How to Paint High Ceilings

Painting High Ceiling With Extension Poles

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Overview
  • Working Time: 4 - 6 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

Painting a ceiling is tough enough. When what you're painting is a high ceiling, it becomes even more difficult due to the limited access. But using the right tools can help you tackle this seemingly insurmountable project. 

Depending on the height of the ceiling and on your own reach and abilities, you can choose to use a scaffold or a combination of a ladder and a painting extension pole.

Best Way to Paint High Ceilings

Scaffold

The most comfortable and safest way to paint a high ceiling is with a scaffold. Scaffolds can be rented from rental yards or some home improvement centers. Most scaffolds can be scaled from 5 feet to 15 feet high. Twenty-foot ceilings can be painted safely with a scaffold.

The expense and difficulty of erecting a rental scaffold are considerable factors. But these downsides are more than balanced out by the ease and safety with which you will be able to paint the ceiling.

For painting high ceilings in an entire house, you may want to consider renting a scaffold for the duration of the project.

Ladders and Extension Pole

A combination of an extension ladder, a painting extension pole, and an extra-wide roller frame and cover is an economical alternative to using a scaffold.

The extension ladder helps you reach the high corners for edging. Most aluminum ladders—and even some of the costlier fiberglass extension ladders—can be purchased for around the cost of renting a scaffold for a week. Extension ladders can be rented if you don't already have one. In some cases, you may be able to arrange for home delivery and pickup with the rental company.

The painting extension pole extends your reach while you are standing on the floor. Roller frames and covers for walls are usually 9 inches wide. Combining the extension pole with an extra-wide 18-inch roller frame and cover nearly doubles your coverage speed and efficiency.  

How to Size the Painting Extension Pole

Painting extension poles come in classes of telescoping lengths:

  • 8 to 23 Feet: Poles in this longest class provide the user with enough length for a wide handgrip when painting up to 20-foot ceilings. The downside is that these poles are heavier than poles in the next class down.
  • 6 or 8 Feet to 16 Feet: Poles in this class can be difficult to use for 20-foot ceilings since they may be too short for anyone other than taller users.

Safety Considerations

Always have another person with you when painting a high ceiling. Avoid using an extension pole while standing on a ladder. Be mindful of the extension ladder’s correct angle (safety precautions are usually found on a label on the side of the ladder).

When using an extension pole, take frequent breaks to avoid strain. When cleaning, do not bring the bucket to the top of the ladder with you.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 18-inch roller frame
  • 18-inch roller covers
  • 18-inch wide paint tray
  • Angled paintbrush
  • Paint pail for ladders
  • Roller shield
  • Paint extension pole
  • Extension ladder
  • Extension ladder covers
  • Waterproof gloves
  • 2 Buckets

Materials

  • Interior ceiling paint
  • Primer, if needed
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drop cloth
  • TSP or TSP substitute
  • Clean cotton rags

Instructions

Tools for painting high ceilings

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

  1. Erect the Extension Ladder

    Place the extension ladder covers on the top ends of the extension ladder to protect the walls. Raise and then rest the extension ladder against the wall. For safety, do not rest the feet of the ladder on the drop cloth.

  2. Mix the Cleaning Solution

    Because ceilings tend to collect cobwebs around the corners and edges, you'll need to clean these areas before you begin painting. Paint will adhere better to clean surfaces. Add TSP to warm water in the bucket and mix. Add cool, clean water to the other bucket. 

  3. Clean the Edges and Corners

    Soak and then squeeze out a rag from the bucket containing the TSP. Take this to the top of the extension ladder and clean the ceiling's edges and any other areas that you can safely and comfortably reach. Follow by wiping down the area with a rag soaked in the other bucket of clean rinse water.

  4. Add Painter’s Tape

    After the walls have thoroughly dried, access the top of the ladder and apply painter’s tape to the walls. Move around the perimeter of the room until the entire wall is complete.

  5. Edge the Ceiling With Paint

    Fill the ladder paint pail about halfway with paint. Take the pail and the angled brush to the top of the ladder and attach the pail to the ladder. Paint the edges and corners of the ceiling, bringing the paint up against the painter’s tape. 

    Tip

    A ladder paint pail is a special type of pail that attaches to the rungs of a ladder. This inexpensive item frees you from holding the paint pail and helps you stay safer.

  6. Prepare the Extension Pole and Roller

    Attach the paint frame and roller cover to the extension pole. Then, clip the paint shield onto the pole, just under the paint frame. Add paint to the tray. Dip the roller cover in the tray, then roll it out until the roller feels dry. 

  7. Paint the Ceiling Field

    Swing the extension pole up and roll out the paint on the ceiling. Make sure the paint shield is positioned under the roller cover. For sloped ceilings, stand in the center of the room, so that the ceiling is angled toward you. Because the 18-inch roller is heavy, work only in small sections to avoid fatigue. 

  8. Finish the Ceiling

    Paint the entire ceiling, up to and including the perimeter of edged paint. When finished, direct a bright light toward the ceiling to check for missed spots, and correct as needed.

  9. Remove Tape and Clean up

    Remove the painter’s tape by pulling it away and downward. Do this gently to avoid ripping away wall paint. 

Tips For Painting High Ceilings

  • Approach this as a multi-day project. Rushing the job may produce sloppy results and may even compromise your safety.
  • If renting tools, rent them on a weekly basis to keep them more cost-effective and to reduce the temptation to accelerate the project, to the detriment of your safety and the quality of the paint job.
  • Extend the painting extension pole far enough so that your hands are broadly spaced. This gives you a better grip and reduces strain on your back.