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How to Remove Popcorn Ceilings

Removing a popcorn ceiling in order to have a smooth, clean look is a popular renovation that can easily be done as a DIY project. We’ll show you how to remove your popcorn ceiling, including the tools you’ll need to complete the project in this handy guide.

Skill Level: Beginner

Safety Tip: For asbestos and lead-free ceilings only. If your ceiling tests positive for asbestos, covering it with new drywall is usually your best bet. Professional removal is also an option. Never try to remove asbestos on your own.

  1. Step 1 Test for Asbestos

    A dated popcorn ceiling makes a modern fan and natural stone fireplace look less stylish.

    When it comes to an older popcorn ceiling, asbestos is always a concern. That’s why you need to test for asbestos before you begin your project. Test kits are available, but more thorough testing is usually a safer choice.

    To do this, you’ll want to contact your local health department and schedule an asbestos test. Some private contractors can also handle asbestos testing for you. Don’t begin work until you get a negative asbestos test.

    Safety Tip:

    If your ceiling tests positive for asbestos, covering it with new drywall is usually your best bet. Professional removal is also an option. Never try to remove asbestos on your own.

  2. Step 2 Prepare the Room

    Two men work on short ladders to secure plastic sheeting in place on the walls using painter’s tape.

    Popcorn ceiling removal is a messy job, so remove as much as you can from the room including furniture, bedding, window treatments and accessories.

    Remove ceiling fans and lights if possible. If they can’t be removed, use plastic sheeting and tape to keep them clean during the removal process. Take recessed lighting fixtures out and set them aside somewhere safe. Use newspaper to stuff the openings for protection while you work.

    Turn off the power to overhead lights, lighting fixtures and ceiling fans. Do this at your circuit breaker panel or fuse box.

    Cover your floors and walls with plastic sheeting or drop cloths. Use painter’s tape to secure the plastic in place. Avoid canvas drop cloths. Water is an important component you’ll rely on when removing a popcorn ceiling and canvas drop cloths will soak up the water while plastic will repel it.

    Make sure you keep the area properly ventilated as you work.

  3. Step 3 Apply Moisture

    A man in a safety mask and goggles uses a spray bottle to apply moisture to a popcorn ceiling.

    The next step towards removing your popcorn ceiling is to apply moisture to the area. This helps reduce dust and makes scraping considerably easier. Use a garden sprayer or spray bottle to mist water onto the ceiling. Aim for a light misting, as too much water could damage the drywall.

    Wait 15 minutes. Check to see if the texture of the ceiling has softened. If not, re-mist your ceiling and wait an additional 15 minutes before checking again. Use a chemical stripper to break down the paint barrier if the texture of your popcorn ceiling hasn’t loosened at this point. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for use and safety when using a chemical stripper.

  4. Step 4 Scrape the Popcorn Ceiling

    A man covers a ceiling fixture opening with plastic before beginning work.
    A worker begins the process of scraping a popcorn ceiling

    With moisture or chemical stripper applied, the surface of your popcorn ceiling should be soft and ready to scrape. Put on a face mask or respirator and protective glass or goggles. A long-sleeved shirt and pants are also recommended.

    Use a multi-function ceiling scraper with a long handle to begin the scraping process. These scrapers are especially helpful since they can collect ceiling material in an attached bag as you work. Work in small sections. Four to six square feet is an ideal section to work in at one time before moving on to the next area. Use a putty knife to scrape areas around corners or decorative crown moulding. Your putty knife will also come in handy when scraping areas around fixtures or openings for recessed lighting. Round the edges of your putty knife with a file to avoid gouges.

  5. Step 5 Repair the Drywall

    A worker in a mask uses a sanding block to smooth the surface of the ceiling.

    Now you’ll need to repair the drywall and sand to create a smooth finish. Fill in any nicks and gouges in your drywall with some putty and a putty knife, then sand the ceiling to create a smooth finish. Hand sanding blocks are a great choice for this application. 220-grit sandpaper is a good starting point.

  6. Step 6 Prime and Paint

    A roller is used to paint a smooth ceiling surface.

    Once you’ve smoothed out the surface of your ceiling you can prime and paint. Wipe down the surface of your ceiling with a lightly dampened cloth to remove dust. Do this the night before you want to prime and paint to give your drywall time to dry.

    Use a roller with extended reach to prime your ceiling according to the primer manufacturer’s instructions. Primer gives you a solid, even surface for applying paint in fewer coats. Paint your ceiling once the primer has dried. Use a roller and corner tool to complete the job. Apply a second coat once your first coat has dried if desired.

  7. Step 7 Popcorn Ceiling Removal Tips

    A close-up view of a man using a multi-function ceiling scraper with a collection bag highlights the main part of a popcorn ceiling removal project.

    Ready to start the popcorn ceiling removal process? Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

    • Check for asbestos before you do any work. Older popcorn ceilings can be extremely dangerous if they contain asbestos.
    • Always wear proper safety attire including a face mask or respirator and eye protection when you’re working on removing a popcorn ceiling. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy work boots or tennis shoes are also ideal.
    • Keep your source of moisture handy as you work. Dry popcorn ceilings are much more difficult to scrape. Re-applying moisture as you work can make the job faster and a little less messy.
    • Keep your work area small. Four to six-foot sections are ideal for efficient work.
    • Always ensure proper ventilation when scraping a popcorn ceiling. Leave windows open whenever possible.
    • Add a fan or keep windows open when you’re waiting for your newly scraped ceiling to dry before priming and painting. 24 to 48 hours is generally enough time for a dry ceiling surface.

What You Need for This Project

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