Removing Popcorn Ceiling Texture

Consider Asbestos Dangers First

Removing Popcorn Ceiling
Removing a Popcorn Ceiling Is a Messy Job.

Chad Jones/Flickr

If your home has ceilings with so-called "popcorn" texture, you likely have considered having the texture removed. With their sharp peaks and valleys, this ceiling texture was not much appreciated even when introduced in the 1960s, and time has done nothing to make it any more beloved. There are many reasons for disliking these ceilings.

Painting these ceilings is difficult and requires thick-nap roller covers and a lot of paint, since the texture soaks up paint like a sponge. Textured ceilings catch and trap dust and are difficult to clean. They can make a room look smaller because the peaks create dark shadows. As if that wasn't enough, the texture material used in popcorn ceilings may contain asbestos, a mineral that is linked to asbestosis and mesothelioma. And if the ceilings were painted, there is a possibility that the paint contained lead additives.

Solutions to Popcorn Ceilings

How you treat popcorn ceiling texture depends partly on whether you think the texture material contains asbestos. In fact, the first step in removal is to test for asbestos. One way to deal with the problem is to cover up the ceiling. Another way is to ignore it. As long as asbestos fibers are not released, they are safe. But many homeowners want the ceiling removed for decorative reasons or because they do not want asbestos in any form in their home.

Currently, no federal law prohibits homeowners from abating asbestos non-commercially in their own homes. However, check with your local air and environmental quality agencies, as well as your permitting office. Follow their safety recommendations for removing this material.

How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling Texture

Removing popcorn texture can be messy, but it is not a difficult process, and it requires fairly ordinary tools and materials:

  • Scrapers. You can purchase a tool such as the Homax Ceiling Texture Scraper, which includes an armature for attaching a plastic waste bag. Alternatively, you can use a 10- or 12-inch drywall knife. It also helps to have a narrower scraping tool, such as a putty knife.
  • Garden sprayer. Because you will be spraying water upwards, pump-handle spray bottles will not work. Instead, purchase an inexpensive 1-gallon sprayer with a hose. Do not use one that has been previously used for pesticides or herbicides.
  • Plastic sheeting. You will need both painter's masking film for the walls and thicker 6 mil plastic sheeting for the floors. Do not use fabric or canvas drop cloths.
  • Spackle or drywall compound. These products will be used to patch the damaged ceiling.
  • Painters tape. This low-stick (though pricey) tape will not mar your walls upon removal.
  • Ladder or stepstool
  • Sandpaper
  • Contractor bags

1. Test for Asbestos and Lead Paint

Two separate issues may affect older homes: asbestos contained within the texture product (the popcorn) and lead within the paint covering the texture product. 

  • Testing for asbestos. You can purchase a home-based asbestos testing kit that allows you to scrape off a small section of the texture product and mail it to a lab for testing. Results typically take two weeks after the lab receives the sample. Or, you can hire an asbestos remediation professional to do this for you. Make sure that the lab is accredited under the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP).
  • Testing for lead paint. Paint applied before 1978 may contain lead as an additive. When this paint is disturbed and becomes airborne, it can be ingested and may lead to severe health problems. As with asbestos, inexpensive lead paint testing kits allow you to self-sample by scraping away flakes and crushing them to a fine powder. Many of these home-based lead paint testing kits produce results in less than a minute.

2. Cover Walls and Floor

Popcorn ceiling removal creates a great amount of waste. Consider any exposed surface to be a potential recipient of wet, goopy texture product. With that in mind, you may want to remove all lightweight furniture from the room and cover remaining items.

Attach plastic painter's film to the walls, running the masking tape edge along the juncture between the walls and ceiling. Cover the flooring with the thicker 6 mil plastic sheeting.

If you suspect the popcorn texture material contains asbestos or lead-based paint, make sure to wear the appropriate safety apparel, such as a dust mask and work gloves, to continue with removal.

3. Spray the Ceiling

Fill the sprayer with warm water and pump it to raise the pressure. Lightly spray a 4-foot square test area of the ceiling and let it sit. If your ceiling only has texture product but no paint, it should readily absorb the water and be ready for scraping in about 15 minutes. If your ceiling was painted with a coat of flat paint or ceiling paint, the water will take longer to absorb and may require multiple light soakings.

  • Tip: Some experts report good results by adding a cup of liquid fabric softener to each 1/2 gallon of water in the sprayer. This is said to help in softening the texture material.

4. Scrape off the Texture

After the water has been absorbed, scrape away the texture product. Use the wide scraper at first. Push into the softened texture until the edge of the blade touches the drywall or plaster. Then tilt the scraper to a low angle and push the scraper forward. The texture material should now have the consistency of cottage cheese and should easily come off and fall down. If great force is needed, the material is still too dry; wet it again.

If the sample area removes easily, you can proceed with the rest of the ceiling. Work in similar small areas, 4 to 16 square feet. Do not wet the entire ceiling at once, as sections will dry before you can get to them. The narrower scrapers work best along the edges and in corners.

5. Let the Ceiling Dry

Because you have introduced moisture to the drywall and the room in general, a significant amount of drying time is needed. Drywall has a paper backing and a gypsum core that both hold water for a long period of time. Increasing the temperature and the air ventilation will help speed the drying process.

6. Fix Ceiling Damage

Gouges, scratches, and shallow holes are an inevitable byproduct of ceiling scraping. Clean your scraping tools and use them to apply spackle or dust-control drywall compound to these areas. Sand smooth with #100 or higher fine-grit sandpaper. Wipe clean. The ceiling is now ready for priming and painting.

7. Dispose of Waste

If the debris does not contain hazardous materials, you can dispose of it in contractor bags in your home trash pickup.

If the texture material does contain asbestos or lead-based paint, you cannot dispose of it with your regular landfill waste. You will need to obtain a permit and dispose of it separately, typically within a narrow window of time (up to 30 days).