How to remove a popcorn ceiling

How to remove a popcorn ceiling

Popcorn ceilings were the height of home design in the 1960s and early 1970s. Removing the ceilings is the quickest way to update your home. Home improvement can be a messy business and now that you are ready to remove a popcorn ceiling, be prepared for one of the messiest of messy household remodeling projects. The following suggestions will make the removal much easier.

Asbestos Danger

The process is not difficult, but it does require some preplanning. The first step to removing popcorn ceilings is to determine that the ceiling popcorn materials do not contain asbestos. Small kits are available at home improvement stores to determine the composition of the popcorn ceiling. If the kit tests positive for asbestos, then do not attempt removal of the ceiling.

Asbestos ceilings must be removed by specialists using state-of-the-art equipment. The procedures used for removal must follow Environmental Protection Agency standards. If you remove popcorn materials containing asbestos, it could put anyone in the home in danger, since the fine particles from the ceiling will become airborne and attach themselves to air vents, walls, and flooring in the room. The particles and dust cannot be vacuumed in a traditional manner. Attempting to do this will send the materials into the air again.

Preparing the Room

Each room in the house will need to be prepared in the same way. Purchase thick plastic sheets that cover from the ceiling and extend to the center of the floor. Tape the top edge of one side of the plastic to the edge of the wall closest to the ceiling. Allow the rest of the plastic to drape into the center of the room. When the top edge of the plastic is secured to the entire edge of the room, gather the plastic in the center of the room. Tape the plastic in the center with heavy-duty masking tape so it is airtight. This taped section will become the bottom of the bag, so make sure it is closed completely.


Scraping will require three types of scrapers. Purchase one new large scraper with a rounded edge, at least three inches in width. Purchase another large scraper with a rounded edge at least two inches in length. The third new scraper should be one inch in width with a special attachment of a point with a hook for the corners.

All scrapers must be new. If older scrapers are used, these may have rough blades that will make the strokes uneven. Old scrapers may leave grooves in a fresh ceiling, so for a few dollars more, it is a good idea to begin with new scrapers.

The other equipment needed is a pack of sandpaper with various grades of paper. A can of plaster patch will also be required. Determine the type of patch by looking at the walls. Drywall will require a different patch than plaster walls. If in doubt, ask for assistance at your local hardware store.


It is important to wear a mask for removal. This mask should meet the OSHA standards for removal of paint products. This type of mask will have filter that can be removed. Change the filter with an approved replacement and do it often during the process.

Removal of the popcorn will take less time than preparation time. The ceiling will be easiest to remove if the popcorn and the air are extremely dry. Begin in the center of the room with the largest scraper. Do not attempt to push the scraper along with the ceiling, instead place the scraper lightly on the ceiling and drag it across the popcorn.

This may make take several passes to remove the popcorn, but it will not damage the ceiling. If the scrapers are used in a jabbing fashion, there is a risk of creating scraper marks on the ceiling. This type of damage is not easily repaired. Depending on the age of the ceiling, the amount of humidity and thickness of the popcorn layer, it could take three passes of the scraper to remove all of the popcorn.

Plaster Repair

Sand the ceiling with heavy gauge sandpaper. This can be done using a large sanding block or a palm sander, providing you use a light hand with the sander. Once the ceiling is completely sanded, it is time to repair any scraper marks. Fill the marks and allow them to dry as specified on the container.

Sand the fill with finer gauge sandpaper and look at the ceiling under various lighting conditions. If it looks smooth under natural light and under artificial light, it can be primed and painted. If it looks uneven, continue to sand with a finer paper. If the ceiling is still uneven, consider a light “lace” coat that can be placed over the ceiling. This is a modern replacement for popcorn ceilings.

When houses were built knowing a ceiling would be covered with popcorn, the builders did not always create the optimum conditions for a smooth ceiling. Only you can determine whether the ceiling requires a lace coating. It is important that you observe the ceiling under various lighting conditions before you make the final decision.

Clean Up

Once the ceiling is ready to be painted, take the tape down from the top of the ceiling. Tuck each side over the others so that the plastic is sealed, as if it were a plastic bag. Tape the top of the plastic and it can be removed from the room without any of the popcorn spilling out.


Complete the project with several coats of paint.

The popcorn ceiling is a design feature that undoubtedly will not make a retro comeback, so the sooner you begin the process; the sooner you will be admiring your new ceilings.

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