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How to Paint Tall Ceilings (In Simple Steps)

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The best methods for painting high ceilings, including a step-by-step guide.

A high ceiling can frame a room, making it feel spacious and light. But how much attention does that ceiling really get? Painting high ceilings can be a chore, especially if you need specialist equipment like scaffolding to do it.

We explain how to paint high ceilings and share tips to help you keep your vaulted ceilings in perfect condition.

How to Paint Tall Ceilings

  1. Remove furniture and floor coverings like rugs.
  2. Lay down drop cloths to protect the floor.
  3. Set up the extendable ladder.
  4. Use painter’s tape to protect wall edges.
  5. Use the paintbrush to paint along the edges where the walls meet the ceiling.
  6. Use the extendable roller to paint the surfaces untouched by the paintbrush.
  7. Remove the painter’s tape.


The Best Way to Paint Tall Ceilings

You have several options when finding the best way to paint tall ceilings. Some require specialist equipment because it’s challenging to reach a 20-foot vaulted ceiling.

With Scaffolding

Scaffolding is probably the most obvious way to reach tall ceilings. You can erect it so that you have a stable platform to work from, and you can keep all your tools handy while you complete the project.

Scaffolding is, by far, the safest and most comfortable way to reach that cathedral ceiling. Most scaffolding can be adjusted from five to 15 feet high, catering to ceilings ranging from 12 to 20 feet.

It takes time to erect and move to different locations in the room. You also need to take steps to protect the flooring, especially if you have polished hardwood.

You will probably need a week to complete the task successfully, so think about how long you hire it for. Bear in mind that scaffolding is expensive to hire compared to other methods.

With a Ladder

group of builders with tools indoors

Using a ladder to reach tall corners and edges of your ceiling is cheaper than scaffolding and easier to use. Extension ladders are either fiberglass or aluminum and extend to different heights.

This Yvan Telescoping Ladder would still cost less to buy than hiring scaffolding for a week. They are also easier to deploy and can be maneuvered around the room more efficiently.

However, standing at the top of a ladder can be daunting, especially if you have to hold a paintbrush and paint can. If you are scared of heights, you might want to explore alternatives.

Extending ladders are excellent for painting over stairs because they wedge neatly against the steps.

You will need a step ladder to paint the center of your living room ceiling, which may limit your height reach. You can buy multipurpose ladders that extend, fold, and transform into step ladders.

This Little Giants Multiposition Ladder has wheels to make maneuvering easy, and it folds into several configurations, including trestle-and-table for painting over stairs. It offers all the convenience but without scaffolding costs.

Sizing a ladder is pretty straightforward. If you have a 12-foot ceiling, a six or eight-foot ladder will give you the reach you need.

Take Note

Remember to stand no higher than the third rung from the top and don’t over-extend your reach. If you do, you risk falling or toppling the ladder.

With an Extension Roller

Painting walls and ceilings

Extension rollers are a great budget choice. They are also handy for people who hate heights. This Sandegoo Roller Set has a maximum reach of six feet, so you should easily access the tallest parts of the ceiling.

Painting a large room without ladders can be challenging, but an extending roller makes it a lot easier. You don’t have the expense of purchasing a ladder or hiring scaffolding. It is also much safer because you stay on the ground.

However, while a roller is ideal for flat surfaces, it won’t reach corners and irregular shapes. You will struggle to edge around rafters and other surfaces, which increases paint splatters.

Top Tip

Roller frames are typically nine inches wide, but if you swap it for an extra-wide one, you can cover more ground and speed up the process.

If you have a 20-foot ceiling, you will need a pole that extends between eight and 23 feet. You might struggle if the rod is shorter. Remember that the longer the pole’s reach, the heavier it is, placing extra strain on your arms and back.

With a Paint Sprayer

Painter worker with airless painting sprayer covering ceiling surface into white

Painting your vaulted ceiling with a sprayer is faster than using a brush or roller. It covers more evenly, and you get fewer drips and streaks. However, you will still need a ladder or scaffolding to reach the ceiling, and the process is very messy.

To prevent overspray damage, you will need to cover rafters and other surfaces with plastic sheeting. It is also more complex because using a paint sprayer takes practice.

This Graco Airless Paint Sprayer is an excellent example. It has a stand, a piston pump that allows you to use unthinned paint, and it sprays directly from the tin.

You might also have noticed the price of this paint sprayer. It is not a cheap option, so an extendable roller is more cost-effective when working on a tight budget.

Safety First

When using a paint sprayer, don a respirator and safety goggles to avoid inhaling overspray.

How to Paint Tall Ceilings

The first step is to clear the room of furniture and belongings. Then lay down the drop cloths to protect the floor.

Let’s inventory the tools and equipment needed for the project.

What You’ll Need

  • 18-inch roller frame.
  • 18-inch covers and paint tray.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Ladder pail.
  • Extension pole.
  • Extension ladder.
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Face mask.
  • Goggles.
  • Coveralls.
  • Drop cloths.
  • Interior ceiling paint.
  • Primer (optional).
  • Decorator’s tape.
  • Clean rags.
  • TSP (trisodium phosphate).
  • Roller paint guard (optional).
  • Flashlight.

1. Set Up the Ladder

Use rags to cover the top of the ladder to protect the wall. Extend the ladder to the correct height and rest it against the wall. Make sure that the angle is sufficient so that when you climb, the ladder won’t topple.

Now put on your coveralls to protect your clothes. These Red Kap Long Sleeve Coveralls are an excellent choice because you can reuse them.

Safety Notice

Don’t place the ladder’s feet on drop cloths because they may slip.

2. Mix the Detergent

Safety First

Don your face mask, goggles, and rubber gloves before mixing the TSP. TSP can burn on contact with skin, and it gives off strong fumes that can overpower you.

Before mixing the TSP, open windows to let air circulate; it mitigates fumes created by the chemical reaction.

Mix the TSP into a bucket of warm water, then soak the rag in the solution and squeeze it out. Climb the ladder and wipe down the edges and other surfaces where dust and cobwebs collect. The paint will fail to adhere if you don’t clean the surface.

When finished, pour the TSP down the drain and fill the bucket with cold water. Soak a new rag and wipe down the ceiling to remove TSP residue. Wait while the ceiling dries.

3. Use Decorator’s Tape

Painting the Edges of the Ceiling with Paintbrush

Once the ceiling is completely dry, climb the ladder and tear off two-foot strips and begin covering the edges of the walls and rafters. One of the best tapes you can buy is Frog Tape. It adheres well and stops the paint from bleeding onto restricted surfaces.

4. Edge the Ceiling

Pour your paint into a ladder pail like this Handy Paint Cup and attach it to the top rung of the ladder. A ladder paint pail saves you time and energy by freeing your hands.

Dip the paintbrush into the paint and carefully run it along the taped edges of the ceiling where it meets the walls. Do the same for rafters and exposed beams. While it protects surfaces, you still need to avoid paint seepage under the tape.

5. Set Up the Roller

Attach the roller frame and cover to the extension pole. Pour the remaining paint from the ladder pail into the paint tray. Place the roller into the paint tray and evenly coat the nap (roller cover) with paint.

Roll out the paint on the ceiling, moving in smooth motions to get an even coating. Work in small sections because extended rollers are heavy.

Top Tip

Use a paint guard for your roller to stop splatters from falling on your head and floor. This Shur-Line Roller comes complete with the shield.

For sloped ceilings, paint in the direction of the slope so that it is angled towards you. Paint from the center of the room, working outwards until the roller meets the painted edges that you laid down with the brush.

When you’ve finished, shine the flashlight at the ceiling to check for missed patches. This INSL-X ceiling paint is a good choice because it goes on pink but dries white. This allows you to spot missed patches more easily.

6. Remove Decorator’s Tape

While the paint is still tacky to the touch, peel away the painter’s tape. Do this slowly because if you yank too hard, you may remove the paint on the walls.

Tips for Painting Vaulted Ceilings

Whenever you undertake a DIY project, getting helpful suggestions is always welcome. The pros know a trick or two, so we thought you could learn some too.

Paint In Daylight

Lightbulbs often cast a yellow hue over your ceiling, making it challenging to spot streaks and patches. Painting in natural daylight makes it a lot easier to see the spots you have missed.

Allocate the Time

Painting a high ceiling is not a quick job. It could take days rather than hours, so allocate the right amount of time. Rushing the task will lead to mistakes, which ruins the finish of your ceiling.

Relieve the pressure on yourself and allocate two days instead of one.

Rent Tools for the Week

Following the rushing theme, hire for the week if you rent scaffolding or tools. This removes the temptation to cut corners and gives you the time you need to get that perfect finish.

Don’t Over-Extend

Always keep your center of gravity when standing on a ladder because when you extend too far, you fall. Climb down the ladder and move it closer. Don’t be tempted to stretch to that spot just out of reach.

Also, hold the roller extension pole so that your hands are evenly spaced. It reduces strain on your hands and wrists.

Paint Colors for Ceilings

What are the hot colors out there? Is white losing pace to the new colors on the block, or is it still a firm favorite? Let’s find out.

White

empy room white wall

Sorry to disappoint, but white is still top of the color leader board for ceilings. It looks clean, stays fresher for longer, and reflects light into the room. It also gives your room more height.

White is also readily available and easy to color match between paint brands. Try doing that with French Gray, and you will have hundreds of shade variations.

Yellow

Corner of modern office with white walls, yellow ceiling, carpeted floor and two computer desks near white cabinets. Lounge area in background. 3d rendering

You might not think that yellow is a contender for a ceiling color, but bringing some sunshine to your color scheme is effective if you want to make a statement. Yellow is an excellent color for a child’s nursery or a playroom.

Brown

Brown is an excellent choice because it comes in so many shades. It doesn’t need to be chocolate brown; you can tone it down with beige and softer colors. Brown ceilings can make a room feel cozy, especially with soft lighting.

Pale Blue

Cutom build beautiful wood door in blue empty room

Pale blue is a surprisingly popular color for ceilings because it mimics summer skies. It can lift your mood and make the room feel brighter.

FAQs

How Do Painters Paint High Ceilings?

They either use scaffolding, extendable ladders, or extension poles for rollers. If the room is large enough and the ceiling high enough, scaffolding may be the best option.

Should You Paint Your Walls When You Paint Your Ceiling?

You don’t have to as long as you use decorator’s tape to seal the edges where the walls meet the ceiling. However, if you are painting your ceiling and the room is prepped and cleared, it might be an idea to do the walls too.

Often, when you refresh one part of a room, it shows scuffs and marks elsewhere.

You Might Also Like
Tradesman painting a ceilingHow to Paint Tall Walls (the Safe Way)

How Do You Paint Tall Ceilings Above Stairs?

You can either use an extendable or multi-position ladder that transforms into a platform for uneven surfaces like stairs.

Do Paint Edgers Really Work?

Using a paint edger, like this Mr. LongArm model, is excellent for getting clean lines on edges and corners, and avoiding paint splatters. However, if you are painting with multiple colors, they can be a pain to clean because the pad absorbs the paint.


High Standards

Vaulted or cathedral ceilings are statement styles designed to draw your eye upward. They have the wow factor and heighten the room, making it feel more spacious. However, if your high ceiling looks unloved, it is time to crack open the paintbrushes.

It may be a pain painting your vaulted ceiling, but it will be worth the effort when it is done.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.