April 4

How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Spray-on textured popcorn ceilings were popular from the 1950s to the 1980s because they were easy to apply and hide imperfections. These coatings also saved money since they eliminated the need to paint the finished surface. Unfortunately, these bumpy textures collect dust and cobwebs, making rooms appear smaller and dirty. Popcorn ceilings have fallen out of favor, and many homeowners choose to have them removed.

There are several reasons to have your popcorn ceilings removed. Whether for aesthetics, remodeling, or preparing to put your home on the market, removing dated popcorn ceilings is a great way to modernize your home.

Follow These Seven Steps to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

1. Gather Tools and Supplies

Removing popcorn ceilings is a messy job, so gather all of your tools and supplies first to speed up the process. You’ll need a ladder, tarp, painter’s tape, plastic sheeting, safety gear to protect from dust and debris, a spray bottle, and a large paint scraper or putty knife. 

2. Preparation

Remove as much furniture and other items as possible from the room. Protect what can’t be moved with tarps or plastic sheeting to shield against dust and debris. Use a drop cloth with a waterproof backing to protect the flooring. 

3. Turn Off the Electricity and the HVAC System

Turn off the power to the room’s light fixtures and outlets at the service panel or fuse box. Remove light fixtures and ceiling fans. Cover all electrical outlets to protect against water. Turn off the HVAC system and cover all vents with plastic sheeting to keep dust particles from circulating throughout your home.

4. Scrape the Popcorn Ceiling

Spray one section of the ceiling at a time with warm water. Let it sit for about 20 minutes. Don’t oversaturate the popcorn coating, as it could damage the underlying drywall. Wear protective gear, and slowly remove the popcorn layer using a wide scraper, working one section at a time. If you have painted ceilings, it may take a couple of coats of water and some extra work to scrape everything off. If you can’t loosen a painted ceiling with just water, apply a chemical stripper. Take your time using slow, long strokes in the same direction to protect against scratching or gouging the surface.

5. Patch and Repair Imperfections

Scraping won’t leave you with a smooth, ready-to-paint ceiling. You will likely find previously unnoticed imperfections as you remove the popcorn coating. You’ll need to repair any defects and sand to get it perfectly smooth before applying primer and paint.

6. Prime and Paint

Allow the ceiling to thoroughly dry – up to 48 hours – before you begin to apply primer or paint. Prime and paint using a roller with an extension attachment. Flat or matte finishes hide imperfections, so they are the best choices for ceilings. There are plenty of options, but white is still the most frequently used ceiling color as it reflects the most light.

7. Clean Up

In addition to cleaning up and replacing furniture and light fixtures, you must properly dispose of the debris if the ceiling contains any asbestos or lead contamination. Check with your local government for guidelines regarding the safe disposal of building materials in your area.

Three Potential Problems for DIYers

Asbestos: Many popcorn ceilings installed as late as the 1980s may contain asbestos. Testing with an EPA-approved test kit is crucial before you disturb the coating. Although asbestos in popcorn ceilings is not a danger as long as it remains intact, it can become a health hazard if it sustains any damage. Most states allow homeowners to remove asbestos on their own as long as the content is less than 1 percent. Each state has specific regulations regarding asbestos removal and disposal, so it’s crucial to contact the appropriate agency for guidance. If your popcorn ceiling tests positive for asbestos, the safest way to remove it is to hire a licensed contractor to handle the work.

Lead Paint: Besides testing for asbestos, many professionals also recommend checking for lead paint. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned lead paint in 1978 because of its dangers, especially for pregnant women and young children. Homeowners can purchase an easy-to-use test kit at any hardware store. If lead is detected, follow all of the EPA’s recommended safety precautions to ensure your family’s safety when removing lead-contaminated paint. Homeowners can also hire a trained lead-safe certified contractor to handle the removal and disposal of lead-contaminated materials. 

Painted Ceilings: A painted popcorn ceiling will be more challenging to remove. Paint prevents the texture from absorbing water, which is necessary to loosen the material. A painted popcorn ceiling usually requires the application of a chemical stripper to break down the paint barrier. If you need to use a paint stripper, be sure to read and follow all safety precautions.

Removing popcorn ceilings is time-consuming, messy, and often challenging work. Removing the popcorn coating, patching and repairing imperfections, and priming and painting in just one room can take days, not hours, to complete in your spare time.

how to remove a popcorn ceiling
Tradesman painting a ceiling

DIY or Hire a Professional?

Although removing a popcorn ceiling doesn’t usually require specialized skills or tools, it can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, even for experienced DIYers. Working on ladders can be challenging and potentially dangerous. And sometimes, homeowners run into other unexpected challenges, including asbestos, lead paint, and hidden defects that are costly to remedy and require expert help.

When you hire a professional, you don’t have to deal with health or safety risks, as they have the right tools and equipment to remove a popcorn ceiling without creating a huge mess. They also have the experience and knowledge to dispose of lead- and asbestos-contaminated materials, make necessary repairs, and apply a fresh coat of paint quickly and efficiently. 

Let the Professional House Painters Help

Walla Painting is a locally owned business that specializes in residential painting. Our fully insured, bonded, and skilled painters can handle any project. We are proud to have received Angie’s List Super Service Award 10 years in a row for our customer service and detailed workmanship.

We serve Carmel, Westfield, Zionsville, Noblesville, Fishers, and McCordville homeowners. We offer residential interior and exterior painting and cabinet and trim painting. Contact us online or at (317) 505-0894 for a free estimate.


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