Popcorn ceiling removal tips for DIYers – how to make it faster, easier and less messy
Yes, popcorn ceilings are dated and went out of style years ago. So, most new home owners are looking for ways to eliminate popcorn textured ceilings. Removing the popcorn texture is not that difficult, but it certainly can be a messy job (and I’m going to show you some simple solutions on how to do this in an easy and less messy way).
I’m also going to walk you through why popcorn ceilings were made (yes, they did have a purpose) as well as some of the watch outs for popcorn ceilings. Note: these are sometimes referred to as cottage cheese ceilings or acoustical popcorn textured ceilings.
From there, I’ll show you the simple steps to take to do this yourself. I’ll also share alternative ideas, if you find you have asbestos and/or lead paint on the ceiling. And, I’ll discuss the impact that popcorn ceilings can have if you are trying to sell your home. At the very end, I will give you some bonus tips for popcorn ceiling removal.
This article may contain affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.
Why were popcorn ceilings once popular? What advantages do they have?
Believe it or not, there were real functional benefits for popcorn ceilings. First, they provide an acoustical benefit as they absorb sound and reduce reflection of noise. Second, they made it easier and less expensive for construction as they hide imperfections in the sheet rock and taping process. By using these textured ceilings, they eliminated the need to apply multiple coats of joint compound over nails/screw holes and other surface imperfections. They also reduce maintenance as they rarely need to be repainted (as dirt/imperfections are camouflaged by the texture.)
Safety precautions before you get started with popcorn ceiling removal
There are two potential problems that can turn into a major headache, and you’ll want to check on them BEFORE you get started.
You can get an asbestos testing kit on line via Amazon to check, if your house was built before then. While this is not an expensive test kit, please note that there are some “cheaper” ones out there…and they are cheaper because they don’t include the cost for the test…and then you still need to pay to send them to a lab. So, get the kit that includes the lab test.
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If you find out you have asbestos, DO NOT remove the popcorn ceiling yourself! If the asbestos remains intact on your ceiling, it’s not dangerous at all. It only becomes dangerous when it’s disrupted and becomes air borne (which is what would happen if your remove it). So, if this happens, you have 2 options: 1) call a local asbestos company and get it abated (note: this is expensive) OR encapsulate it by adding sheet rock (or some other surface) on top of it. Do not attempt to fill in or smooth out the area as this can easily disrupt the asbestos as well.
You can learn more about this asbestos in your home at the EPA website.
- Lead Paint Ceiling (or painted popcorn ceiling): The second potential problem is if you have lead paint. Lead was also banned from paint in 1978 and it often was found in inventory for a few years. If you have lead paint, you’ll want to call in a lead paint certified painter or contractor to remove the popcorn ceiling. This will definitely cost extra (as they need to take many precautions) and slow down your time. Or, alternatively you could leave the popcorn ceiling as is or put sheet rock on top of it.
You can find a lead paint testing kit on Amazon here (very inexpensive).
Bear in mind that if you have coats of paint on top of the popcorn ceiling (and it’s not lead), it’s not dangerous, but it can lengthen your process as the paint prevents the texture from absorbing water. Sometimes, this just means repeating the steps and adding more water; sometimes, it means adding a chemical stripper to remove the paint barrier.
Note: You can also have a local professional test for lead or asbestos. Often home inspectors and air quality contractors do this. Asbestos needs to be sent to a lab for test results.
My opinion is that you’re better safe than sorry, so definitely test if your house is from the early 80’s or earlier. This is not just a matter of legality, but rather a potential major health concern for you and your family.
How to eliminate popcorn ceilings
This is actually easier than most people realize and yes this is an easy DIY job, especially if you are handy.
1. First, prep the area: Remove all furniture and items off the wall (e.g. artwork, window treatments). Then put plastic sheets on the floor. Extend the plastic 1 foot up the wall and attach it with painter’s tape. This will help you later so you don’t get debris on the floor. (Note: do not add painter’s tape to hardwood flooring as it often removes the polyurethane). I’m going to share a neat tool that will take care of most of the mess, but still, you need to cover the floors.
Turn off heating/cooling vents for the area. You’ll want to cover remove the vents/cover them with plastic (use painter’s tape to seal these). You’ll want to do the same thing with wall outlets and switches. Remove ceiling lights and ceiling fans. Make sure that all of these area that may lead to electrical outlets are covered with plastic and use painter’s tape to hold in place. You don’t want to risk getting these area wet (or dirty).
You’ll also want to protect the walls, so run painter’s tape on the wall just below the ceiling and attach the plastic sheeting to it. Overlap the plastic above the plastic that is already in place at the bottom of the wall. Tape all sheets so nothing can penetrate behind it. To assist with clean up, cover the floor with rosin paper. Overlap the sheets and tape them together.
Secret bonus tip: Here’s a big short cut. Use Pre-taped plastic sheeting. This stuff is amazing and will save you a ton of time! Basically, one edge already has tape attached, so all you need to do is peel and stick it to the top of your walls. Not only that, but when you’re done, you just roll up the plastic, discard and your room is perfectly clean. It will save you so much time!
2. Second, you want to apply a nice coat of warm water to the popcorn ceiling. The easiest way to do this is with a standard garden sprayer. And, if you don’t have one, here’s where you can purchase one on Amazon. (They are inexpensive and can of course be used later for your flowers and garden.). It’s way easier than trying to sponge down your ceiling. Plus, since your entire room is already covered in plastic, you don’t need to worry about getting water on anything else.
Use this to add a nice even coat on the wall. The key to breaking the adhesive bond with the drywall is keeping it wet.
3. Let this sit for 10 to 15 minutes for full absorption. The water is going to break down the adhesive bond and allow you to scrape it off easily. (note: If there are many levels of paint on top, you may need to spray a second time or multiple times).
Usually, the popcorn ceiling just peels off very easily (if it doesn’t, you’ll just want to apply more warm water). Just glide your putty knife across the surface moving slowly with long strokes in one direction. The long, slow and even strokes will help prevent the corners of the knife from digging in and gouging the drywall.
Now the slightly tricky part is all the mess that comes down from the ceiling. But, have no fear as I have a great solution for you. This entrepreneurial contractor created a new invention for this very purpose. It’s call the Popcorn Ceiling Removal Bucket. It comes equipped with a pole so that you can hold it in one hand while scraping with the other. Easy peasy and it solves most of the mess.
Check out his video here:
Next steps after you’ve removed the popcorn ceiling
5. Repair/prep the ceiling for painting. Replace any damaged drywall, touch up and smooth out the joints with joint compound. Allow this to dry over night. Then, lightly sand with a sanding block any parts that may be uneven. Only sand to remove the high and protruding spots (too much sanding could damage the drywall).
6. Now you’re ready to prime and paint. Rollers seem to work best for this. Use high quality primer. We recommend Sherwin Williams.Multipurpose Primer. For the paint, I’d strongly recommend a flat finish both because it’s the most stylish/popular, but also because it will hide imperfections the best.
So to sum up, to make this project as easy as possible:
1) Use plastic sheeting for the walls and floors.
2) Use a garden sprayer to quickly and evenly wet the ceiling
3) Apply long, slow, even strokes with your putty knife.
4) Use the popcorn ceiling bucket to reduce mess
Equipment needed to remove popcorn textured ceilings
- Plastic sheeting (2-3 mil for walls, 6 mil for floors) or pre-taped sheeting
- Rosin paper
- Painter’s tape
- Putty knife
- Garden sprayer
- Popcorn ceiling bucket
- Mesh sanding pad with handle
- Drywall joint compound
- Drywall joint tape
- Dust mask or respirator
- Eye protection
- Paint rollers
Are popcorn ceilings a turn-off to home buyers? What’s the impact of popcorn ceilings when selling your home?
While popcorn ceilings were all the rage in the 60’s and 70’s, they are a big turn off in today’s homes. They date your home and signal to buyers that your home needs a lot of work. New home buyers hate popcorn ceilings. They hate wallpaper and wood paneling more, but this comes real close.
You’ll find that “how to remove popcorn ceilings.” is one of the most popular home improvement searches on both google and Pinterest. In addition to being visually unappealing (buyers don’t like the texture), popcorn ceilings also tend to hold dust, allergens and odors.and they make you space look smaller and darker (with more shadows).
If you’re selling your home, popcorn ceilings can go a long way in helping you sell sooner and for more money. Conversely, leaving these textured ceilings is likely to result in lower offers (as buyers discount the price based on the perceived cost to remove them). And, remember that the majority of Millenial buyers don’t have the funds to fix them.
Options if you can’t or don’t want to remove/scrape the popcorn ceilings (alternatives if you have asbestos)
If you have asbestos and/or lead paint in your popcorn ceilings, you do have other options (besides doing an expensive abatement). You could add another layer of sheet rock on there and encapsulate the area. This is definitely more challenging for Do-it-Yourselfers and it’s certainly not a 1 person job.
An alternative and stylish option is to add some sort of wood or even shiplap paneling. You could choose to leave the wood as is, paint it white or some other color. You can read more about shiplap here: 8 ways to decorate with shiplap.
How much does it cost to remove popcorn ceilings?
Of course the price for this will vary based on area of the country, as well as assumptions/complications and scope of work. Generally, it will cost $2-$3 a square foot (assuming that you don’t have extra coats of paint on there, nor lead paint nor asbestos. Of course there is a additional work that needs to be done afterwards including smoothing/prepping the walls, priming and painting.
Please note that if you have lead and/or asbestos and need an abatement, then it will cost significantly more – perhaps 2 to 4 times the amount.
Additional prep tips for popcorn ceiling removal:
- Don’t use canvas drop cloths because water can soak through (and ruin your floors). Clean up is easier with plastic too, because you can just ball it all up when you’re done and throw it in the trash. Be sure to leave the plastic in place after scraping as you’ll also need it to catch the mess you’ll make repairing and sanding the ceiling later.
- This is probably obvious, but if you are sanding the floors, or putting new flooring, remove the popcorn ceilings first. You will make a mess. And, if you have newly refinished hardwood floors, it will take 30 days to fully cure, so you don’t want to scratch them up nor cover them up for a long period of time with plastic or drop cloths (they need to breath so that they properly cure).
- If you have recessed lights, stuff newspaper or rosin paper inside to keep them dry. Also, make sure the power to those fixtures is turned off at the circuit breaker panel or fuse box.
- You might think it’s easier to leave light fixtures and ceiling fans in place, but they’ll just be in your way and get covered with wet popcorn. Plus, you don’t want to accidentally spray water into an electrical fixture!
- Before you go to all the trouble of prepping the room, try testing by scraping a small area. Try it dry first, then dampen the texture with water and try again. Make sure it works. If it doesn’t, it probably means you have many layers of paint that you’ll need to remove first and/or use a chemical solvent for.
- Work in small sections. This tends to work best if you do sections that are around 10-16 square feet (e.g. 4 ft x 4 ft or 2 ft x 5 ft). If you spray the whole ceiling at once, portions may dry before you’re ready to scrape them off.
- Tips on fixing drywall and getting it ready for paint
- Should you paint or do the floors first?
- 8 Ways to decorate with Shiplap
If you live in Westchester County NY, I offer color consultations to advise customers on paint colors and stain choices. My designer discount at the paint stores usually more than offsets the cost for the hour consultation. Read more here.
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors
For more info, check out my Ebook – Discover the 6 Secrets to Refinishing Hardwood floors.