3 ways to remove a popcorn ceiling
Nothing screams "1970s" like a popcorn ceiling. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Kyle B. of Lafayette, Colorado.)
Are those small Styrofoam balls on your ceiling getting on your nerves? Textured ceilings -- known as popcorn ceilings, acoustic ceilings or even not-so-affectionately as cottage cheese ceilings -- were all the rage in the ‘70s and 80’s. Tastes have changed, however, so if you are ready to bring your ceiling out of the 1970s, here are three ways to remove a popcorn ceiling.
First, test it for asbestos
When considering taking down a popcorn ceiling, the first step should always be to test it for asbestos. Homes built prior to 1980 were often constructed using building materials that contained asbestos in paint texture, including textured popcorn ceilings, and patching compounds but it's use was banned after it was found to cause lung disease and cancer.
To determine whether your ceiling contains asbestos, scrape a small sample from the corner of your ceiling and send it to an accredited lab for asbestos tesing or pick up a home test kit. If the test is positive for asbestos, contact a company that specializes in asbestos removal. Do not attempt to remove the asbestos yourself.
Even if your home was built after the ban, it's still wise to have a sample tested. Building materials containing asbestos continued to be used until the late 1980s regardless of the new regulations.
1. Scrape off the popcorn ceiling
For the ambitious homeowner, you can remove popcorn ceilings yourself with nothing more than a spray bottle, a wide scraper and plenty of plastic. This is the least expensive way to remove popcorn from a ceiling, costing just $30 or so at your local hardware store, but it takes plenty of time and hard work and it makes quite a mess while you are at it.
You’ll want to take all furniture out of the room and line the floor and walls with plastic sheeting to make cleanup as simple as possible. Fill your spray bottle with water, and maybe a little dish soap to help it stick, and spray about a 5-foot by 5-foot section of the ceiling and allow the water to soak into the popcorn for 5-10 minutes. Give it one more quick spray and then scrape it all down, being careful not to put too many gouges in your ceiling. Don't get too excited with your spray bottle as you want just enough water to soften the popcorn, but not so much it soaks through and damages the drywall underneath.
Be warned, though, that the ceiling you find underneath the popcorn is not likely to be pretty and will take more time, effort and materials to patch and smooth before it’s ready to be painted. Also know that if your popcorn ceiling has been painted, the water won’t soak in and so your scraping job just got that much harder and you will have to mud over most of the ceiling or do plenty of sanding if you want it to be smooth. So be sure to factor in these hidden costs if you choose to take down your popcorn ceiling yourself.
2. Cover the popcorn ceiling with drywall
You can avoid the mess and work of scraping a popcorn ceiling by simply hanging a new ceiling right over it. You will need to invest in a stud finder to make sure you know where the joists are, but you can use lightweight drywall and extra long screws to be sure to get through the original ceiling to the joists and it will be just like any other drywalling job, costing in the neighborhood of $160-$200 for drywall and finishing materials for a 12-foot by 12-foot room.
You will be dealing with a new ceiling and so remember that not only will you have to hang it, you will have to do the finishing work of taping, mudding and sanding to get it ready for paint. Also be conscious that if you have crown moulding or fixtures in the ceiling, these will need to be removed and reinstalled after the new drywall is up.
This solution is a great one if you have a painted popcorn ceiling that is nearly impossible to scrape off or an asbestos popcorn ceiling as the new completely seals in the old and protects your family from potential health risks.
3. Hire a professional to take down the popcorn ceiling
The safest, cleanest and most-likely-to-succeed way to remove popcorn ceilings is to hire a reputable contractor to remove the popcorn instead of doing it yourself. Hiring a professional is essential if asbestos is a factor, and it will also result in the smoothest, best-looking result.
Most contractors will charge by the square foot to remove the popcorn from your ceiling with prices ranging approximately $1 to $3 per square foot based on the size of the room, whether asbestos removal is involved, etc.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of a story originally posted on July 1, 2013.