Painting high walls is no fun. In fact, if you don’t have the right tools and know how, it can actually be dangerous and expensive!
But here at DIY Painting Tips, I’m going to break down how to paint high walls for you. I will show you multiple ways of how it can be done easily, safely and efficiently.
Before We Begin
First, I want to define what we are going to consider a high wall. In my opinion, high walls are anything 12 feet and higher. This is typically where some people start getting uncomfortable and basic step ladders won’t reach.
Next, In this post I am going to go through three different scenarios for painting high walls: Painting High Walls In Open Rooms, Painting High Walls Above Stairs, Painting High Walls Without Scaffolding or a Ladder.
I will not be covering basic painting techniques such as taping, brushing, and rolling. These topics are covered in other posts on DIY Painting Tips:
- How To Clean Walls Before Painting
- How To Paint High Ceilings
- How To Clean Paint Brushes
- The Best Tape For Every Surface
- The Best Paint Brush For Your Painting Projects
- The Best Ladders For Painting
How To Paint High Walls – Best Method For High Walls
Painting high walls is all about safety and having the right tools. This isn’t a job you want to rush and risk an accident.
Whenever I am training in a new painter, one of the first things I tell them and keep repeating is that I want them to go slow, be safe and do a great job. Speed will come later.
Prepping The Room
As with any paint job, you need to start with the prep work.
First, you want to cover the floors with drop cloths. When I’m painting normal height walls, I like to have a 4′ wide drop cloth to catch drips. However, when I am painting high walls, the drops can travel further and I like to use a 6′ wide drop cloth.
Cutting In The Ceiling
Cutting in the ceiling is the hardest step when painting high walls. You need to get high enough up to where to can reach a paintbrush to the corner where the walls meet the ceiling.
I like to use a standard 16′ extension ladder for big open rooms. A 16′ ladder should allow you to comfortably reach 20′. If you feel uneasy on the ladder, have a second person hold the bottom of the ladder to steady it while you are at the top. This provides an extra level of comfort.
If you cannot fit in an extension ladder, a multi-ladder such as the Little Giant is perfect for painting high walls.
When you are cutting in the ceilings, make sure to brush down a minimum of 6″, 8″ is even better. Since you’ll likely be rolling the walls using an extension pole while standing on the floor, you want plenty of room so you don’t bump the ceiling with your paint roller.
Rolling The Walls
You have two options when rolling out the walls. You can start by carrying your roller up the ladder, roll a small section, come down the ladder, dip your roller into the paint and head back up the ladder. You have to repeat this over and over until the wall is finished. That’s a lot of up and down trips!
The better solution is to invest in a quality extension pole for your roller.
An extension pole allows you to reach the top of your walls without climbing up and down the ladder.
Wooster makes a pole that extends from 6′ – 12′. Add your reach of roughly 6′, and you can easily paint up to your cut in lines on an 18′ high wall.
Your arms will get tired very quickly, so make sure to rest them often. This is a brutal shoulder workout.
Tips For Painting High Walls
When you’re painting high walls, you run a risk of flashing. Flashing is when the edges of your new paint dry out before you’re done painting a wall.
This can cause a slight difference in sheen in the wall and can be an eyesore.
To avoid this, only do one single wall at a time. I like to paint roughly a 6′ section from ceiling to floor at a time (cutting and rolling), then move over. This allows me to move my ladder less, avoid flashing, and actually paint quicker.
Stabilize Your Ladder
Always make sure that your ladder is stable and that it isn’t going to slide out from underneath you before going up on the ladder.
Quality rubber feet can help grip a wood or tile floor. Bracing the ladder against furniture keeps it in place. Also, having a second person hold your ladder will help stabilize the ladder.
Don’t Over-Reach On Your Ladder
Reaching too far in either direction while on a ladder is a recipe for disaster. Go slow and stay safe.
I work in roughly 6′ sections at a time. 3′ is how far I can comfortably and safely reach in each either direction when I am on a ladder, thus giving me a 6′ wide section that I can paint at a time.
How To Paint High Walls Above Stairs
I’ve got a post on how to paint a stairwell where I cover every aspect of painting high walls in stairs and more. If you’d like to read more on the topic, I suggest you check out that post.
When I need to paint high walls above stairs, I always go to my multi ladder.
A multi-ladder is a ladder that can cold into an A shape and both ends can extend out. This allows me to fold the ladder into an A, have a short end on the higher part of the stairs and the long end on the lower part of the stairs. This ladder setup is extremely stable and allows a wide foot stand for you while painting.
If a multi ladder is not an option, a regular extension ladder can work as well and is also extremely stable because you can wedge the feet into a step.
How To Paint High Walls Without Scaffolding or A Ladder
If you’re the type who doesn’t like ladders or a new ladder isn’t in the budget, there is still an option for you (though it may not produce perfect results).
As I mentioned above, you can easily roll out walls using an extension pole.
But, you can also cut in ceilings using an extension pole as well. By doing this, you can completely eliminate the need for a ladder.
Cutting in ceilings using an extension pole is tiring on the shoulder and quite difficult to get a straight line. So if perfection is the goal, this is not your best solution.
But, if you simply do not want to climb a ladder, it can absolutely be done.
Shur-Line makes the above brush holder that you can attach to your extension pole. It can work in a pinch but definitely takes some practice to get a straight line.
Once you are finished cutting in the ceiling, simply remove the brush attachment and screw on your roller frame and start rolling out the walls. No ladder or scaffolding needed.
This method can work anywhere, even in stairwells.
Hopefully, after reading this, you are more confident about how to paint high walls.
If you have any questions, stories about your project or comments in general, make sure to leave them below! I always answer every question.
I’ve been a professional painter since 2001 and spent the last 12 years specializing in kitchen cabinet refinishing. I started the DIY Painting Tips blog in 2015 to start sharing everything I’ve learned over the years and help all the people who’d rather tackle their painting projects themselves. In 2019 I started the DIY Painting Tips Youtube channel where I publish in depth videos all about kitchen cabinet painting, painting gear reviews, and interior/exterior tutorials.