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Painting High Ceilings Easily: Step By Step Guide To Great Results

Painting a ceiling can be a pain, both figuratively and literally. It’s a daunting project for most of us. Working on anything above your head tests us physically and mentally. High ceilings often require one to work high up on a ladder, which can be scary.

To paint high ceilings, an extension ladder, scaffolding, or long handle extension pole are required. Extension poles can accommodate paintbrushes, paint rollers, paint pads for edging, and even sanding blocks. The method used depends on the ceiling height and the condition of the surface.

Modern paints and painting aids make the job of painting a ceiling much easier than it used to be in times gone by. Let’s go through a step-by-step guide that will enable anyone to effortlessly give the high ceilings in their home a fresh coat of paint.  

How To Paint High Ceilings?

When painting a high ceiling, the height of the ceiling is the primary consideration. Besides choosing the paint color, deciding how you will reach the surface is pretty much the first step in the process.

You will need scaffolding for ceilings that are over twenty-foot (6.09m) in height. Under that, you’ll manage with the appropriate length ladder or even a painting extension pole. Or possibly a combination of ladder and painting extension pole for touch-ups. When painting a complete ceiling, either option will work well.

Remember that only some tasks can be done using an extension pole only. The ceiling will need to be cleaned to get rid of cobwebs and dust, or even primed before painting if it’s a new ceiling, so you’ll need to get up there for some of the time.

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Extension poles are great to use as they keep you firmly grounded, but they have a few drawbacks:

  • They can be quite clumsy and are better suited for painting more extensive areas with a roller and edging using a paint pad.
  • Painting intricate or molded cornices and designer ceilings may require a paintbrush and a ladder, as the length of the extension pole, up to eighteen feet, can make detailed painting tricky.
  • Confined spaces with high ceilings are not suited to using an extension pole.

When painting the interior of a room, it is good practice to paint the ceiling first and, once done, paint the walls. Painting the ceiling first eliminates the chance of accidentally getting ceiling paint onto the wall’s surface.

Now that we’ve set the scene let’s look at the items you’ll need to get the job done.

Equipment required to paint a high ceiling:

  • Paint roller, 12” medium pile, and a paint shield (to reduce paint splatter from the roller)
  • Paint Tray
  • An angled paintbrush for the edges
  • Paint pail suitable for ladders
  • Paint extension pole
  • Paint pad for edging
  • Ladder
  • Gloves
  • Eye Protection
  • Bucket

Painting Materials:

  • Ceiling paint for interiors
  • Primer if required
  • A roll of painters tape
  • Drop sheet
  • Cotton rags
  • A surface cleaner such as Trisodium Phosphate (you can find some here at Amazon)

How To Paint A Ceiling Easily: Step-By-Step

You should only get started on your ceiling painting project once you are sure that you have all the necessary materials. Let’s get started…

Step 1: Clear The Area

Remove any loose furniture, paintings, etc. from the room, and cover immovable items such as chandeliers with a drop sheet or light tarp. Floors below the painted area must also be covered to ensure they aren’t damaged by paint splatter.

Painters Tip: It’s best to move furniture to the center of the room to create working space along the walls. This will also give you room to maneuver the extension pole or ladder better. Cover the furniture with a drop sheet to protect it from paint splatters.

Any removable light fittings in the ceiling should be removed. Removing fittings from the roof to create a flat surface makes the painting job more manageable. An extension ladder or even scaffolding may be required to remove the fittings safely.

Step 2: Prepare The Surface Of The Ceiling

Some ceilings require quite a lot of preparation before it is ready for new paint.

Most DIY painting projects involve ceilings that have been painted before, which require less preparation if they are in good condition. Pre-painted ceilings do not need a primer except in areas that need repair.

Start by cleaning the old ceiling using a lint-free cotton cloth, dry or soaked in a general-purpose cleaner such as a Trisodium Phosphate solution. The aim of wiping down the ceiling is to remove any cobwebs, dust, or bugs that may have attached themselves to the surface.

Using an extension ladder or scaffolding is a good option to reach the ceiling. Place the cloth around a paint pad attached to an extension pole to reach up and wipe the ceiling’s surface.

Next, inspect the ceiling for defects like cracks, watermarks, nail pops, holes, or old paint droplets. If any are present, these will need to be repaired before you start painting.

Cracks and holes should be filled using a ceiling crack filler or ceiling mud as it’s sometimes called. Once dry, the repaired sections must be lightly sanded to ensure it is smooth using 100 to 150 grit sandpaper.

A coat of undercoat paint or primer should then be applied to the repaired areas and allowed to dry completely before continuing with the project.

Wipe the ceiling down after sanding using a clean cloth, and you’re ready for the painting process.

When using a paintbrush to do edging (painting the outer edges of the ceiling), it’s good to apply painter’s tape to the edge of the wall or cornice that you don’t want to paint. Apply the tape straight and ensure the edges are firmly stuck to the wall to avoid paint seeping under it.

Step 3: Painting the Ceiling

Open the paint can and mix it thoroughly using a paint mixing attachment that fits a drill, or like most of us, use a length of a broomstick or similar. Be careful not to go about it too vigorously to avoid paint spilling.

Painters Tip: If you’re using a paintbrush and ladder or scaffolding to paint the edges or the ceiling, pour a little paint into the paint pail, it’s much easier than lugging a tin of paint up a ladder.

Once on the ladder, use the paintbrush to paint carefully along the edge of the ceiling. A band of about four inches will do.

Repeat this process until you’ve painted the edges around the ceiling and any fittings attached to the ceiling. Let the paint dry, and then repeat if a second coat is required.

When using an extension pole and a paint pad to do the edging, pour some paint into the paint tray, filling only the lowest section of the tray. Lightly dip the pad into the paint. Apply just enough so the paint doesn’t drip off when the pole is raised to the ceiling.

Carefully align the pad close to the edge of the ceiling. Smoothly draw a line along the edge. You’re effectively brushing paint onto the ceiling using a sponge-type material, so you don’t have to apply much pressure onto the pad. Apply a second coat if required after the first layer has dried.

Proceed with this process around the edge of the entire ceiling and any light fittings. Taking it slow and easy will ensure a neater job.  

The next step is to paint the ceiling itself using a roller. Assemble the roller and attach it to the extension pole if you’re not using a ladder or scaffolding.

Pour ceiling paint into the paint tray. Extend the pole to the required length before applying the paint to the roller. Position the paint tray in a suitable place that will allow paint application to the roller, and lift the wet roller to the ceiling height without needing to negotiate obstacles.

Painters Tip: A dry run using the extension pole will give you a good indication of the right length setting.

Apply paint to the roller and roll it onto the ceiling in even strokes. Follow the same line direction along the surface, overlapping each painted line. Paint a block at a time, measuring about three feet square, until the entire ceiling is coated and allow the paint to dry.

The second coat of paint will be required if the paint coverage is insufficient, in which case, repeat the painting process.

An extension pole is useful when painting a ceiling

When painting from a ladder or scaffolding, a short six-foot extension pole may be helpful to widen your reach. Care should, however, be taken not to lean too far to the side when stretching out to cover a spot with paint, as this may unbalance your ladder or scaffolding. Always move the ladder if needed.

When the second coat of paint has dried, visually inspect the ceiling for missed spots. If all looks good, remove the painter’s tape from around the edging by peeling it off the wall while lifting it upward. Work carefully to avoid pulling paint off the wall.

Don’t forget to wash your roller and painting equipment to avoid the paint drying onto the equipment. Most paints are water-based, so a thorough rinse with water will clean the equipment such as rollers, brushes, extension poles, and paint trays.

Job done! When the paint has dried, the light fittings or other attachments that were removed from the ceiling can be replaced.

Tips For Painting A High Ceiling

Let’s cover some handy tips that will help during any ceiling painting project:


Ladders account for many DIY-related injuries, so it’s important to include a few essential points:

  • When propped up against a wall, the ladders’ angle is critical to ensure a firm platform to climb up on. The ideal angle is between 70 and 75 degrees from the vertical.
  • In practical terms, use the four to one rule, meaning the ladder’s base should be positioned with the feet a foot from the wall for every four feet of ladder length.
  • Firm ladder footing. When positioning the ladder, make sure that the feet are not standing on the groundsheet, as this can cause the ladder to slip on the floor’s surface. Smooth tiles are also hazardous as ladders without rubber or plastic-type foot pieces can easily slip out.
  • When using extension ladders and folding or hinged type ladders, ensure that all the latches are correctly engaged to avoid it collapsing while you are up on the ladder.
  • When standing on ladder rungs for a long time, stiff-soled shoes such as boots significantly reduce foot fatigue caused by the relatively narrow surface area of round-shaped rungs.
  • Stay focused on a ladder, and don’t be too hasty when climbing up and down a ladder.


Scaffolding can be pretty tricky to erect, dismantle and climb up and down on.

  • Most DIY-type scaffolding does not have a dedicated ladder or safety railings, and the scaffolding frame is the only way to climb up onto the working platform. In addition, some scaffolding is very light, and it is often made from aluminum.
  • When climbing up scaffolding, use the middle of the frame, not the outside. The center of gravity will be better distributed between the legs of the structure if you climb up between them. Climbing up the outside can upset the balance and cause it to topple over.
  • Ensure that the scaffolding wheels, if fitted, are locked before climbing up. The very last thing you need happening is to roll away if the structure moves!
  • As an added safety measure, always work in pairs when using scaffolding.

Painting, Sanding, and Scraping

When working on ceilings, whether sanding, scraping, or painting, all the work happens above eye level.

  • Any debris, dust, or paint that falls from the ceiling comes straight down. A good practice is not to work directly above your head. Not only is this very uncomfortable, but anything falling from above will end up on your head and most likely in your eyes.
  • Always wear safety goggles while working on your ceiling, (I like this pair that I got from Amazon).


Painting a high ceiling can be easily accomplished with a bit of planning. The biggest consideration when painting a ceiling is the height. The project will usually require a combination of an extension ladder, scaffolding, and a paint extension pole of the appropriate length.

A ladder or scaffolding is required when you need to get up close to the ceiling to do repairs, do intricate paintwork, remove or replace light fittings or apply painter’s tape to the edges of the ceiling. The actual painting can be done using an extension pole while standing on the ground.