiles; otherwise, the installation will be for naught.
Next, clean the tiles thoroughly on both sides and the edges. Use a liquid detergent to eliminate all the dirt, debris, and grime; and, allow them to dry completely before priming and painting.
There must be adequate space for the tiles to lay out and dry before they can be reinstalled back into ceilings without issue. As this would take several hours of time and require a huge area, it’s good to get professional help for the job or paint the tiles after installation.
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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.