Why Does My Ceiling Look Patchy After Painting? [Fixing Guide]

Randy Charles
Randy Charles
Professional Painter

Hi, I’m Randy Charles, the creator and chief editor of this site Paintcentric. I’m a businessman now by profession, but I used to work as...Read more

You have spent a crazy amount of time up and down a ladder to paint your ceilings and after it dries you notice that it looks patchy. Why is my ceiling patchy?!? What has caused this problem? Will you have to start the paint job all over again or will it eventually look smooth?  

To find the answer to that question, you are going to need to look at the different reasons this result could happen and rule out the ones that are not the cause.

Why Does My Ceiling Look Patchy after Painting?

Why Does My Ceiling Look Patchy after Painting

There is nothing more satisfying than completing a home improvement project, but the joy can turn to frustration if it does not turn out the way you expected it to. Just like when you paint your walls, there are many reasons why you could have a patchy ceiling. It could be that you did not use a primer first, did not use enough paint, or the ceiling had not been cleaned.

It can be a challenge to get a painted ceiling to look nice and even professionals agree, ceilings are challenging to paint. You will need to go up and down a ladder, moving it as you paint each section. Some use an extension roller, but you still have to look up at the surface you are painting to make sure the paint is going on evenly.

Challenges Associated with Painting Your Ceilings

1. The Surface Is Not Prepared Correctly.

The Surface Is Not Prepared Correctly

Even before you begin to paint, you can cause a ceiling to have a patchy look if you don’t prep the surface. To have a good painting job, you must make sure that the ceiling surfaces are smooth and clean and free of flaws. If there is any dirt, debris, or cobwebs on the ceiling it will have a patchy look.

To prep the ceiling make sure that the ceiling is clean of all debris. Sometimes you may need to sand the rough areas. This is especially true if you removed previous texture, like acoustic (popcorn ceilings). After sanding, make sure to wipe away the drywall dust.

Once that is done, you will need to use a damp, clean towel to wipe off the ceiling and let it completely dry before you begin painting. Some areas may require soap in order to clean grease spots, especially in kitchen areas. You also need to be sure that the ceiling is level.

2. Flashes


Paint flashing is where paint appears heavier in some areas than others. This can happen when there are changes in sheen, which can happen when you paint over repair patches without putting on primer first. Another cause can be that you did not wait long enough for the paint to dry/cure before you put on the second coat.

It can also happen if you put the ceiling paint on too thick. To take care of this problem, wait at least 24 hours before you put on the next coat, but make sure that the second coat is a little thinner than the first one. When you keep it thin, it will give you the best chance of avoiding roller marks.

3. Equipment Issues

Equipment Issues

One piece of equipment you need to look at first is the paint roller. Is it roller new or one that you have used before? It is okay to use a roller that is older or has been used, but it if was not cleaned properly, this can cause your ceiling to look patchy. This is especially true if the old paint roller had any lingering paint from the previous use.

Another issue could be using variations in the brand of equipment you used or using different kinds of equipment for painting, such as a roller vs brush. It is recommended by professional painters that when painting your ceiling, that you use a 12-inch microfiber nap roller. You should only choose brushes and paint pads on the edges of the ceiling, using even strokes. If you use them to paint the entire ceiling, it can cause it to look patchy.

4. Sloppy Edges

It is hard to get an even line when you are painting a ceiling, even if you use the best painter’s tape. In order to fix this problem, tape off the ceiling in a straight line. Do it exactly where you want the edge to be. Yes, you will be taping where you just painted. Use a color that matches the wall where the ceiling paint bled.

Touch up the edge using a detailed brush using thin coats to make sure that the paint does not bleed under the tape. It is a bit tedious to do this, but it is the easiest way to clear up sloppy edges. Wait at least eight hours for the paint to dry before you remove the tape. Once you remove the tape, you should have an edge that is clean and crisp.

5. Lack of a Primer Coat

Lack of a Primer Coat

There are different ceilings, and some require that you apply a sealer and/or primer before you apply the paint. If it is an older home, you may need to put a sealer on the ceiling first.

Just be sure that whatever product you buy is made to use on a ceiling. You should also make sure it is a high-quality primer or sealer.

6. Bubbling and Peeling

Bubbling and Peeling

This could be caused by accidentally painting over oil-based paint with latex paint. This is a common mistake with older homes, and is an issue that will take the most time to repair. It is recommended that you start sanding any areas that are visibly peeling and bubbling. Make sure that you wear a mask, so you do not breathe in any of the paint you sand off.

Once you have sanded the peeling paint, wipe it down with a tack cloth. Next, apply a primer made specifically to create a barrier between latex and oil-based paint. Once this is done, then you will need to repaint your ceiling. This is necessary to prevent the issue from becoming worse.

7. Time Lapse

It is a given fact that most ceilings will require more than one coat of paint. Always make sure that the first one is completely dry or cured before you put on the next coat. If you rush the painting job and put more coats on before the first coat is dry, then you could have patchiness.

Most paint has a recommended drying time, but how many that hours recommended to wait between coats will depend on several factors. These include humidity, ventilation, and type of paint you are using. Always read the label on the paint for the recommended drying time. It takes about three hours for latex paint to cure, or dry while paints that are oil-based need a day.

8. Too Little or Too Much Paint

Too Little or Too Much Paint

If you put your paint on too thick, then it will settle in some areas making it look patchy. On the other hand, if you apply it to thin, it can also cause the ceiling to look patchy.

Sometimes how thin or thick it goes on is because of the type of paint you bought. It could be you are using paint for your ceiling from an older can of paint you had previously used for a ceiling. It could have been watered down too much. You could have also bought a cheap grade of paint. In either instance, the paint will be hard to apply, giving you an uneven finish. Always use good quality paint for your ceiling.

Newly plastered walls and ceilings, if left not primed, would suck up paint at a faster rate than anticipated. Make sure you have properly prepped your surfaces.

 9. Application Done Improperly

 Application Done Improperly

There are some ceiling paints will state on the can that all you need is one application, and you will be finished. This direction is not always the case, particularly if you are not using quality paint or painting over old paint. You should also make sure that when you start painting your ceiling that you are not tired because that is when you can get sloppy, doing a poor painting job and causing a patchy ceiling.

Make sure that you have good lighting in the room where you are painting. If there isn’t a window or the lighting is poor, it can cause you to not to be able to see the ceiling correctly, leading to sections being blotchy or overpainted. Take the time to do it right in the beginning so you do not have to do it over.

If you have little to no experience with painting ceilings, be sure that you keep the edge wet or you will have patchy looking paint roller marks. To make sure that you have adequate lighting, use can use a small lamp to shine it toward the ceiling as you paint.

10. Different Colors

This generally happens if you run out of paint halfway through the job.  Yes, you may go to the store and purchase a new can of paint that is the same brand, but it may not be the same paint color although it states on the can that it is. If you use it, then you could wind up with a ceiling that is two different colors.

To fix this issue, you can repaint the first half of the ceiling with a thin coat of the new paint and feather the edge into the rest of the ceiling. This is done to limit lines. To get the smoothest finish you will need to go over the whole ceiling with the new paint, but you have to keep it thin.

Different Colors

11. Mixing Paint

When painting your ceiling, make sure that you do not apply oil paint or latex. You should not mix paint types. A good paint mixed with a bad paint will not be a good outcome for you.

10 Tips to Ensure a Smooth Ceiling

10 Tips to Ensure a Smooth Ceiling

When you consider everything that could go wrong with painting your ceiling, it can make it a challenging experience. Use these tips to make the job less challenging.

  • Prepare the ceiling correctly: Before you start to paint the ceiling make sure that you have sanded, cleaned, and rinsed the ceiling. It should also be completely dry. Usually, this is done the day before painting.
  • Get all the equipment you need beforehand: This includes the paint and primer. Make sure it is high-quality paint, and that you have any brushes, rollers, drop cloth, etc. before you are ready to start painting.
  • Read the labels: This is something many people fail to do, but you should always read the labels before you start painting. This can help to prevent patchy ceilings.
  • Give yourself time to do the job properly: To get a ceiling that is not patchy looking, make sure that you do not rush the job and have enough time to do it properly.
  • Add enough light: Doing this is important because if you do not have the right lighting, you may paint some areas too thickly or too thinly, giving it an uneven look. The right lighting will let you see any mistakes so you can fix them right away.
  • Use primer or sealer: Sometimes this is not needed, but it is advisable to use one of them to give your ceiling a better finish.
  • Keep the edge wet and roll half the ceiling: Your rolling movements should be quick and consistent. Do half the ceiling, check to see if it looks okay before starting on the other half.  If you see any mistakes, you can fix them before starting on the other half.
  • Be sure to have enough paint on your roller: When painting the ceiling, you must keep enough paint on the roller. This will help to keep the paint evenly spread on the ceiling as you paint.
  • Do not go back over an area: Once you have painted an area, move on to another area. Do not keep going over and over an area. This will give you an uneven painting job, causing your ceiling to look patchy.
  • Dry or cure first coat before putting on second one: The first layer of your primer and paint will need to dry/cure for the required time before you apply the second layer. Yes, you want to get the job finished but if you want it to look good, you need to wait the required time.


Why does my ceiling look patchy after painting? After reading this article you can see that there are many different reasons why this can happen. With these tips, you can have rooms and houses with perfect paint jobs.

Randy Charles
Randy CharlesProfessional Painter

Hi, I’m Randy Charles, the creator and chief editor of this site Paintcentric. I’m a businessman now by profession, but I used to work as a painter earlier in my professional career. There is simply nothing about painting that I didn’t do as a painter. From painting a fridge to a multi-storied building, I left nothing. I retired from my painting job in the mid of 2018 due to back arthritis problems.

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