The (Mostly) Painless Guide to Removing a Popcorn Ceiling

Does your house have this hideous relic? Fear not. Carpenter Kevin Stevens is here to help.

Posted by Kevin Stevens | Jul 13, 2011
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fivedollarones/flickrPopcorn, or “acoustic” ceilings, were very popular in the 60’s and 70’s. This ceiling treatment was not due to hippies, rock and rock music or psychedelic drugs. They were installed mostly for economic reasons. Finishing a ceiling to smooth drywall was a lot more work, and you still needed to paint it. Popcorn could be applied to simple taped and skim-coated drywall, and when the popcorn dried it was complete. It was cheap and fast, so it was popular with home builders. As with many “short-cuts", the perceived time and work saved came back to haunt us.

Solid preparation work will save time.

The techniques used to remove popcorn ceiling texture are not overly complex, nor do they require fancy tools. The “work” comes in some planned and thorough preparations.  This process is a messy one; your hard work up front will save you headaches and time in the clean-up phase. Before you dive into this project, you will need to know weather or not your popcorn contains asbestos. Asbestos was occasionally used for this technique until around 1979.  Submitting a small sample scraping to a testing lab, or having a testing outfit come test your home, will put any of these concerns to rest. If you do have asbestos, it’s best to bring in some asbestos removal pros.

How to prepare your floors and walls for popcorn ceiling removal:

  • Since water and electricity are poor bedfellows, turn off the room’s power at the breaker panel. This will ensure no surprises are encountered if your plastic or taping job should lose its stick.
  • Since you will be working overhead, safety glasses, a hat or cap and some work clothes or a disposable painter’s “jumpsuit” will keep the popcorn out of your eyes, ears, hair and britches.
  • Remove all of the room’s furnishings. Not only will they be safely out of way, it is necessary to provide the free space you will need to move about.
  • The flooring should be covered with 6-mil plastic sheeting that is installed “bath tub” fashion so it extends up the wall about a foot. Tape seams and edges with painters' tape, so every area is fully covered and secured.
  • The next step is to seal the upper wall with an application of painters' tape about ¼” below the ceiling.
  • Then lightweight plastic sheeting is taped to the “seal” strip of tape you just applied to cover the walls. (The use of lightweight plastic here reduces the chance of it pulling free during installation or during the removal process.)
  • Overlap the wall’s plastic into the “bath tub” area, but trim it so it does not cover the floor. If you step on wall plastic it is likely to get pulled down.
  • Secure the wall plastic along the bottom at various locations with more painters’ tape.
  • Some folks will roll out rosin paper over the floor plastic to reduce the slippery nature of walking on plastic and to absorb a bit of the moisture when the debris falls.

Bring on the shower cap -- it's time to get out the garden hose.

With a garden pump sprayer, apply a light application of water to the popcorn ceiling. Allow the water to soak in for a few minutes, then with a wide blade putty knife or drywall tool, scrape it away. For best results, work in sections of about 4-5 sq. ft. at a time.

If your soaking and timing ratios are correct, the offending popcorn will fall in ribbons or clumps to the floor.  Some areas may require extra attention, and the trick is to find the perfect water-to-waiting time ratio.  When the entire ceiling has been cleared, the mess can be rolled up and disposed of.

It's time for touch-up work and paint.

After the popcorn is gone, you will need to skim coat the seams and complete the final drywall preparation (sanding and touch-up) that was skipped 30-40 years ago. When that is complete, you can add modern texture or go straight to primer and paint. In most cases, this can be completed over the next day or two.

Kevin Stevens is a Hometalk - - writer.  Read more articles like this one - - or get help with your home projects on 

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