Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

March, 2009

Living Room Ceiling Paint

Q. I have a home about 100 years old. The first time I painted the living room ceiling, the new paint bubbled up everywhere. I was told to wash the ceiling with spic and span and something else which I now forget. Over the years I have managed to paint this ceiling but it still bubbles in places. Someone once mentioned that they knew the name of the old paint that won't allow you to paint over it. Any info on this old nuisance paint that I think was used in the 40's ? Thank you for your input !!!!

A. Thanks for your email. In all probability the ceiling paint used 100 years ago was an oil-based paint, since latex paints didn't exist at that time. The bubbling you mentioned might simply be that the new paint didn't stick to the old one. That is certainly possible, because after 100 years the old paint was thoroughly oxidized and hard. To achieve good adhesion between the old paint and modern latex paint, you should consider thoroughly sanding the old paint to provide a slightly rough, textured surface. The use of "Spic and Span" detergent cleaners, or TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) might do the trick, but if the old ceiling paint remains hard and smooth you might have no alternative but to sand the surface to form what painters call "a tooth" ... a surface onto which the new paint can attach itself.

A latex primer should further improve adhesion between the old and new paint technologies, and this can be followed by a conventional latex ceiling top coat.

Rather than repaint the entire ceiling, I would recommend that you experiment on a small section to determine if the procedures I've recommended will solve your problem.


Ron Joseph

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