How to Paint High Ceilings

Painting Clean Lines and Reaching Tall Areas With Ease

Painting High Ceiling With Extension Poles

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In This Article
Project 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. But when you're painting a high ceiling, it becomes even more difficult due to the limited access. Using the right tools to paint high ceilings—such as scaffolding—can help you tackle this seemingly insurmountable project. But you can also paint high walls without scaffolding by using an extension pole and an extension ladder. Depending on the height of the ceiling and your reach and capabilities, you can choose to use either scaffolding or a combination of a ladder and an extension pole. Then, to get a perfect cut line, make sure to get close enough to the top of the wall to be able to tape or hand-paint your line.

Best Way to Paint High Ceilings


Scaffolding is the most comfortable and safest way to paint high walls and a high ceiling. 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). To paint high walls and ceilings over stairs, it's important to use a stair ladder or a stabilizing platform accessory for a ladder that will be used on a staircase.

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


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


Tools for painting high ceilings

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

How To Paint a High Ceiling

  1. Clear the Room

    Move as much furniture as you can into another room and roll up the rug. Any furniture that cannot be removed can be pushed to the center of the room and covered with a drop cloth.

  2. Lay a Drop Cloth

    Lay a drop cloth down underneath the wall that you'll be working on, making sure to pull it completely to the edge of the baseboard.

  3. Erect the Extension Ladder

    Place the extension ladder covers on the top ends of the extension ladder to protect the walls. Raise the extension ladder over your drop-clothed area and rest it against the wall. For safety, do not rest the feet of the ladder on the drop cloth.

  4. 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.

  5. 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. 

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 


    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.

  8. 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. 

  9. 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. 

  10. 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.

  11. 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.
  • Should you paint the walls or the ceiling first?

    Always paint the ceiling first (with at least two coats) to assure that any drips on the walls will be removed when it comes time to paint them.

  • How do professional painters get straight lines?

    Professional painters often use tape to achieve a straight line. However, when applied incorrectly, paint may bleed under the tape, preventing this. Others opt for using an angled brush to cut in a line, but this takes practice and a very steady hand. Lastly, some painters use an edger for achieving a straight line cut on a 90-degree angle.

  • Do you cut in before or after rolling?

    Always cut in high ceilings before rolling, making sure to leave a damp line that will blend when you roll on the paint. Work in wall sections to achieve the best results.