Brighten up your room by painting ceiling tiles

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Every once in a while, we brighten up a room with a good coat of paint. Sometimes, that means changing the color. Normally, that also means painting the ceiling, as well. But if the ceiling has been tiled, it usually is left untouched. True, ceiling tiles can be washed or replaced if stained or damaged. But painted ceilings can be washed, too, so why should we discriminate? If your tiled ceiling has gotten short shrift at painting time, think about what a new coat of paint on those tiles would do to brighten up that room.

Suspended ceilings offer an advantage in that you can remove the tiles to clean or paint them. It’s best to wear a mask, as the tiles collect dust, and they shed some of their own material when handled. Remove the tiles carefully, as you might chip the edges, creating more of a job than you planned.

As with any painting job, cleaning the surface is a necessary preparation step. Dust the tiles off with a cloth, or use the brush tool on your vacuum.

If you have smokers in your home, or if the tiles are from your kitchen ceiling, you will want to take cleaning a step further. Check the manufacturer’s cleaning suggestions first. But generally speaking, you can get away with a mild cleaning solution applied sparingly, so not as to soak the tiles. For tiles that are stained from water or smoke damage, a weak bleach solution might spare you the cost of replacing them. Avoid rubbing the surface, especially on acoustical and textured tiles.

After removing the tiles, you can use a paint sprayer to get the job done quickly and evenly. You should realize that this is an unpainted surface, and should be treated as such. Apply a coat of primer first, and let it dry thoroughly. Go easy on the amount of paint you apply, as the tiles may get heavy, causing them to warp. Talk to your paint professional about the right type of roller to use, if you take that route.

Be aware that painting might affect the acoustical qualities of your tile. If you have a concern about that, consult with the manufacturer about potential warranty issues.

While you are taking on the tile-painting challenge, think about whether you just want to keep the ceiling white or perhaps be a bit more daring by changing the color or applying some kind of texture.

If you’re standing there looking up at the older, conventional, 12-inch square tiles, your options are altered a little. Such tiles were commonly installed onto furring strips, so certainly you can’t remove them to clean and paint. Replacing one that is damaged requires considerably more care and effort. As mentioned already, clean your tiles first. Using a weak bleach solution to remove stains is the first remedy to take. But if stains remain, be sure to use a good covering primer, such as Kilz, to cover those stains, or they will almost certainly reappear. Some of those older ceiling tiles had grooved and sometimes differently colored edges. If you intend to keep that effect as a feature of your ceiling, you will have to take care with your roller, and spray-painting the ceiling will not be an option. If you want to make those edges less distinct, then use primer on the edges when you prime the surface and before applying your first coat of paint.

If you are comfortable using a paint sprayer, take the appropriate precautions, and have at it. If a roller suits you better, choose the right material and fiber length, and lay on a light coat to see how the tiles absorb the paint. A coat of primer plus one coat of paint might do it, but a second coat is preferable to laying too much paint on the absorbent material with the first pass.

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