Styrofoam ceiling tiles are not only an elegant addition to any room, but they’re easy to install and don’t require much upkeep.
Also, the tiles come unfinished, so you can add your personal touch to them in the way you like.
While some businesses and homeowners choose to leave their styrofoam ceiling tiles as is, others paint them according to their preferences.
There’s nothing harm in it as long as you are ready to take on some specific challenges and preparation work.
Yes, painting styrofoam ceiling tiles is, although possible, there might be several potential snags that can lead to catastrophe.
So, to avoid those difficulties later on, it’s critical to plan, set up your workstation, do all the preparation work, and paint the tiles effectively with the appropriate supplies.
Further in this step-by-step guide, I will walk through all the necessary steps for successfully painting your styrofoam ceiling tiles, along with some valuable tips for installing them after they’ve been painted.
Paint Styrofoam Tiles Before or After Installation?
The best 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 the tiles before installing them, it’s not a big deal, but you’ll have to be more careful not to damage or break them.
Also, you will have to do a bit of extra preparation and 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
If you are bored of the look of your room or you just want to change it up a bit and give the place a fresh coat, then painting your styrofoam ceiling tiles is a good idea.
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)
- 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. Here are the steps you need to follow for the best results:
Step 1) Prepping the Work Area and Tiles
The first step is to protect your working area from paint drips and drops by covering the floor and furniture with a tarpaulin or newspaper.
Now it’s time to prep the surface of the tiles.
Start by dusting the Styrofoam ceiling tiles with a broom.
Next, use 100-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the surface of the tiles. This will help the primer and paint adhere better to the tiles.
After sanding, wipe the tiles with a damp cotton rag to remove any dust particles.
Step 2) Taping the 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
Now it’s time to apply a coat of primer.
Remember that you’ll need the correct ceiling primer since the tiles are composed of polystyrene, and the primer may not work well if you choose the wrong product.
Get a water-based primer to get better adhesion to the paint. This will also help keep the paint from drying too quickly on your surface.
Mix your primer in a five-gallon bucket according to the primer can’s instructions.
Then use a synthetic-bristle paintbrush or a roller to apply the primer in long, even strokes.
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.
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 with the nylon brush.
Ensure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how long you should wait for the primer to dry before painting over it.
Generally, a water-based primer should take 2 to 3 hours before you can paint over them.
Step 4) Adding the Paint to Your Styrofoam Tiles
After the primer is dry, it’s time for the fun part – painting the ceiling 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.
When it comes to the paint quantity, you’ll need about a gallon of paint per 150-200 square feet of ceiling.
In regards to colors, you may choose any color you want for your ceiling in the room or opt for a similar shade for the walls if you don’t want to change the color scheme.
Flat or semi-gloss paint is the best choice for painting the tiles, as high-gloss may highlight any imperfections on the surface.
If you paint over a light-colored ceiling, use a white primer to ensure the new paint color is true to the shade.
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 you can even 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.
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.
These metallic frames will be exposed once you take down the polystyrene tiles for painting.
Remember to coat these metal securing strips with a metal self-etching primer (to add an acidic base coat) before installing tiles; otherwise, the installation will be for naught.
When uninstalling the old tiles from the ceiling to get them painted, clean them thoroughly on both sides and the edges.
Use a liquid detergent to eliminate all the dirt, debris, and grime. And then, allow the tiles to dry completely before you start priming and painting them.
Also, there must be adequate space for the tiles to dry so they can be reinstalled back into ceilings without issue.
You will need a huge space to lay them out to dry completely, which could take several hours.
Are Styrofoam Ceiling Tiles Safe to Use – What are the Advantages of Using Them?
Styrofoam is a petroleum-based plastic that is produced from styrene monomers.
Polystyrene is refined to create polystyrene, after which a hydrofluorocarbon agent is added to the mixture.
This procedure is then carried out and 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.
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 a few main 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 a good insulators and can help to keep a room cool in summer and warm in winter
The Bottom Line
DIY painting styrofoam ceiling tiles is reasonably straightforward – it’s a fun and rewarding project for do-it-yourselfers.
Just take the help of a family member or a friend to get started.
Or you can hire a professional to do it for you if you do not want to go through the hassle.
The steps are pretty much the same regardless of which route you choose.
The main difference lies in the fact that professionals will have better quality equipment and, therefore, be able to do a better job.
But if you’re up for the challenge and have the time, painting styrofoam ceiling tiles is a great way to add a personal touch to your home.
Pay particular attention to detail and follow all safety precautions; completing your entire project may take less than a day.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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