How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

The idea behind a popcorn ceiling seems reasonable. By creating texture above your head, less sound transfer should occur between floors. You’re making a space with something that offers visual interest while supporting a daily routine.

It probably has a popcorn ceiling if you live in a home built or remodeled between 1930 and 1980. However, most people are phasing them out because these materials contain lead and asbestos risks, less light transfer, and a mess if they peel away.

Popcorn ceilings also hide flaws while providing a vintage look. But, of course, if the materials don’t contain lead or asbestos, you could decide to leave them alone.

Have you decided that your popcorn ceilings need to disappear? If so, here are the steps to ensure a successful experience.

Test for Lead and Asbestos First

If you know that your popcorn ceiling was installed before 1980, the materials need to be tested for asbestos. You’ll need to contact the city’s health department to ask about getting a sample safely removed and examined before proceeding with the renovation.

Should the test return positive, the easiest way to correct the situation is to cover the popcorn ceiling with new drywall or planks using a tongue-and-groove design. Otherwise, you’ll need to hire an asbestos abatement contractor.

Perform a Scrape Test

Some ceiling texture comes off well with a dry scrape. However, wetting might work better when you want to remove the popcorn ceiling. If moisture doesn’t soak into the material to soften it, the roof was likely painted or had some paint added to the texturing.

Some scrapers are designed for these demanding jobs. They’re designed to capture the material in a bag underneath to help limit your mess.

You might be lucky enough to have a Styrofoam popcorn ceiling with no paint. A drywall putty knife can handle that job. 

Prep Your Room for the Project

You’ll need to cover the walls and floors with plastic drop cloths to limit the mess of a popcorn ceiling removal. Canvas isn’t practical for this job because the water spraying the materials to soften them can soak through the product.

Once you’ve finished the work, you can remove the plastic by eliminating the edges to keep the mess contained.

Remove Furniture When Practical

It helps to remove all the furniture from your room when scraping a popcorn ceiling. However, whatever cannot be relocated should be covered in plastic to protect it. 

Take Down the Light Fixtures

It might seem like skipping this step would be easier, but you’ll discover that ceiling fans and light fixtures tend to get in the way. If they get covered in wet popcorn materials, they can be painful to clean.

Don’t forget to turn off the power to the fixture before removing it. You don’t want to accidentally spray water into one while preparing your ceiling for scraping.

If you have recessed lighting, try stuffing rosin paper into the openings to keep them dry.

Once everything is down, you’ll want to cover the electrical boxes to prevent dust, debris, or moisture from entering the area. Overlap the sides with tape, then trim around the perimeter to ensure the receptacle has enough protection.

Wet the Ceiling Materials

Although dry scraping can skip this step, it helps to add moisture to your renovation environment. In addition, it’ll stop the dust from getting into the air. You can use a simple garden pump sprayer to deliver a mist to the popcorn.

Wait about 15 minutes to allow the moisture to penetrate the materials before scraping them away. You don’t want to soak the ceiling because too much water could loosen joint tape or some of the anchoring nails or screws.

If the texture doesn’t soften enough for easy removal, spray it a second time and wait another 15 minutes.

When the painted texture is on your ceiling, you might need to perform a dry scrape to expose enough of the material’s surface to let it moisten. 

Finish the Job

It helps to work in small sections when scraping a popcorn ceiling. For example, if you space the project area into 4×4-foot blocks, you won’t need to worry about the materials drying before removing them. 

If your scraper doesn’t come with a bag to contain the mess, you can use a mud pan to capture the materials. You’ll track less of it around the house when you can stop it from hitting the floor. 

After the popcorn is gone, you can sand the ceiling to smooth it, so it is ready for a fresh coat of paint.


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