Painting ceiling beams in four steps

Woman on steps painting wooden beams and ceiling white
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Painting ceiling beams can transform them into the perfect fit for your latest renovation project. You can paint them to create some old world charm, introduce a contemporary colour to match the decor for a more subtle finish, or, finish them with a varnish or wax to retain their natural appeal. 

When you paint a room you start with the ceiling and this doesn’t change when painting ceiling beams. But, how you approach the job will depend on whether or not you are using a contrasting colour or finish. Here we run you through the essential steps to make sure your ceiling and ceiling beams both have a flawless finish. 

Painting ceiling beams: Step-by-step guide

1. Prepare the area 

When painting a ceiling you need to cover floors and furniture to protect them from any stray paint. Ideally you want to remove as much furniture as possible from a room to make it easier to paint. If you have expensive wallpaper that you want to keep paint free, protect with dust sheets.

Use painters tape like this ScotchBlue Multi-Surface Premium Masking Tape from Amazon and plastic dust sheets like this 6 Pack of Biodegradable Large Dust Sheets – also from Amazon.  

2. Do your prep 

A beam needs to be cleaned and sanded before any paint is applied. First clean with a solution of sugar soap and cloth or kitchen sponge/scrubber. Then wipe down with clean water and cloth and leave to dry. If you have a heavily textured beam, sugar soap with a scrubbing brush like this Elliott Iron Shaped Scrubbing Brush from Amazon before wiping down with a clean cloth.

Once clean you need to sand down the beams. Use a fine grit sandpaper – 120-180 is good – to ensure good adhesion for the paint. If you have a heavily textured beam use wire wool or wire brushes like these Harris Essentials Mini Wire Brush 3 Pack from Amazon to get into hard to reach areas.  

3. Seal the beam with primer 

When the beam is dry you can start painting. If you are painting your ceiling beams a contrasting colour to the ceiling it's a good idea to apply masking tape to the ceiling – which you should paint first – to ensure that no paint gets on the ceiling and you have neat straight lines. If you are a confident painter and know how to cut in then skip the masking tape.

If you have a textured ceiling beam use a 2-4 inch brush to ensure that you get into all the crevices. If you have relatively flat and smooth beams you can use a 4-inch mini roller like this Harris Seriously Good Walls & Ceilings Medium Pile Mini Roller Sleeves Set from Amazon. If you want a smoother, less textured finish you a 4-inch foam roller. 

4. Finish with a top coat

If painting your ceiling beam use a brush or roller and apply in the same way as the primer, but, “Keep in mind the direction of the wood grain as it will help accentuate the lines.” suggests Daniel Cabrera, founder of Sell My House Fast SA TX.

Leave to dry as recommended by the manufacturer. Give the beam a light sand, wipe clean and apply a second coat and leave to dry. If applying a different finish – like whitewashing wood for a distressed effect or waxing to create a fake beam effect – check you have the necessary tools to do the job.   


What kind of paint do you use on ceiling beams? 

The type of material and condition of the beam will determine what you should use. But as a general rule – whether you are painting wood or faux beams – you should start with a good solid primer like this Zinsser BIN Primer-Sealer from Amazon. This will seal porous wood, help cover dark colours, stop stains coming through and help provide good adhesion for the top coat.

After applying the primer – you may need two, or even three on dark colours – you can add a top coat. This could be emulsion to match the ceiling, but a hard-wearing paint in the finish of your choice is a better option. This could be matt, eggshell, satin or any other type of paint will work if your prep is good and the paint applied properly.  

Cabrera recommends for wooden beams, “A semi-gloss or gloss paint that will make it easier to clean the surfaces of the beam, and make the glossiness stand out compared to the matte ceiling.” 

What colour should I paint my ceiling beams? 

This will depend on the colour scheme you are looking to introduce. A contrasting colour will make the beams stand out while painting the same colour as the ceiling will see them blend in.

Mandy Rippon, Product Manager at Frenchic Paint has a few suggestions to give different looks including a natural-look hack for dark beams, “If you want to lighten things up, there is a great hack which allows you to give dark stained or previously painted beams an authentic-looking wood effect without going to the expense and mess of stripping the surface. Apply Lazy Range Crème de la Crème paint and finish with Browning Wax – it sits in the wood’s texture, looking amazingly natural.”

Rippon also suggests creating a whitewashed look, “If your beams are unpainted or stained and you don’t want to lose the wood look completely, another option is to soften their appearance with a whitewashed or limed look. This means the grain and character of the wood are still visible, but the wood tone is lightened.” 

When painting ceiling beams you might want to consider painting a ceiling as well to complete the look. And, to get a smart matching finish in a room, think about painting walls and painting skirting boards at the same time. 

Steve Jenkins

Steve is Homebuilding & Renovating's DIY content editor, and has been a writer and editor for two decades. He is an avid DIYer with over 20 years of experience in transforming and renovating homes. He specialises in painting and decorating, but has strong all-round building skills, having previously worked in the industry for 10 years.