Instructables
Picture of Removing Popcorn Ceilings!
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I surprised my wife by having her walk in from a long day at work to find me covered in sloppy wet oatmeal-like popcorn ceiling plaster and the furniture all over the house, but she wasn't mad and it turned out to be a very easy DIY project!  

***((Warning: Popcorn applied before 1978 MUST BE TESTED for asbestos and other chemicals common to the product in the 60's/70's.  You do NOT want those fibers floating around the room to be ingested.  If it's asbestos based, you should have a professional come in to take care of it.  Some municipalities have codes against you doing it yourself, for safety reasons.))*** 

Popcorn ceilings were really popular back in the day, although many people had them sprayed on to hide defects in the ceiling, supposedly-deaden sound, or give that "cozy" appearance to a room that was a little too barren.  Either way, I don't believe that have any place in a modern home, and must be removed immediately!  

Ours was actually sprayed circa 2001, so it came off fairly easily and the ceiling drywall was already primed white above it, making it even more easy.  Many times, you'll find cracked Sheetrock, failed joint compound, edging tape coming loose etc.  If any cracks are apparent, moistening some joint tape before applying to the crack, then compound over it until it's smooth. It's the best remedy - short of installing new drywall!

Anyway, the process is simple. 

Supplies list: (many of these items you may already own, keeping costs down)

Clear Tarps ($10)
Duct Tape ($5)
Blue Painter's tape ($5)
Handheld pump sprayer ($15)
Bucket, Sponge and Soap ($15)
10" Scraper ($7)
Silicone Caulk - ($4)
Stepstool ($25?)
Paint Pole, Roller, and Roller Covers ($15)
Ceiling Paint ($15 / gallon)
Spackle / Joint Compound ($5)
Sandpaper ($5)
Mask / Respirator ($15)
Joint Tape ($3)

Instructions:

1) Strip room of everything you can move.  Certain sofas, tv stands, or heavy furniture are better off left where they sit, but all lamps etc. can go. It's much easier to get to all corners with big things missing.

2) Tarp the entire room.  Tape tarps together - ALL SEAMS- with duct tape, and use the painter's tape to go at least a foot up the walls.  Cover all electrical outlets and air registers, essentially creating a bowl-shape for the plaster to fall in to.  Some people like to tarp the ENTIRE walls, but if you go slow, not much will glop onto them.  It's easy to clean up later anyway.  The smallest seam between tarps will inadvertently cover the entire room in plaster dust. 

2) Use the water sprayer to moisten a 5x5 foot box shape.  You can spray the whole room if you want, but this stuff absorbs a ridiculous amount of water, so be aware before you begin.  It's hard to describe when it's wet enough - but your scraper will slide through the "oatmeal" easily without leaving the Sheetrock very wet behind it.  You can use paper towels to dry the Sheetrock if it's really wet, and be sure to spray the popcorn directly.  If you have many drips falling from the ceiling, it's more than wet enough.  You can honestly use your fingernails to test!  Wear a mask and eye protection, even if you're asbestos free.  This stuff tastes like glue.

3) Use a file to smooth and curve the edges of your scraper so you don't gauge the Sheetrock above the popcorn.  This step isn't necessary, but I'm glad I did!  You could use a smaller (or larger) width scraper, but the 10" was perfect for our application.

4) Get up on your stool and scrape away!  Hold the scraper at a very low angle - almost parallel with the ceiling.  The more angle, the more gouges you'll risk.  Push firmly, but if it fights you, add more water.  Water is your friend!  You can also use a paint roller dipped in warm water to apply if you don't have a pump sprayer. You CAN scrape dry popcorn, but it's a lot more work.

5) Be sure to keep all the oatmeal on your tarps, but be warned - it will be MESSY and SLIPPERY.  I wore "crocs" type shoes to keep from stepping in it directly, and they're easy to wash off.  As the wet oatmeal dries, it turns back into a powder, which will get everywhere.  Be sure to double tape your tarp seams.

6) Use a smaller putty knife to get the edges.  If your room has molding, scrape against it.  If not molding exists, scrape close, then use the sandpaper to get the edges.  You may need a gritty sandpaper to get it done.  Remember: water is your friend!

7) Bundle all tarps into themselves, overlapping, to keep major chunks from falling out.  We did a poor job taping the seams, so dust and chunks got everywhere.  On treated hardwood floors, a warm water bucket with citrus cleaner will do a nice job, and a shop-vacuum (wet / dry vac) gets the dust.  It's a good reason to move the furniture and clean behind!

8) Check for any repairs.  We didn't have much major repairs, but Spackle easily fills in the holes.  Wait for it to dry, sand it flat and prime/paint over it.  Use the sandpaper to smooth out any missed plaster or adhesive.  Remember your mask and goggles...  Use a damp (not wet) sponge and paper towels to wipe the ceilings smooth. Paint will not adhere to loose drywall dust!

9) Prime and Paint - Apply fresh tarps, no need to tape unless you feel so inclined.  You may need 1/2 coats of primer if you're painting plain stamped drywall, or if you're using any other color other than white.  I used the primer that was already applied, and put two heavy coats of ceiling paint on top.  The paint roller pole was a little difficult to get used to, but applying a lot of pressure made the process go quickly.  Wait for the coat to dry completely before "touching up" any areas.  Ceiling paint is usually flat, and wet spots will look a bit awkward until it fully dries.

10) You may want to use a silicone caulk to clean up the edges where the ceiling meets the walls.  In our application, our walls are actually painted-over wallpaper, so the edges were very rough.  They may have applied an adhesive to the edges to keep the wet popcorn from peeling the paper during installation. 

11) Throw away all tarps, examine progress for touch-ups, missed spots etc.  

12) Clean and replace!  Use the water bucket and mop, as well as a vaccum and dusting rag to give your rooms a really good clean.  If you get plaster on carpet, use it as a reason to rip up all the carpet! :-D  You may have to vaccuum 47 times, wipe the glass 12 times and mop 125 times, but in the end it's worth it.  The hard part is over now.

13) If you're replacing fixtures, fans etc, remember to remove the old ones first.  Turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker and flip the wall switch off for extra insurance.  If you're not comfortable with the wiring, seek professional assistance.  Do not spray this plaster with water, just grab some gritty sandpaper and get it done.  No water should come anywhere near electrics, even with it shut off at the circuit breaker.

And that's it!  Obviously, tall or angled ceiling would be more difficult but for the cost, it's a great thing to try yourself.  

You'll notice a LOT more light in each room, now that the millions of tiny shadows are gone, and you'll insist your ceilings are a foot taller than they used to be.

Total times for 2 rooms and a hallway:

Wet, Scrape, Spackle = 2 Hours
Prime / Paint = 2-3 Hours
Cleanup / Replace = 2 Hours

Good luck and have fun!  Be sure to blast music and invite friends over to help.  It may not be perfect, but our motto became 'anything's better than popcorn!" and for us, that's true.  :D

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yeah-we decided to tackle this too and it was so worth it...messy-yes, but looks so much better...bedrooms next!

asbestos dust is infinitely light and small. you need a hepa filter on a half face or full face mask to prevent inhalation of asbestos fibers. you do not want many of those in your lungs. about 10,000 fibers can fit on a pin head

1710hammer2 months ago
The other pre-1978 bogeyman is lead paint, which should also be tested for. I would also say let the ceiling dry thoroughly and then put on a primer coat before painting. I would believe this even with the so-called paint and primer in one product.
Rizzle6437 months ago

Would you do the same thing if your walls were like that? I keep scraping my arm and hand on the wall and want to get rid of the popcorn.

Jimmum8 months ago

We put up crown moulding a few years ago ... and just now scraped off the popcorn. So, in the crown-meets-newly-scraped ceiling there is roughed up caulk. (It looks like popcorn, but it's rubbery caulk.) How do I remove that caulk without using tweezers .... (it's the WHOLE downstairs!!) Or, can I just cover it with new, thick caulk, or maybe a thin piece of additional crown? Thanks for any insight!

JZB

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TheRodge Jimmum7 months ago

I'd try a utility knife to slice it all off, then just spackle over it before repainting.

I LOVE your Moravian star light fixture. Would you mind sharing where you found that?
Sonata85 (author)  hyoung chamberlin8 months ago

not sure if i'm, allowed to post direct websites here (didn't read the fine print, i'll admit!) but it's from ballarddesigns.com.

Thank you!! I actually googled the hell out of it and finally found it on the same site. I appreciate your response, though!
daveculp9 months ago

We did this to our home--cathedral ceilings and all--several years ago. It is messy, but far less labor than either scraping dry or overlaying with new sheetrock. Plastering over isn't viable either--the popcorn is not well enough adhered to the ceiling to hold plaster--it will all come down in your lap if you try. However, when the water content is right, it is truly effortless to scrape. We used progressively longer and longer poles taped to the scraper handle(s) so less and less ladder work and also used wider and wider scrapers as the job progressed (we did the whole home as 3 separate projects over time, improving the process each time).

A caveat; when you're finished, the ceiling will be smooth--like a kitchen or bathroom wall--and not "textured" like the remaining walls in the home. Unfortunately, often the original ceiling isn't fully puttied and sanded (sometimes called "wallpaper grade" finish) before the popcorn was sprayed on. If either case your new ceilings won't look as "new" as you may be imagining. You can texture your own ceilings with a $50 specialized gun and an air compressor, but it's still laborious--at least as much of a job--and as messy--as the scraping itself (spray, wait, trowel, repeat). We hired a sheetrock guy to come in and texture our ceilings. It wasn't terribly expensive (several hundred dollars for a 2000 sq ft house) and then we painted it ourselves.

Do yourselves and your unborn children a favor and have any ceilings applied pre 1978 tested for asbestos. It is illegal in most areas to remove this yourself and with good reason. Asbestosis is a nasty way to end your life and typically takes 20-25 years to manifest--just about the time your children will be wanting you to pay their tuition. If your ceilings are post-1978, go for it!

Still a bit of a pain, still VERY much worth it. ;-)

If you are worried about that or lead paint, laminate 1/4 inch sheet rock right over it and tape the room, Pay some one if you are a newbie. Easier than a rip out and you get real flat ceilings if done right. I did it in 3 rooms. Faster, cheaper, then removal and replace/retape. I will admit my work is not perfect at all, but you can't find a seam, and I have no shadows. But, after I rocked and did the basic tape job I skim coated it to perfection. Took my time and energy, but my walls and ceiling are solid, and near perfect.

spark master8 months ago

Bravissimo bravissimo, popcorn ceiling is an excuse for crappy taping jobs.

One thing to add here, if you "wet sand" you can skip the mask. Wet an old chunk of T shirt soak it well (or use a natural sponge or a fake one) and rub it over the area to be sanded. Keep a bucket of aqua to dip and get off the muck. Use a light hand. I have used sanding and wet sanding and wet sanding is a skill, but not hard to do. No masks , no silicosis or lung issues.

{If you want to get anal about the surface use a Vacuum Cleaner with the hard floor attachment that has the thin brush, LIGHTLY vacuum the surface}

Then use a good primer coat, to seal the new surface. Paint will really take nicely to it.

I like this a lot as I hate el-cheapo popcorn ceilings.

ax899 months ago

This is a great idea - I have done this myself. However the time estimates may be a bit low for some people.

Note that this is a LOT more difficult if the ceilings have been painted. Also, note that you will need to mud the drywall joints if this was done in a new house. There are typically three mudding coats on new drywall, but builders use textured ceilings because it is cheaper - they can do two mud coats and then spray the texture ceiling (instead of three mud coats and paint).

erehwon9 months ago

When I did this I found that using the scrapper while on a ladder was somewhat of a pain having to move the step ladder frequently. I had roughly 1800 square feet to cover, so doing it that way would take quite a while.

What I did was take the handle off a push broom (one of those that screws into the broom head) and attach the scraper to one end using a couple of hose clamps around the handle. The handle was around 6 feet in length, so with my arms extended it kept the scrapper to ceil angle fairly low and allowed me to walk from one end of the room to the other. No more step ladder.

I got the whole house done in about 2 days.

Sonata85 (author)  erehwon9 months ago

great idea! they also sell inexpensive polls for paint roller which would work in the same fashion. as long as the scrapper is at a low angle relative to the ceiling, you shouldn't have many repairs to make :)

erehwon Sonata859 months ago

I forgot to mention soap. Adding a small amount of dish soap helped "wet" the popcorn with a bit less water. I think I used 1 to 1 and a half gallons per large room and less for the smaller bedrooms.

erehwon Sonata859 months ago
Yeah, that was how it worked out for me. I had some harder stuff around where the previous owner had taken out a fireplace, but otherwise it was super fast. I also had the advantage that I was ripping out all the flooring, so I didn't care about the mess terribly. I still put down a drop cloth to get the majority of the popcorn, but if some escaped and got ground into the carpet, smeared on the tile or stuck in the cracks between the wood flooring pieces I didn't care.
Istarian9 months ago

I could be wrong, but I think you mean 'gouge' not 'gauge' in the following portion of your instructable.

3) Use a file to smooth and curve the edges of your scraper so you don't gauge the Sheetrock above the popcorn. This step isn't necessary, but I'm glad I did! You could use a smaller (or larger) width scraper, but the 10" was perfect for our application.
Sonata85 (author)  Istarian9 months ago

lol yeah, autocorrect is a pain sometimes.

verence9 months ago

Well, we have a different way to build houses, where I live, but your I'ble is interesting anyway. It might be more interesting, however, if you'd have split it up in more steps - with some pictures and a bit of text for any step. The way you present it, it's a lot of somewhat interesting pictures and a lot of text (a.k.a wall of text). leading to the TL:DR; syndrome.

Sonata85 (author)  verence9 months ago
the Step-by-Step editor didn't work on the mobile version- but thanks for the heads up.
verence Sonata859 months ago

Ah - okay - never accessed i'bles on an mobile platform.

So, the 'popcorn effect' is just painted on? In Germany, a lot of rooms have an ingrain wallpaper roof (a kind of tapestry, where some wood chips are trapped between thin layers of paper).

I think the reason for this kind of ceiling decoration is: You can't achieve a perfect flat ceiling - there is always a kind of dimple, dunk, bend. - So having any extra randomness will just kind of hide this imperfections.

Sonata85 (author)  verence9 months ago

traditionally here in america (especially in the 1960-70's) people used to spray this stuff on their ceilings voluntarily, sometimes also adding glitter or a tintable enamel to recreate the night sky. our glitter was just tossed up by hand in small patches. as mentioned, every house will be different, and you could also use a semi-gloss paint to try and hide waves in the drywall, etc.

acaig Sonata859 months ago
Wow glitter ceiling I'd love to see that I saw a pintrest of a day glitter floor basically use self levelling acrylic garage floor stuff pour on glitter sweep when dry and coat in a few coats of varnish looked amazing a ceiling to match would be great for a princess fantasy room
Rocketman12149 months ago

Your technique is very good with one exception.You should be using a latex caulking at the wall/ceiling joints instead of silicone, that latter of which is not paint-able unless it's "silicone added".

kmpres9 months ago

Good 'ible. I grew up with these ceilings in our late 1960s home. They're still there and my parents have no plans to remove them. I believe the purpose then was to add texture to the ceiling making the room feel less like the inside of a box. Our prior house, now 100 years old, had a stucco coat on the outside. It's similar in appearance to popcorn ceilings, inexpensive to apply and very long-lasting. Other than the risk of asbestos, removing these ceilings seems to be more a matter of taste than anything else.

aweaver49 months ago

We're remodeling and I hired the teenager down the road to scrape the popcorn and she caught most of it in a paint roller tray. Popcorn ceilings hold dirt and cobwebs, and the room is so much brighter without it. Those little bumps cast shadows. Good tutorial!

spinedr9 months ago

In Alberta Canada popcorn is the norm in all new house development and in Edmonton and Calagary we have whole new neighborhoods not just one but many going up with it, I think personallyt it is still better than a flat roof which usually will have faults

raverys12 9 months ago

Actually there is a device like your using that incorporates a plastic bag to catch the material from the ceiling. It can be obtained from Home Depot ... everything else you mention is right on ... later, Bob

LinnetNC9 months ago

We have popcorn ceilings all through the house - even in the closets. We've removed it from the bedrooms ceiling before we moved all the furniture in (we have a waterbed and once that's in it's IN). I found a tool called a Homax Ceiling Texture Scrapper. Not expensive but VERY handy - it has a 10 inch scrapper with a frame on it to attach a plastic trash bag which catches most of the scrapped off popcorn. It's WONDERFUL and not expensive at all. I'd recommend it to anyone!

vanweb9 months ago

I did this in a condo where the pop corn was sprayed directly on the concrete structure of the building. What I found worked well was to use Hot water. I would fill a spray bottle with the hottest water that would come out of my faucet spray and area about 2x3ft when I was doe spraying I would go back and re-spray the same area again. Then I would scrape with the putty knife. The hot water seemed to dissolve the popcorn faster than room temperature water. I was replacing the carpet as well so I just let everything fall on the carpet then when I was done I removed the carpet. It was a mess but so satisfying!
I ended up just leaving the bare concrete to give the condo a loft type look. The imperfections in the concrete stayed full of the white popcorn base so it gave the concrete a bit of a whitewashed feel and in the end looked more like a marble ceiling than just pure concrete.

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Sonata85 (author) 9 months ago

they also sell a special scraper that holds a standard plastic shopping bag to contain the oatmeal - there's many variations of my process to make things go quicker/cleaner. be creative!

hughaw9 months ago

I've done this to a number of rooms in my home. Rather than letting the popcorn material just fall to the floor (which makes a bigger mess then necessary), I caught the scrapping into a tray (a painters roller tray) held about 6-10 inches from the ceiling. Then I would dump the filled tray into a bagged lined (rubber) trash can.

There was very little that need to cleanup from the floor this way.

croust9 months ago

One potential problem not mentioned is that if the popcorn ceiling has been painted, it will not readily absorb water. If that is the case, covering with 3/8" drywall ("encapsulating") or messy and difficult dry removal are the DIY choices, the latter assuming that asbestos is not present. Renting a drywall lifter has proven well worth the cost in my experience. Plastering is not a beginner's DIY solution.

50h9j9 months ago

Another option is to smooth plaster over the rough surface. Less messy but requires plastering skill.

vbanaszak9 months ago

Those first 2 pictures speak volumes of the light difference in the room. The popcorned room, even in daylight looks dingy and dark.

zawy9 months ago

The rough texture reduces echo. I know some really nice big living rooms that are annoying as heck with all the echo from hardwood floor and smooth walls and ceilings. If I'm going to sit down and eat dinner or watch TV or make love or play with the resulting kids on the floor, give me a large but cozy cave instead of an auditorium.

mjenkins1 zawy9 months ago

Agreed. I wouldn't want to live without it. I suspect many people will zealously remove it and eventually regret it. Or find that a more sound-sensitive family member is suddenly very irritable without any apparent reason.

Ortzinator zawy9 months ago

You're right. I think it's important people realize this before they decide to do it. OP says the popcorn "supposedly" deadens sounds but it absolutely does.

druidrat9 months ago

Testing for asbestos is usually quite resonable, around here it's $25- per sample.

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