Skip to main content

How to Sand a Ceiling Without Making a Mess

Hugo Totty is passionate about DIY projects. I love sharing my experiences about different home improvement projects that I've completed.

This guide will show you how to sand a ceiling without making a big mess.

This guide will show you how to sand a ceiling without making a big mess.

3 Options for Renovating a Ceiling With Dated Wallpaper

There are many eventualities where the time may come to sand a ceiling (even if you didn't plan for it). Many renovation projects can have dated wallpaper on the ceiling. This is an early sign that you may need to sand parts of the ceiling, depending on what is underneath the wallpaper.

With the ceiling, you can have a few options to go for as your end result.

Relining With Lining Paper, Then Painting Over It

You can either reline the ceiling with a smooth lining paper and then paint over. This method is good for ceilings where there are a lot of joins in the plaster where a lot of plasterboards have been used to make up the ceiling.

Over time, the cracks show through, especially if you’re walking on it from above to lay loft insulation etc.

Using lining paper is also a good method if your ceilings are a little uneven, as it will hide some of the imperfections. If you choose this option, then you will be left with small join lines from the paper.


The next option is to re-skim the whole ceiling. Plastering a ceiling is rather tricky if you have never plastered before, but a very easy job for a trained plasterer. But this option will of course cost you. The results of this give you a brand new ceiling with a nice clean surface to paint over.


The third option and in many cases you will have to do anyway is to sand the ceiling back to make it as smooth as possible ready to re-skim, wallpaper or repaint. If your ceiling is smooth and has just a few cracks, there can be filled and painted to give you a lovely fresh new ceiling.

How We Sanded Our Ceiling

We recently bought a 1960s bungalow with raised wallpaper on one of the ceilings. Once stripped back, there was the remnants of yellow gloss paint, which covered the entire ceiling. We were left with no option but to sand it back in order to re-skim, line or paint.

As with any of the three options, the leftover gloss paint would have peeled off in time. We planned to get the ceiling re-skimmed. But seeing as we did such a great job at sanding, we could just fill in the joins of the plasterboards—and then paint over it to make it look like new. So here's how we did it.

What You'll Need

Investing or just borrowing the right tools is paramount.

This is a long, tiring and time-consuming project. So the better the tools, the faster it will be.

  • Cordless Sander: Use a cordless sander rather than a plugin sander—you are limited with reach and can get tangled in the wires. After trial and error, we used the Erbauer cordless orbit sander, and it was perfect for the job. It's light enough to have above your head for short periods of time. The circular motion of the sander got the paint off much faster than the usual sander. You can easily change the pads, and the batteries lasted for a long time. All in all, this was such a great sander for the job and we will continue to use it on many more projects we have coming up.
  • Sanding Pads With Different Grains: Ensure you have lots of sanding pads of different grains. Use the harshest ones for sanding the ceiling though. The finer ones will come in handy when you have the finishing off jobs to do, like sanding down the filler. You will go through a lot more sanding pads than you think, as the fresher the pad, the easier it is.
  • Lots of Help From Friends: Another great tip we learnt is to get as many people roped in as possible, as having your hands above your head takes its toll and your arms soon get tired. Having a lineup of people (even just two of you is a massive help) means that while one is up the ladder sanding, the other can blast out a couple of minutes of intense sanding, and another can rest ready for switching over.
  • Mask: When sanding or getting ready to sand, basically anyone in the room with the sanding must wear a mask. Plastering dust is so fine and covers everything. You also don't know what might be in some of the old paints you’re trying to sand off.
  • Goggles: Another top tip—and you won't win any fashion points for this one—is to wear some swimming goggles or other goggles that seal right around the eyes. This is a great way to not get dust and paint in your eyes. Note that normal work glasses let in the dust and paint around the sides, especially when sanding above your head on a ladder.
  • Ladder: Good sturdy ladders are key, as it's tricky balancing as it is with a sander above your head.

How Not to Make a Mess

  • Close the doors to the rest of the house, as everywhere and I mean everywhere gets covered in dust.
  • Work going up and down the ceiling in a methodical way so you know where you have been and where you still need to do.
  • It's hard work and time consuming, where you feel like you will want to cut corners, but don't! Spend time getting the job done properly, as you will be left with a much better blank canvas to paint and look like it's new again. Like I said, we thought we were going to have to have the ceiling re-skimmed, but taking the time to get all the paint flakes off the ceiling and properly sand and fill in the cracks ended up saving us money by not having it skimmed.
  • Start by positioning your ladders in one corner, and working your way down the ceiling using circular movements, ensuring you stick to small areas and then move your ladders along as you go. You are aiming to remove any unwanted old paint and smooth the surface.
  • Once you have finished sanding, you need to have a good clean-up of the room, as the whole place will be covered in fine dust. Use a dustpan or long-handled brush for the ceiling to remove the dust. Wash down the walls before painting, along with other areas like windows, windowsills and vacuuming of the floor. Before you get onto the painting, applying lining paper or re-skimming, you need to make the room as dust-free as possible.

How to Go About Painting Your Ceiling

  • If painting is now your preferred route, then remember that once you have sanded and got back to bare plaster and are ready to paint, you will need to do a coat of very watered-down paint as bare plaster.
  • Regardless of age (more so if it's fresh though), plaster is very porous. So if you were to paint the ceiling as normal, the plaster would soak up the water, leaving the paint flaking off your newly painted ceiling. Therefore, by doing around a 70/30 ratio of water to paint (70% water–30% paint), it will allow the plaster to soak up all the water and act as a sealant.
  • Paint the first coat of this watery mixture and then leave the ceiling to dry for a minimum of 24 hours, as the plaster will be rather damp and needs to fully dry out before being painted again. Repeat the process again for new plaster and assess the coverage, as you might be able to get away with one coat of the watery substance.
  • Once the plaster has dried out and you've got a base layer painted, you are now ready to apply the usual 100% paint. Cutting in the edges first and then using a roller, you will ensure that you cover the whole ceiling. Most ceilings from bare plaster will take two or three coats of good quality paint.

I hope you have found my personal journey of sanding a ceiling helpful. I hope it inspires you to build up more confidence in your own projects. I am by no means a professional, just someone learning along the way. So, If you have any more hints and tips from your personal journeys, then please get in touch.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Hugo Totty