How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Ready for an updated look in your room? Learn how to remove a popcorn ceiling without creating a mess using these simple steps.

August 10, 2020
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Also known as acoustic ceilings, popcorn ceilings were popular from the 1950s to the 1980s for their ability to cover up flaws in ceilings and absorb sound. But the textured ceilings tend to capture dust and the look has lost its appeal. Removing a popcorn ceiling while keeping the mess to a minimum is a fairly simple DIY project if you follow the steps below.

Bros or Pros 2017

Bros or Pros 2017

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

First, always test for asbestos before attempting DIY popcorn ceiling removal (use of asbestos in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints was banned in 1977). You can use an EPA-approved test kit sold in home improvement stores or have a professional come test the ceiling for you. For the test kit, you'll want to wet a small area with a sponge, and then scrape off a sample.

If the test is positive for asbestos, leave this job to the professionals. Learn more about asbestos from the CPSC, which says the best thing to do with asbestos material in good condition is to leave it alone.

Materials + Tools

  • wide drywall scraper
  • drywall knife
  • paint roller and extension handle
  • paintbrush
  • protective eyewear
  • ladder
  • water
  • spray bottle
  • drop cloth
  • plastic sheeting
  • painter's tape
  • drywall compound
  • 220-grit sanding block
  • rags
  • primer/paint
  • dust masks

1. Prep the Room

Remove furniture from the space, or move it to the center of the space and cover with plastic sheeting. Also cover any light fixtures. By laying down a drop cloth and using plastic sheeting, you’ll protect flooring and furnishings from dust and debris, and it will be easier to clean up.

Bros or Pros 2017

Bros or Pros 2017

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

2. Spray the Ceiling

Fill a spray bottle with warm water, then spray one small section (10 square feet) of ceiling at a time. Let it sit for about 20 minutes. Don’t oversaturate the popcorn coating as it could damage the underlying drywall surface.

Bros or Pros 2017

Bros or Pros 2017

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

3. Scrape the Ceiling

Put on your protective eyewear and dust mask, then slowly remove the popcorn coating from the drywall with a wide drywall scraper, working one section at a time.

Bros or Pros 2017

Bros or Pros 2017

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

4. Clean Up Debris

Before touching up with drywall compound, roll up the drop cloth and plastic sheeting. Take them outside, and shake them out into a garbage bin. Lay the plastic sheeting back down, or lay down drop cloths before proceeding.

Bros or Pros 2017

Bros or Pros 2017

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

5. Touch Up Ceiling

Apply drywall compound to any problem areas using a drywall knife to get a smooth skim. Allow to dry overnight, then lightly sand and wipe clean with a sanding block and damp cloth.

Bros or Pros 2017

Bros or Pros 2017

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

6. Prime and Paint

Paint the ceiling using a roller with an extension attachment. Flat or matte finishes will hide imperfections, so they are most often used for ceilings. Ceiling paint is made specifically to roll on with minimum splatter and will resist yellowing over time. There are plenty of color options, but white is a popular ceiling color as it reflects light into a room.

Bros or Pros 2017

Bros or Pros 2017

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

Tomas Espinoza/Flynnside Out Productions

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