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.)

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.

Estimated cost of DIY popcorn ceiling removal

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

Estimated cost of covering 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

Estimated cost of hiring a drywall contractor to remove 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.


Comments

The one thing you can do, is keep all lighting as "downlighting". This solves 50%of the problem.

I have found the best way to get rid of a Pop Corn or Hollywood ceiling is to find the studs and re sheetrock the ceiling. it actually saves time and money and looks better in the end since you are going to skim coat the entire ceiling anyway you might as well just do it the correct way and have a beautiful new ceiling without all the additional work.

I have popcorn texture on my ceilings in a house built in 1986, I would love to remove it because it collects dust quickly creating a dust stalactite look. Big problem is a rather large portion of the ceiling drywall suffers from sag between joists, so removing the popcorn texture will leave a more visible wavy surface that won't be very appealing. In other words I would likely have to replace most of the drywall if I want it to look right, that's not really something I would look forward to doing.

I live in a Condo built in 1995 and all the ceilings the bathrooms and kitchen. I would like to know if anyone has used the polystyrene tiles as a ceiling replacement?

I have seen popcorn ceilings from all over the west and we always use a testing laboratory before removal, someone like Forensic Analytical Labs out of CA. Be safe!

The people that really do need to worry about asbestos are the ones that work with it daily. If you have a one-time project, wear a respirator (not a dust mask) and get it over with. Otherwise you will be CLEANED OUT by these companies that have a huge scam going.

If you choose to do asbestos work yourself, 1) wear a respirator, 2)keep it wet, 3) Clean it up using a vacuum with a HEPA filter (Eureka, Hoover are recommended by EPA), and 4) keep the kids out until it is all cleaned up. Young Children, exposed during a single event can develop cancer or Mesothelioma very early in life (within 10-30 years after exposure). Death by Mesothelioma is not something I would put in the class of "get over it"!

I work in heavy industry as a project manager and I have personnally been involved in removing tons of asbestos. What is a hazard is the fibers released in the air. If they are contained in a solid such as plaster they are not a risk, BUT you will release at least some doing the work. The other issue is the cleanup and removing the dust from the room. The second method was developed specifically to entrap the dust and it is the method used by reputable contractors. Note that the average asbestos contractor only gets about $40 of every $100 he charges you. Land fill fees, handling, paperwork, mandated training, etc eat up most of it. Asbestos is all around you. The hard tile like siding used in 1940's and 50's homes was asbestos and most is still around. EVERY public water system from Washington DC to Boston has asbestos in it because it is a NATURALLY occurring mineral and it does not harm you to drink it. Asbestos hurts you when breathed in as dust AND combined with smoking. I have extensive training in handling the stuff and would not hesitate to remove it myself. I would not recommend it to someone who is a novice or has small children in the house. That said, I think the asbestos issues are driven mostly by people who want you to be afraid and saved by government or the lawyers who are always looking to sue. Government's competence was demonstrated on and massive destruction of schools to remove small amounts. A number of schools were torn down because of the panic when the form of asbestos had no risk for the kids. And do I need to sayh anymore about the legal snakes?

I know they seem like scams and I am sure there are many scammers out there. But it is ILLEGAL to remove Asbestos yourself. The Liberals in Maryland(and many other states) have made it so that you absolutely must hire a contractor for special asbestos removal. A Normal Contractor cannot do it.

We have scrapped many old ceilings using water & scrapping. I think there a 2 other suggestions before your next project: We use a neck brace for support, like you buy at a medical supply store, & it does help keep your neck relaxed/supported & don't forget goggles. The other technique is using a long handle (like a broom handle) on a drywall sander; the tool holds drywall sand paper which looks like netting; (it does clog after awhile, but its a lot easier than using a sander on the ceiling & can be washed to use again.) You just walk & hit the high spots on the ceiling.

rather than remove asbestos ceiling popcorn it is legal to contain it by plastering over it with something as simple as drywall compound and skillfully smoothing it.

I lightly sprayed the ceiling then skimmed a wide scraper over the surface. This knocked off most of the popcorn and left the ceiling with a textured look. I painted it and it turned out really nice.

I bought a house with popcorn on the WALLS, throughout the house. Was like razor blades to the touch. I,too, scraped it off and painted them. A nice texture I call "the leather look".

I lightly sprayed the ceiling then skimmed a wide scraper over the surface. This knocked off most of the popcorn and left the ceiling with a textured look. I painted it and it turned out really nice.

I had never seen this type of ceiling until we moved to the southern region of the country from the northeast. I don't know if they have them up there or not. We came from a 100 year old house and it certainly didn't have this type of ceiling. This house was built in the 60's and every ceiling but the bathroom has the popcorn. I'm leaving my ceilings alone. Next owner can deal with it. I mostly ignore them. They are a dickens to paint though and I've done my share of that.

I love the comment about the easiest solution to removing the popcorn ceiling was to SELL THE HOUSE!! HA! Popcorn isn't necessarily ugly, but it has some aesthetic flaws, not the lease of which is house dust clings to them and vacuuming them can cause dings and unremoveable dust balls especially in corners We have popcorn ceilings. I happen to prefer the look of a clean and smooth ceiling with a slight sheen. We had a large water catastrophe in the LR so the popcorn does hide the pieced repair... but, here in damp and humid South Georgia, the climate is slowly removing the popcorn for me in some of my rooms!

Here in Georgia they use joint compound then use a mop to put a star burst pattern on the ceiling. We just placed sanpaper on a mop and sanded it down. But remember if you remove the popcorn or burst you better do all the rooms in the house. Otherwise that one room is going to look like an afterthought. Tech tip: Use Zinsers primer to paint your ceilings. It thas enough low sheen that a second coat of paint is not needed.

My shop vac came with a wide, flat nozzle that had a little lip on one edge. All I did was wet down the ceiling and then use the nozzle to scrape the popcorn off the ceiling which was then sucked into the vacuum. No mess on the floor, no dust, and the stuff was contained. Took only about 90 minutes to pull everything off of the ceiling of a 15x25 family room.

Remove everything from the room, use a garden type spray bottle and wet a large area, use the widest taping knife you can find and scrape the material off while someone holds a garbage can lined with a contractors trash bag under you. This is the fastes process and free. By wetting the material well you keep any asbestos dust from flying around and contain it all in the bag that can be sealed. Anyone can do this.

#4 put drywall over it. EZ

Could you give me more detail of how you did this, how thick was the drywall, was it NOT necessary to apply adhesive, how did you find the studs?? I have thought of doing something like this but a guy put up a wood-look ceiling tile in one room and I thought it was going OVER the popcorn but he scraped it saying it was necessary as he wouldn't be able to find the studs and the adhesive would not hold.

Any panel going on your ceiling should be held in with screws, to the studs. Some people, rather than try to hold the drywall up themselves (admittedly difficult) or hire a guy to help hold (easy) use adhesive for a temporary hold, as they're getting the first 2 or 3 screws in each piece. But that's for his convenience, not for anything structural.

just get a stud finder and mark off the rafters on each side about 1 foot from the wall on each side and then get someone to help pop lines. Then you will know where the studs are. Then you can take a scraper( a good one) and scrap the highest stuff off. This is VERY easy and fast. Then hang 1/4 inch drywall. Use some thick adhesive glue and you will be fine hanging drywall. Just makes sure you use 2 1/4 inch screws or longer. The way I did it was I knocked the popcorn off with a scraper(it was about 9 inches in width with a long blade) The highest point. Then I skim coated in both directions. Skim coating is simply applying a lightweight joint compound and then using a large spackling knife to scrape it all off in one motion. It will fill all the low spots. But the first application will not be perfect and you don't need to worry about it being perfect and you don't need to be consumed with a few drag marks from hard pieces of joint compound. You make sure you choose one direction left to right or right to left and stick with it until you have done the entire ceiling. One you have gone over it one time then go back the opposite way in a criss crossing way. Meaning if you went north to south or south to north with the first coat then go east to west or west to east with the second application. When you are done skimming both directions the ceiling will be absolutely flat. There may be a couple spots that you will need to feather out a little more but it would be no worse then fixing a hole in the wall. Some times when a popcorn ceiling is installed a high spot will build up. If you don't get it with the scraper it could cause an area that needs a bit more work. Just don't worry about it while you are skimming the ceiling. It will surely still be there to remind you once you paint the ceiling over with a primer coat. Then you can feather that spot out.

It was a pain to do, but I ended up using a plastic ice scraper that had just the right angle and a long handle to keep that crap from falling down in your face. Once I had all of the popcorn off I smoothed it with a little sandpaper where needed and a little water to clear up some of the dust then I repainted most of it. Some of the white ceiling I left. Looks good to us !

Have a Victorian home that had popcorn ceilings. Its was awful. Used spray bottles and scrapers then sanded and rolled the ceilings. They are beautiful and original looking now. The kitchen ceiling had enamel paint on it so couldn't scrape it, eventually will sheet rock over the mess. Best time I ever spent.

I would not recommend the paint method. The biggest hassle of popcorn ceiling removal is cleaning up the mess after it has fallen to the floor and now you have a massive mess of wet paint falling on the floor rather than just a powder. There is a tool on the market that combines a wide scraper blade with a hoop for hanging a plastic bag to catch much of the debris. I suggest it. I also suggest having a good shop vac and a helper using it so one person can do the scraping while the other gets the debris before it has a chance to spread. When choosing what to replace the popcorn with bear in mind you will not have a perfect surface to start with. One possibility is to use a lightly textured sand paint. Others include bamboo, tin ceiling panels, etc.

I have mainly used the water and scraping method. But recently tried a different method that was easier but you still have a mess, so put down plenty of plastic. I just scraped the ceiling knocking off the popcorn. Applied the mud and sanded. I have done about 70% of my home and this was quicker. I think I will try using 1/4 inch sheet rock next, but you need two people to do that. I wish I had not made the ceiling smooth because using a little texture would be a lot quicker. My smooth ceilings look really nice, but you do not know where the flaws are until you paint, so you will most likely have to sand after you paint and repaint.

Best method of removing the popcorn ceilings for me was selling the house.

I see NOTHING wrong with popcorn ceilings....adds acoustical value, covers a lot of problems...no need to skim coat the ceiling...sand, etc. I say leave them alone...just repaint.

I'm with Marta Leonard on this. In North Texas clay soils, slabs move and small or medium ceiling cracks show easily in smooth flat ceilings. My wife who I love very much is fighting me to remove the popcorn. We will sell next year and move to the country. At that time the next owner can easily have this done if it is a big deal to them. It's only the foolishness of change pushed by interior designers who repeatedly call the ceilings, "the dreaded Popcorn" on home shows and in magazines. Oh shut up. And yes popcorn does tone down the noise in a home. I love that.

Leaving popcorn ceilings alone may be easiest, BUT it could contain asbestos which is a killer. Depending on how old the ceiling is, prior to the 80's, it likely has asbestos and the dust from it can cause cancer. Plus it holds all the dust and dirt from all the years it has been up there....aggravating and causing allergies and respiratory problems. It is not advisable to leave them up to collect more dust...and ceiling fans will disperse tiny particles and you end up breathing it without knowing it. Not wise. Ever wonder why so many people have allergies and many are dying from lung cancer who never smoked? I just bought a 1500 sq ft townhouse built in 1974 and the ceilings are popcorn. It is horrible, dusty, dirty and absorbs all the odors, smoke and who knows what else. I have been researching it's removal for the most cost effective way...my health is most important. It can be contained or encapsulated or removed. I am leaning toward containment with 1/4 inch sheetrock screwed into the studs, then paint. But I am still getting quotes! :)

Our 1977 home has popcorn ceilings WITH SPARKLES. We have taken some of it down and are reluctant to get into that mess again. Beside, all of our grandchildren love it that Grandma's ceiling has "stars.". We plan to let the next owners take care of it!

I feel very annoyed by being told what is ugly as this article does right from the start.

You are so right! I hate popcorn ceilings but it is my opinion and my taste. I'm tired of so called experts telling me what color looks good on me. What we all should wear, buy, eat, and do. It is peer pressure, no more than an opinion and we all treat it like it is the gospel. We watch people on TV express an opinion and we jump on the band wagon.

I see you feel annoyed by this article. I think it was just stating an opinion ...............of lots of people. And of course, we all have our own opinions...which is what makes this world so interesting. That includes opinions about lots of things, infact........we all have our own opinions about EVERYTHING. So perhaps you were just taking someones opinion too PERSONAL??? Just my opinion.

Before you scrape. The popcorn Is there because the builder didn't want to pay to "finish" the joint compound to a smooth surface. After you get the popcorn off you will have an ugly ceiling to repair. At least two coats of "mud" and a lot of overhead sanding. Just the thought of this causes me to adore popcorn ceilings.

Encapsulating asbestos is perfectly acceptable and safer to do. 1/4" sheetrock is light enough that holding it overhead while someone shoots screws in is easy.

You are exactly right. I've done exactly that myself. I don't know why this option was not included in the article.

Encapsulating asbestos is the least expensive and fastest way in the long run. Remember, if you scrape off the popcorn, the ceiling will still have to be retaped and repaired as necessary, and then repainted. A professional could do this in 2 days. It would take a novice at least a week.

POOPCORN CEILINGS Generally, before a popcorn ceiling is sprayed on, basic drywall work has been completed. By Basic, I mean seams have been taped and 2 coats of drywall compound was applied... normally. Popcorn can hide a lot of defects, but it can't hide bare drywall. Some finish work has to be done first. I won't say popcorn ceilings are ugly, but more people dislike them than like. I don't like the fact you can't clean it. How do you clean popcorn? Scrape it off ;-) Placing 1/4 " drywall over popcorn ceilings is not really an option for DIYer. It costs more than 1/2" drywall, and then you have to tape and finish the whole ceiling. The only case where that is an option is when the Corn can't be scraped off. Just admit it and get on with the work; for the most part remodeling is dusty, dirty and messy, in the beginning. I've been remodeling over 20 years, this is my favorite way to deal with it. After it's scraped off and the mess is cleaned up, I vacuum the ceiling then damp wipe the rest of the dust. Then fix any gouges I made, and other major imperfections. Then I spray an Orange Peel or Knock Down finish. It's texture, so it will cover a lot and look great. This can’t be done in every case but in most cases it’s a good solution. I also like to use satin finish paint on ceilings, because its much easier to clean, dust and dirt doesn’t stick, and it reflects more light with a soft glow. One trick I use for making the Knock Down or Orange Peel spray, when I'm thinning the dry wall compound, I use 50/50 paint water solution. It makes the finish very durable, or I use that cheap primer paint for a thinner! Thanks for reading Randy .

I found using a mister(pump sprayer sold Lowes for misting plants ideal for $10 is ideal for lightly spraying ceiling popcorn. Wait 5 minutes respray lightly. With putty knife scraper drawn with the blade pointed away from you, you can draw blade lightly. This will roughen the surface of the ceilings popcorn.Work an area as large as you can comfortably reach on ladder. Redrawing the blade a second time, 5 minutes later will remove the bulk. Immediately after this step, in the same area PUSH the blade this time and the original sheetrock will be left with the remainder of the remainder of the stucco covering. This original exposed ceiling of sheetrock is as smooth as the day it was hung. Now its ready to apply new surface. Easy,quick.Makes mess on floor.

If anybody notices my popcorn ceiling I always tell them it was done by a famous or infamous local celebrity so I don't have the heart to replace it.

Wetting the ceiling prevents the "asbestos" from actually becoming an issue as long as it is wet. Technically, it is the African asbestos that caused the huge lung issues. The lung issues in American/Canadian asbestos were actually less than the lung damage in the fiberglass insulation industry, and THEY have protective respirators and such. Tarp and drape room, spray, and use a long handled scraper. i like about 8 inches wide. Removes a lot quickly and doesn't decrease the psi you can apply too much.

Who ever noticed ? The stuff covers a lot of sins in the joint compound. Take it off ? Ha ! Go ahead if the look is so horrible. Just remember the, "Law of diminishing returns". Go about the task of smoothing that ceiling so reflected light won't highlight the joints and bulges. It isn't so simple as throwing a coat of paint on. Well one could, it will show every flaw so under the right light you see the seams or a lovely rolling hillside plaster covering them. The average room only takes a few days of overhead work. If you want to do that yourself try holding a small lamp in one hand a sponge sander in the other over your head from 8am until noon. Hey, you are almost 1/4 the way there. Oh don't put your arms down the work stops then. Taking it off isn't bad, fairly easy. You are just scraping. The hours of overhead sanding to proper smoothness is no joke. Hey, perhaps your ceiling won't need so much. It is why they use popcorn paint in the first place. It looks fine and hides flaws, saving work. It's just time and money. Asbestos ? knock off some nubs for a test but that hasn't been acceptable in paint for a long time. All home decorating comes with a date. Just get rid of the shag carpet, that gets dirty.

I got into some hard to get off. I attached a piece of metal into my reciprocating saw, screwed it to a 1/2" piece of PIP pipe ( put a slot in both ends and put the metal in the slots ) then screwed a scraper to the other end. It's quick, strong and flexible, and held at the correct angle, won't gouge the sheet rock.

I have been removing this type of texture sense the 1960's. I learned early that I did not like the dust so I took a garden sprayer and wetted the intire ceiling and after 30 mins, I sprayed more water. Not enough o damage the ceiling. The I use a 10 and 6 inch drywall blade. Falls off in large sheets. I have done this by myself in very large homes and businesses. Do not use small knives like a putty knife. Those will dig into the drywall. I cover all the walls and floor with painters plastic that comes in large rolls and thi, . 2 mil. Now, if the ceiling has been painted before, you have a different problem. Qute dusty. I have did these. The popcorn will come off easy except at the drywall taping joint. I am completely covered, masked and use a special tool w/a bag attached. If you have the money, bring in the pro's.

as a painter for 28 yrs, I recommend the 1st method. As a home owner, hire a contractor.Sorry to say most home owners mean well, but.....? There is an old saying, "GOOD INTENTIONS DON'T MAKE GOOD DEEDS!' That might have been for home owners trying to remodel their homes. BTW, the 2nd choice, DO NOT try home owners, with no experience with st. rem. attempting the 2nd choice is not a good idea even for experienced painters. The point of this is cheap, low cost removal, so buying paint, roller and tray could run over $25-$30! Why do that? spray a section, 2-3 times, as your about to start scraping, spray 2nd section, scrape 1st sec., then 2nd sec., spray again. Keep doing this and before you know it your done and will have spent no extra money to do this simple and easy task!!

A small suggestion... Sand the sharp corners on your scraper (a nice 6' wide taping knife works best) before you get to work. Round them right off! Less gouging of Sheetrock paper, no skimming!

Use a plastic scraper...not a metal one. Metal scrapers can easily gouge the drywall and/or the "mud" if you're not careful. They're a lot cheaper and when they get dull you can toss them in the recycle bin with no remorse.

If it aint broke, why fix it. I think it's beautiful, adds acoustic benefits, and if you use a professional paint sprayer when you repaint, it will always look nice and new. I've seen ugly unmaintained ones, and they look nasty, but that's the owners fault for not maintaining it with a good professional paint sprayer. If you smoke, then stop, you may be the cause of the ugliness, so go look in the mirror. You could go and remove your lungs while you're at it, OR just maintain it.

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