How To Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

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Estimated Time: 
3 - 5 hours
Popcorn is For the Movies - Not My Ceiling!

pc1
As a kid popcorn was such a joy. Now that you own your home and have it on every ceiling in the house, not so much. Should you get rid of it or give the tired stuff on the ceiling a face-lift?

The ideal of course would be to get rid of it all together but there are a few things to take into account:

Step 1

Has it been painted? If you popcorn ceiling has been painted previously it will be more difficult to remove it. The reason for this is the process to remove it is literally just wetting it down and scraping it off. If it has been painted one or more times, the water won't be able to penetrate the paint and unfortunately, you might just need to have it done professionally.

Step 2

Does it contain asbestos? Yes, asbestos. We think that home builders in the sixties thought that asbestos was as good as sliced white bread and added it into everything, including, you guessed it, ceiling popcorn. If your home was built prior to 1980, the safest bet is before you get started scrape a small sample into a ziplock baggie and take it into a local asbestos processing lab. You can usually find these businesses in the yellow pages, under "asbestos testing." Additionally, there are companies online who process results through the mail, such as www.asbestostesting.com.

pc2This may seem a bit like overkill but trust us, it's important. Usually you can get back the results in 24 hours. The testing should cost anywhere from $40-$60. And it is worth every penny because if it does contain asbestos you will need to hire someone to remove it.

The reason for this is that asbestos can cause serious respiratory problems if you were to inhale the dust that would be produced in removing it. Some people think if they cover themselves well enough they're fully protected. But, even the dust that could fall onto your furniture or carpeting could be harmful. So, leave this to pro.

When you hire someone to come in to remove a popcorn ceiling containing asbestos they should come in and drape your entire house, except for the ceilings of course, in plastic. They should also have a ventilation system that will help to draw residual toxins from the air. Unfortunately, it will also cost more to have a an asbestos containing ceiling removed due to the fact that the person who removes it will have to pay to have it disposed of. Make sure that whomever you hire is licensed and insured to protect you from any possible future lawsuits.

Step 3

How's your back? If you plan on taking on this project yourself, we just want to give you a heads up that you will use muscles that you have never even realized you had before! Throughout this entire project you will have your hands over your head and it can become increasingly difficult as the project goes on.

We suggest that you contact friends for help. Don't be a hero! Pizza and beer works every time. Just make sure you've got masks and protective eyewear for everyone there. Even if it doesn't contain asbestos, this isn't stuff you want to breathe into your lungs if you can help it!

Let There be Masking!

Assuming you have already had your ceiling material tested and it does NOT have asbestos, you're ready to proceed!

The first thing you'll need to do is to cover everything that will be below the surfaces you'll be working on with plastic. The reason why sheets or canvas tarps are not as good as plastic is that you will be wetting down the ceiling and anything that falls on the sheets or canvas could soak through.

Now that the room is prepared, make sure you are protected before you get started. We suggest gloves, a mask as well as protective eyewear and some type of head covering. We can't stress enough the importance of protecting your eyes while doing this project. Think of it this way, stuff is coming off the ceiling, while you're looking up. Got it? Good.

Now it's just a matter of getting your ceiling wet. Not dripping, but wet enough so the material becomes mushy. If your ceiling has never been painted, this should be fairly easy, all things being relative of course. For the fastest and most efficient way to accomplish this task, you'll want to buy a hand held pressurized garden sprayer, fill it up with warm water, and start spraying your ceiling. We suggest you start in patches of around 5 square feet. If there isn't much square footage to the room you're working in, then a regular spray bottle filled with warm water should be enough to do the trick.

Give the water a few minutes to soak in - 15-20 minutes should do.

pc4From here, you'll take a 3-4"putty knife and scrape off the moistened popcorn and discard it accordingly. We find having a bucket on your ladder is the easiest place to store the goop once you've scraped it off. While scraping, take care not gouge the wall board underneath with the pointed corners of the putty knife, as you'll have to repair that damage later.

THE CATCH: Although removing the stuff is easy, once it's gone you'll need to prime and paint (or otherwise cover) all of the exposed surface area as soon as possible otherwise it may warp. Depending on the climate in which you live, you should have up to 72 hours to do this. However, another key point to remember is that once you've primed a surface, it needs to be covered in paint within 48 hours or the primer will break down and begin to lose its ability for the paint to properly adhere. So, if you were wondering where the arm fatigue came in, now you know.

Another thing to note is that once you remove the popcorn, the drywall tape may show through. You can try to spackle and blend this together, but for the best results, look into the possibility of doing what is commonly called a "skip trow" (sometimes spelled as skip trough) or technically, a ceiling covering that is made up of drywall mud and fine white sand, a splash of water and applied with a Skip Trowel in a non-uniform manner, giving your ceiling a "textured" look.

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4 comments

15
Aug

If I can do this, I can do anything!! My ceilings in my 93 year old home look like the meringue on a lemon meringue pie!!! (insert scream of frustration here)
18
Mar

How about covering the "popcorn" ceilings with sheet rock mud?
23
Mar

vgrant Covering the textured ceiling with more material would be even a bigger job. Your textured ceiling would need to be in good shape to start with. The end project will only be as good as the base it is put on. If you want to remove the texture go to uglypopcornceilings.com.
15
Jan

What if one does send it to a lab and it comes back that it does contain asbestos? Does it then become imperative to remove it?? If so, one could be opening a can of worms. If this is the case, then everyone with pre-1980 popcorn ceilings should have them tested, right? On the other hand, if it's OK to leave the ceiling as is, are there alternatives such as applying some other kind of finish or plastering over it or something else to get rid of the popcorn look?