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How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

First Test for Asbestos to Avoid Mesothelioma

© 2009 by ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

A popcorn texture ceiling; photo © 2009 KSmith Media, LLC

A ceiling with old-style popcorn texture.

This article was updated on 02/26/20.

Stomp as well as knockdown ceiling texture patterns are rising in popularity and popcorn ceilings are falling like a lead balloon. But before attempting to remove the old texture, test it for asbestos content and then take it off the ceiling with a pump-up water sprayer and scraper.

Sprayed-on popcorn ceilings were very hip in the 1970s. Home building contractors achieved huge construction budget savings by blasting home ceilings using a popcorn texture mixture. But now, it’s lost its popularity. Today’s homeowners increasingly want to change their existing popcorn ceiling texture.

Home general contractors returning back to classic knockdown and stomp ceiling textures. But do not jump into this particular renovation project prior to reading this article.

Many Older Popcorn Texture Ceilings Contain Asbestos Fibers

There is a serious risk involved with this project if asbestos is present in your ceiling texture. Typically, the older mixes did contain harmful measures of friable asbestos content (meaning that it will crumble under pressure, which releases asbestos fibers to the atmosphere). Many asbestos litigation lawyers offer information about asbestos and the effects.

Always get a texture sample tested. Only an asbestos testing laboratory can do this. Hire a professional asbestos abatement contractor if your sample tests positive. It is not worth contracting mesothelioma cancer. I highly recommend vetting any contractor by checking credentials.

Asbestos is especially critical if you’re a smoker because the asbestos fibers adhere to the inhaled tar. Others at particular risk include children and pregnant women.

Tools and Materials List

  • Ladder
  • Plastic sheets
  • Scraper
  • Pump-up sprayer (available at Home Depot or a garden nursery)
  • Hard hat, dust mask, and safety glasses
  • Respirator (if the ceiling is painted)

Preparing Your Work Area

Remove all your furniture from the room. Next, Turn off your home heater and/or central air conditioning. Take off air diffuser vents and turn off the circuit breakers or remove the fuses that power your ceiling fans, overhead lighting, and all your electrical outlets.

Next, Remove your smoke alarm heads. Spread a layer of plastic sheeting on the room’s floor. In bigger areas, overlap your sheets and use tape to seal them. Hang some sheet plastic in your doorways and case openings in order to keep all dust in the room and out of other areas of the home.

You’ll do best to use LED work lights along with extension cords on this project.

What to Do if Your Popcorn Ceiling Isn’t Painted

If your ceiling hasn’t ever been painted (the natural flat white drywall compound color allowed the home builders to save even more money by skipping painting it), you’ll need to spray it down, section by section, using a water and liquid soap mixture. Use your pump-up sprayer to do this. The effective ratio is 1 cup liquid dish soap to 5 gallons of room temperature tap water.

Spray your ceiling down 3 times to make sure it’s well-saturated. The texture should be completely wet at this point, but if not give it another shot. This popcorn is generally very porous so it’ll absorb quite a bit of water.

Let about 15 minutes go by, then mount your ladder and see if you can scrape a small section off. It will usually come off easily. If doesn’t, give it yet another shot of water/soap and test it once more.

As soon as it begins to fall off easily in clumps, then begin scraping your ceiling. Be sure to guard against any renegade clumps! Make an effort to not gouge into the drywall. You'll just have to repair it later.

What to Do if Your Popcorn Ceiling Has Been Painted

If your popcorn ceiling has ever been painted, you can forget about it absorbing the water and soap mixture. Proceed right to scraping it off. Now really try not to mess up your drywall. This is going to be dusty process, so make sure to wear your approved respirator as well as safety glasses and long sleeves and gloves!

Wrap up Your Demolition Debris

You’re going to be sure to wind up with quite a bit of demolition debris, whether you used the water/soap mixture or not. Just bundle up your popcorn debris in the plastic you laid out on the floor.

Tape the sheets closed securely and remove the bundles. Don’t make them too big or they’ll be hard to hump out of the room. When the drywall has dried out completely, do any drywall taping and floating that you need to do. Apply any easy texture pattern of choice or use a crow’s foot or homemade texture tool.

Last but not least, now that your old popcorn ceiling is gone, paint your ceiling and then re-install everything and turn the power back on!

Visit Kelly's profile on Pinterest.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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