Introduction: Removing Popcorn Ceilings!

Picture of Removing Popcorn Ceilings!

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)


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


justtela (author)2017-05-05

I have been reading an obscene amount of articles and watching endless videos on this topic and this article is by FAR the BEST one I've seen for an amateur DIY'er such as myself. Thank you!!

MichelleK55 (author)2016-03-12

I don't like the fact I can see cat paw prints in that filth on the table. Do you have no respect for THEIR lungs? Because I am probably pretty positive you didn't give your pets a face mask. And no, I am not fun at parties lmao.

spylock (author)MichelleK552016-08-16

They can go somewhere and hide like the kids,or he will put them to work too.

Mr.KellyM (author)MichelleK552016-08-14

you could always dip the cats in the water and rub them on the ceiling lol

Sonata85 (author)MichelleK552016-03-12

Ha I don't know if you're joking or serious, but the cats spent the weekend upstairs in the very clean bedrooms. That cleanup shot was well after the dust had settled. A quick kitty bath to clean their paws and they were good and new!

Mr.KellyM (author)2016-08-14

I am a Painter in Michigan and I use this when I remove the popcorn, however 6 out of 10 times I have to float parts of the ceiling with a 2 foot knife to make it flat and smooth again because the popcorn was used to cover up those darn cracks and defects, and that is why for some people it cost an arm and a leg to get rid of it, and that is why I am the only company I know of that works with folks on a budget / payment plan feel free to call anytime 248-439-3000 I am in the metro Detroit area :) Kudos to the guy that did this work Want a job lol for some reason folks dont want to work anymore or cant keep up with me lol

ByronW7 (author)2016-05-24

If you wait long enough it will be back in style. In the near future granite and stainless steel with be the new shag carpet.

sounds a tad cold

DonH25 (author)2016-02-16

Outstanding, what would the cost be to have someone else do it?

JeremyH75 (author)DonH252016-03-29

Got a quote yesterday for 1600sqft from the guy in town who is cheaper than everyone else according to many homeowners and it was quoted at $3700 ... that's here in Colorado Springs, Colorado ...

Mikaylaa_Geiger (author)2015-06-21

I know I am a little late on this but my mother was wondering does this work on walls? I have no idea about this stuff and she doesn't either. We bought a house and the previous owners did some sort of popcorn walls (I don't know if that's the correct term). Anything information helps, thanks!

Sounds like textured paint to me. We have the same problem in our house. Have not yet looked into how to get it off, but will likely use Peel Away. It's a 'safe' (so they claim) paint stripper, that you apply a special paper over. After letting it set the product peels/scrapes off fairly easily, taking the paint with it. We used it on our brick fireplace and it worked amazingly well. Good Luck!

RitaG7 (author)Mikaylaa_Geiger2016-01-02

If it is on walls, it is probably stucco or concrete. It is very difficult to remove.

cflorer (author)2016-02-16

I did my whole house, so a few notes: The box stores sell a pole scraper with a collection bag. This means you can stay on the floor while doing the scraping. The scraper also has a metal "loop" where you attach a plastic grocery bag to collect the popcorn slop as it drops. Then you tie the bag in a knot and toss it. (you know you were saving those grocery bags for a reason). If you add ordinary dishwashing soap to the water it seems to dissolve the binder in the popcorn much better, ( If found Dawn worked best). I aslo found that if I wet long rows instead of squares that sometimes I could get the weight of the slop to pull it off in sheets and this made it MUCH easier a little creepy, but also fun to see that mess fall from the ceiling like a flat worm.. After you remove the pop slop you will have imperfections that you can patch with drywall mud (easier to sand than Spackle) and then get a pole sander to give you a nice smooth surface ready to paint, (yes also with a roller with that same pole so you can stay on the ground).

Sonata85 (author)cflorer2016-02-16

Great tip. I chose not to use that bag pole thing because I simply didn't want to stop and replace the bag every few minutes. It was much easier for me to walk down the length of room and scrape onto the tarps. Then again, I'm 6'3" so I really didn't need to reach that far!

Smokeybehr (author)2016-02-16

If the ceiling has been painted over, and the home was built before 1980, there's the possibility that the painting was done as "encapsulation" of the asbestos-laden "popcorn". Encapsulation-in-situ or encapsulation-in-place is an approved form of remediation for asbestos. If you disturb that encapsulation, then you'll need to dip into your wallet for either professional removal; or all of the materials and training to do it yourself, which includes a whole lot of plastic, HEPA filters, PAPR full-face respirators, "bunny suits", and a lot more (you're better off hiring a haz-mat remediation company).

nro.slm (author)Smokeybehr2016-02-16

Even post 80's it could have asbestos. Wiki: "When asbestos was banned in ceiling treatments by the Clean Air Act of 1978 in the United States,[1] popcorn ceilings fell out of favor in much of the country. However, in order to minimize economic hardship to suppliers and installers, existing inventories of asbestos-bearing texturing materials were exempt from the ban, so it is possible to find asbestos in popcorn ceilings that were applied through the 1980s."

sarawelder (author)2016-02-14

would this work with the ceilings that were textured as they were applied?.... not popcorn but very ugly patterning.

mrsben (author)sarawelder2016-02-14

I am not sure about your particular ceilings but a friend of mine a few years back purchased a home with the ugliest ceilings on the planet! i.e.: Some rooms actually had what looked like icicles hanging where others had sparkle added to the texture effect etc. Long story short; with a lot of watering/spritzing down and scraping she managed to clean off all of them. My suggestion to you is; if you have a closet somewhere try it there first. Hope this helps and good luck.

sarawelder (author)mrsben2016-02-15

that's a great idea... thanks!

mrsben (author)sarawelder2016-02-15

You are more than welcome!

NightFire (author)2016-02-14

If it's been painted, it will be significantly more difficult to remove. Unpainted popcorn will knock off or crush easily if you touch it, painted won't.

To remove painted popcorn, knock the tips off. I've used drywall knives and sandpaper, but there are other ways. Then spray a small area with water and let it soak. Test to see if it easily comes off. If it does, you can use the water method, and a lot of time scraping, spraying, waiting and scraping some more.

If spraying with water doesn't work, try a small area with vinegar or ammonia, depending on the type of paint used, and test to see if it comes off.

If that doesn't work, you have to sand it. which takes a significant amount of time and gets dust everywhere. I have a $6000 drywall sanding vacuum with hepa filters, dust still gets everywhere, and the motor needs rebuilt every couple years. The last room I used the sanding machine on that had painted popcorn was about 10'x15' and took a long day.

Typically, if it's painted at all, it's not worth the time. If it was built up into the early '90s, it could easily have lead and/or asbestos. Manufacturers were banned from producing the lead and asbestos at different times in different states, but they were allowed to continue selling the product they had. Most of manufacturers stockpiled years of it while they could, and many contractors actively looked for it, since it was far superior product to the replacements at the time.

I've been a painter and drywall finisher for over 40 years.

Meggimoo (author)NightFire2016-02-15

Thank you for sharing your experience!

gerrywatts (author)2016-02-14

Question - instead of using a sprayer / would a paint roller with thick nap using hot water and drop of soap work?

Sonata85 (author)gerrywatts2016-02-15

I'm sure either would work well. The point is to the moisten the material so any adhesive loosens and falls away from the drywall with your scraper or whatever. Not too much though! You dont want to moisten the ceiling above the popcorn, just the material :)

MeowBox (author)2016-02-14

OMG THANK YOU~!!! Beautiful Home too

DeboraD (author)2016-02-14

Many thianks! I hate that stuff! Now I can do something about it without losing my mind. :)

MikeO (author)2016-02-14

You really did this the hard way!

Cut up a cereal box and make a long thin box that is about 1" wider than the knife on each side, and sticks out the front an inch also. Have a long flap out the back that you then tape to the bottom of the knife.

Then use a household spray bottle with some vinegar and water and soak down the ceiling, then scrape. It should come off in a bit of a mush. if it's hard and dusty then you have not soaked it enough. 95% of the material should go into the box and just empty it into a garbage can after 2 - 3 full strokes.

Also, you should not need to sand, just soak an old towel in the vinegar and water mixture and scrub the ceiling till it's smooth.

The whole Asbestose issue is ONLY with dust and breathing it in. if you keep everything damp and not sand, then there is no dust and no problem with asbestos.

notconvincedgranny (author)MikeO2016-02-14

No, the author is right. You have no idea what you're dealing with, so better safe than sorry. The problems may not show up for years, and you won't remember when/where you were exposed.

Pa1963 (author)2016-02-14

In the U.S. suppliers were allowed to sell the material they had in stock. So this stuff was applied until about 1981. Be careful out there!

Evelyn348 (author)2016-02-14

we'll soon be prepping our house to sell and we know the popcorn has to go. Thanks for the great help. Impressed at your surprise for your wife.

LewisM11 (author)2016-02-14

If you used crack shot sparkling paste from Home Depot - you just added asbestos to your homes building materials. Asbestos is not fully banned and still appears in many products today in the US. The laws in different countries may not ban the use at all ( i.e. No bans in India )

JeffB19 (author)2016-02-14

The best trick I found is adding a drop of dish soap to the water it makes it stick to the ceiling and soak in. I found a terrible ceiling under all that popcorn and good luck finding a pro that will even show up to give you a price to fix a ceiling.

pcgate (author)JeffB192016-02-14

install a wooden ceiling. thin pine planks available at the big box stores work very well. they come in 8 ft lengths and 18" planks. kilzed and sealed/painted below and on the planks. it looks great. and you can run a duster over it!

MartM2 (author)2016-02-14

Be careful. For older houses it was sprayed on to hide many defects. Working with plaster later to hide the defects again is a head ache. (I've been there but it was worth it at the time.) It may not be fashionable today but it once was and will be again. My house was built in 1947 and have noticed at times the many layers of paint colours that have been laid down. It's like an archeological dig. What was once an ugly colour now becomes a fashionable one only to seem ugly again in a few years. In other words relax, what goes around comes back around.

DocR (author)2016-02-14

I can't emphasize how important your comments about asbestos are. I had an inconmsiderate (some would say criminal) boss who employed me on an off the rewcord job removing insulation from his son's house. That "cotton from hell" has since really impaired my life.

No - going after him for his negligence isn't much help seeing as he was being sued alrewady into the grave. Just test the stuff even if you're working under the table. Don't let yourself be bullied into remaimning silent.

nowj (author)2016-02-14

I use a brass garden mister sprayer on a hose with a working / non-leaking gate valve. Mine has 3 nozzles and puts out a cloud of fines. If the "popcorn" is painted I would think a wallpaper scoring tool would puncture the paint membrane allowing water to be absorbed by the "popcorn." Think paint roller with sharp spikes.

KimberlyM81 (author)2016-02-11 hey everyone, I wanted to thank the author and everyone else for good ideas! Im getting ready to work on taking off my popcorn ceilings and this has been enlightening for me! I inculded a site above only because I ran across it too when doing research on popcorn ceilings and the contractor used a special plastic that has tape alrwady attached and you tape it to the walls and then drape it, so as to cover the floors and furniture and when he finished taking off all the popcorn, he then rolled up the plastic and it didnt leave a mess on floors or furniture and nothing had to be moved to do the job. I just thought I would mention that becaue the mess was a concerm for me as well and I really liked the idea. Good luck everyone!

JeanG6 (author)2015-07-03

Will this work for popcorn ceilings that have been painted?

ColleenB13 (author)JeanG62015-11-05

probably not..... when painted they become like concrete, trust me, I have 5 rooms in my house that have these crappy ceilings

ColleenB13 (author)2015-11-05

This ONLY works if your "popcorn ceiling" HAS NOT been painted over. It is like concrete if it has been painted over and MUCH tougher to remove!!!!!! Take it from a person who suffers with a popcorn ceiling.

GrahamD3 (author)2015-08-29

If you are in the UK, coatings applied up to 1999 could contain asbestos and should always be tested before carrying out any removals

Linda DaugsB (author)2015-07-03

Linda DaugsB (author)2015-07-03

newtrawn (author)2015-03-17

I know this is a how-too to removing popcorn ceiling and havint it taken out. I am looking for someone to install som popcorn ceiling in my place as soon as possible. I have at lease 25,000 sq feet that needs done and all.

Let me know. I'm in palmer.. call me when your available. my number is 623-377-4424

anyone is welcome to come take a look at it. I have burlap bags for you giys to use while working if you need. Safety is the first thing, since supposedly asbestos makes 9 weeks babies rupture and die.

bunny.missbrenner (author)2015-02-02

Good job, but what I wanna know is...Where did you get that ceiling light? I love love love it!!!

sorry for the delay! i don't want to put specific websites on here, but google "moravian star shaped light" or something similiar and i'm sure it'll pop right up

Curated Quotes (author)2014-11-29

Why did anyone ever thing popcorn ceilings were a good idea? Why, why, whyy?

lisa.cahill.79 (author)2014-09-24

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

oogilygumballs (author)2014-09-15

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

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