How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling

By PropertyClub Team
May 19th 2022
Knowing how to remove popcorn ceiling safely can spare you a lot of trouble and save you money. Usually, the removal process itself is not that complicated. However, certain aspects can complicate the job. 

One of the biggest challenges of removing popcorn ceiling is dealing with a ceiling containing asbestos. You should also learn how to cover the whole area properly before working on the ceiling. Otherwise, you’ll have a huge mess to clean up once you’re done. 

hash-markTest for Asbestos Before You Remove Popcorn Ceiling

Before you begin, you must conduct a test for asbestos. Some older popcorn ceilings might still contain the harmful material if they were installed before it was banned in construction work. Testing for asbestos requires some caution as you don’t want to inhale any of the material yourself.

It’s also something you shouldn’t do on your own. While you can technically purchase a DIY asbestos testing kit for home use, the accuracy of its results may vary from one product to another. It also requires you to handle the sample yourself, which can be dangerous.

With that in mind, find a lab in your area that does asbestos testing. Find out how much they need for a single sample. Then, put on some protective clothing and a mask and scrape out a little bit of your ceiling. It can take a while to get your results back, so the earlier you do this, the better.

If your ceiling does contain asbestos, you should always work with a professional removal service instead of taking a DIY approach to the job.

hash-markTools You’ll Need for Removing Popcorn Ceiling

You’ll need a few tools, and it can be a good idea to gather them before starting the job to avoid any unnecessary delays.

In no particular order:

  • Sturdy ladder
  • Spackle knife
  • Spray bottle
  • Protective covering (plastic or fabric can work well)
  • Tape
  • Facial protection – mask and goggles

Investing in a wider spackle knife can be useful for speeding up the process, but it’s by no means a requirement. When preparing protective covers, go with a size that’s about twice the area of the room you’ll be clearing out. This will allow you to easily drape the covers over your furniture without leaving anything uncovered.

hash-markRemoving Popcorn Ceiling Steps

Now you’re ready to begin the actual removal! Removing popcorn ceiling isn’t that complicated. It just takes a lot of time and patience for a larger room. Be prepared to give the room a thorough cleaning once you’re done. Even when using protective covers, you’ll still have some additional cleaning to do in various spots.

1. Cover Your Room for Protection

Ensure that the room is as thoroughly covered as possible before starting the actual removal job. Once you start scraping out the old popcorn ceiling, it will start flying all over the place. Fine dust can easily get through the tiniest openings in your room. Ensure that your covers can adequately isolate everything without leaving any openings exposed.

Be especially careful with electronics. If possible, take them out of the room for the duration of the removal process. Dust can easily build up inside your computer and degrade its performance. 

Use tape to bind your covers securely and ensure that nothing is loose. This will be especially important once you start the removal. You’ll be moving around the room a lot, and you don’t want to find yourself dragging one of the plastic sheets with you.

2. Wet the Ceiling Surface Thoroughly

Fill your spray bottle with water. Then, start spraying the ceiling generously. Be as thorough as possible, as long as there’s no risk of damaging anything beneath (or above, depending on how you look at it) the ceiling surface—more on that below.

Generally, the wetter you manage to get your popcorn ceiling, the easier it will be to take down. You should ideally do this in patches, as the ceiling will start to dry while you’re working on one part of it.

Be careful about the underlying material! If it’s something that can be easily damaged by water, you should spray your ceiling in smaller patches and work on them little by little. Don’t use too much water in that case. And definitely don’t spray the entire ceiling beforehand. This can cause damage to wood, sheetrock, and various other types of materials.

3. Scrape Out the Popcorn Ceiling

Once an area is wet, start using the spackle knife to remove the popcorn ceiling. It should come off easily. Maintain some distance from the area you’re scraping to avoid the old ceiling from falling on you. Even if you’re using protective clothing – which you should – it will still make things easier to clean up afterward.

If the popcorn ceiling doesn’t come off easily, don’t be afraid to apply a little force. But again, make sure to keep the surface beneath it protected. You’re going to paint over it or cover it afterward, so small scratches are generally not a problem. But if you damage the ceiling, you might have to repair it before you can apply any cosmetic touches.

4. Sand Down Uneven Areas

Once you’re done with the scraping, you should go over the entire ceiling with sandpaper to smooth out any uneven areas. You can also use a sander, but it’s a little overkill for this task. Regular sandpaper can do a fine job as long as you apply enough pressure.

It’s important to be as thorough as possible while doing this, as it will make it much easier to paint over the ceiling afterward. If you’re planning to cover the ceiling entirely, you can skip this step. But even in that case, it’s still a good idea to throw on a layer of primer for protection, so sanding is still recommended.

5. Prime and Paint the Bare Ceiling

Now that the ceiling is properly cleaned out and sanded down, you can start priming and painting it. First, use a standard primer layer and let it dry for a few hours. Then move on to painting the ceiling in whatever color you’ve chosen. All protective covers should still be in place at this stage.

Cleaning them out from all the dust between sanding and painting your ceiling is also a good idea. Dust can easily stick to paint, and you’ll probably have a lot of it flying all over the room once you’re done with the scraping. This can easily ruin your paint job and force you to redo it from scratch.

hash-markTips for Removing Popcorn Ceiling Safely

  • Use a stable ladder with rubberized feet, especially if you’re going to be moving around the room a lot. You don’t want to double-check the ladder’s positioning every few minutes.
  • Always wear facial protection! It doesn’t matter if your ceiling contains asbestos or not. Breathing in fine dust is never good for you. It can also easily get in your eyes, which is not just unpleasant but can lead to hazards like making you fall off the ladder.
  • Maintain a clean working environment. You’re quickly going to start building up piles of dust from the old ceiling. Remove them regularly to keep things as clean as possible. Do this once again before starting to paint. This will help keep the paint job clean, without dust constantly getting in the way.

hash-markRemoving Popcorn Ceiling Bottom Line

Removing popcorn ceiling isn’t as difficult as it may seem. It doesn’t require any expensive tools or materials and can be safely done by most people with their own resources. The only major exception is if your ceiling contains asbestos. In this case, removing it yourself is not advisable at all. Instead, you should always work with a professional service specializing in this type of work to ensure that it’s done safely.