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How To Remove Popcorn Ceilings

DIY, Home Maintenance
By on Aug 10, 2016
How To Remove Popcorn Ceilings

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Popcorn ceilings were the hardwood floors of the 1960s and 70s. They were not only popular and cost-efficient, but also fit in with almost any home design back then. However, as our loyal readers know, home remodeling trends come and go. Sadly, it takes time to adopt and actually make changes to your home. Well, it’s time to put an end to those dated popcorn ceilings.

Rather than hire a pro to remove your ceiling, I am going to show how any homeowner can remove popcorn ceilings no matter how little or how much DIY experience you have. Afterwards, if you still don’t feel confident, ImproveNet can connect you with a drywall/ceiling professional (for free).

Drywall Over Popcorn Ceiling

Hot to Get Rid of Popcorn Ceilings

Tools & Materials Needed

The project may be easy, but there are a bunch of tools necessary to complete the job as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  • Ceiling Texture Scraper
  • Putty Knife
  • Drop Cloth
  • Utility Knife
  • Ladder
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Safety Glasses
  • Tape Measure
  • Sanding Sponge
  • Rubber Spatula
  • Spray Bottle
  • Plastic Sheeting
  • Paint Stripper
  • Tape
  • Sanding Pole or Sandpaper
  • Drywall Compound
  • Drill
  • Painting Materials

Step 1: Clear the Room & Cover All

Like many home remodeling projects, this one can get messy. To minimize your cleaning time, it’s best to remove all furniture from the room. If something is nailed to the wall or too heavy to move, don’t worry.

Next, take your plastic sheeting and cover everything. Clearly, it’s easier to cover everything if you just have an open floor, but if you couldn’t remove all furniture, make sure you tape the sheeting to the furniture. There will be a lot of small popcorn kernels falling from above and you don’t want those pieces landing between your couch cushions or behind a dresser.

While you do not have to, you should also cover the walls. Extra precaution never hurt anyone.

Finally, add a portable fan to clear the air. Just make sure it’s not facing up.

Test for Asbestos

Step 2: Test for Asbestos

Unfortunately, before you remove any part of your popcorn ceilings, you must get it tested for asbestos. Homes built before 1980 were often constructed with materials that contained asbestos. Later on, scientists determined that asbestos could cause lung disease or cancer and as such, was banned from home improvement.

We recommend that all homeowners removing their own popcorn ceilings call in the pros to test for asbestos. Sadly, even touching it (without gloves) can be harmful. While the average price to remove asbestos is not cheap, it’s well worth it.

Nevertheless, careful homeowners can remove part of their ceilings themselves and send it to an accredited lab for asbestos. You can also buy a home test kit and test it yourself. If you go this route, spray a small portion of your ceiling with water and scrap it off. Do not try to test the entire ceiling.

No matter what direction you take, always have your gloves and goggles on. Like I said earlier, even touching asbestos with bare skin can be harmful.

Step 3: Spray the Ceiling

We have to prepare the surface for a tough job ahead. To ensure those popcorn ceilings come right off, climb up your ladder and spray the surface with water. This will soften the ceiling texture and help break down the adhesive bond. Most homeowners use a spray bottle, but others use a garden hose. Either one works. However, do not try to spray the entire ceiling at once. It’s best to work in a 2’X2’ square. We don’t want the ceiling absorbing too much water and damaging the drywall behind it.

Let the water soak in for five minutes before you start scraping.

Scrape the Popcorn Ceiling

Step 4: Scrape the Popcorn Ceiling

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It’s finally time to remove those dated ceilings. Take your ceiling texture scraper up your stepladder and start scraping the popcorn ceiling. If you don’t have a ceiling texture scraper, a regular putty knife will work as well (but will take longer).

Remember, only scrape the damp areas you sprayed. If it doesn’t come off easily, spray it again.  

To minimize the mess, many homeowners attach a garbage bag to their ceiling texture scrapper. In fact, most scrappers include this feature. Luckily, most residue will fall into the garbage as opposed to your floors (which should be covered anyways). While more expensive than a putty knife, a ceiling texture scraper brings many additional benefits.

Move across your ceiling, spraying and then scraping. For corners, use a putty knife instead of a larger scraper. You don’t want to scratch those walls.

Note: If your ceiling has been painted, scraping will take longer. The water won’t soak in and your scraping job will be that much harder.

Step 5: Sand the Ceiling

Most of your popcorn ceilings should be removed by now, but we have to finish it off by sanding. Just like your floor, your ceilings should be as smooth as possible. Some homeowners use a sanding pole that you can handle from the floor, but most just buy some sanding paper and go across the ceiling one foot at a time. Once you are done sanding, clear off all the popcorn on the ground. Once again, these pieces are very small so be careful transferring into a garbage bag.

Drywall Over Popcorn Ceiling

Step 6: Drywall Rough Patches

Most ceilings can get scratched and beat up as you scrape them. As such, you should drywall any rough patches you may have created. Take your drywall compound and apply where needed. If you plan on painting your ceiling after drywall, make sure you tape, mud and sand the entire surface.

Step 7: Paint It

Once you've mudded and sanded, you can prime and paint your ceiling. As you’re probably very tired from a long day on the ladder, I recommend waiting a day to start painting. Even if you have an extension pole, painting a ceiling is no easy task.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal Costs

Needless to say, removing popcorn ceilings is not a project for the faint. As such, many homeowners hire the pros. Most ceiling professionals will charge somewhere between $1/sf and $3/sf. According to our ceiling repair cost estimator, the total cost will likely hover around $400. Of course, the price can increase or decrease based on the size, the amount of work necessary and desired outcome.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal Costs


You now have all information necessary to remove your popcorn ceilings. While this is not a complicated DIY project, it is one that demands patience and a little elbow grease. If you’re up for it, do your home a favor and bring it into this decade by scraping off those popcorn ceilings.

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