How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling

An image of popcorn ceiling texture

 Trigger Photo/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Popcorn ceilings were first installed in the 1950s as a more economical way to finish a ceiling than using plaster. Homebuilders also thought the added texture was a desirable design element to hide ceiling flaws and help absorb sound. The stucco mixture was combined with styrofoam particles to create the cottage cheese-like texture. Unfortunately, that texture can capture and hold onto lots of dust and grime.

While many homeowners have had popcorn ceilings removed, many remain and are in need of cleaning. Cleaning is a bit time-consuming and it can be a messy job, but it can be done.

Warning

Before the United States banned asbestos as a building material, some popcorn ceiling formulas contained the known carcinogen. If your home was built before 1979, you should have it tested for asbestos before cleaning or removing a popcorn ceiling.

How Often to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling

Since the texture of popcorn ceilings traps dust, insects, and spider webs, they can become quite dull. Luckily, thorough cleaning once per year will help brighten them and reduce home allergens. Room corners and areas near HVAC vents should be checked and cleaned more often. Cleaning a popcorn ceiling can be a messy job because some of the texture almost always comes loose as you are cleaning. Set aside plenty of time to do the job.

If the ceiling has become discolored by roof leaks, heavy cooking grease, cigarette or fireplace smoke even from gas fireplaces, it is nearly impossible to remove these stains by simply cleaning. A better choice is to use a stain-blocking primer and then repaint the ceiling to brighten the room.

What You Need

Supplies

  • Water
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Chlorine bleach

Tools

  • Drop cloths or tarps
  • Protective mask and safety glasses
  • Sturdy step ladder
  • Vacuum with brush attachments, broom, paint roller long-handled lint roller
  • Duct tape (optional)
  • Spray bottle(s)
  • Sponge(s)
  1. Do the Prep Work

    Remove as much furniture as possible from the room. Use drop cloths, tarps or old sheets to cover everything else, including the floor. This will make clean-up easier and prevent stains on the furniture and carpet from cleaning supplies.

    You should wear a mask to avoid inhaling too much dust and safety glasses to protect your eyes from dust and cleaning chemicals.

  2. Remove the Dust

    The first step is to remove all of the dust particles and spider webs that have been trapped between the texture bumps. Choose the tool that works best for you. Be sure that you have tools with handles long enough to reach the ceiling or a very sturdy step ladder.

    • Use a Vacuum: A vacuum with a long hose and its widest brush attachment is the best way to capture the dust and prevent it from spreading around the room.
    • Use a Broom: A soft-bristled broom works well to sweep away dust. Do not work too aggressively because you may remove more popcorn than you desire.
    • Use a Paint Roller and Duct Tape or a Sticky Lint Roller: If you don't have a long-handled sticky roller, wrap duct tape around a paint roller with the sticky side facing out. Roll it across the ceiling to trap dust. Change the tape frequently.
  3. Brighten Dingy Areas

    To clean a dingy ceiling, mix one teaspoon of a dishwashing liquid with grease cutters into one quart of warm water. Place the mixture in a spray bottle. Using the stepladder, with the bottle at least 12-inches from the ceiling, spray a small section of the ceiling at a time. Do not over-wet the ceiling.

    Use a sponge to blot away the cleaning solution and soil. Rinse the sponge frequently with plain water to remove accumulated soil and wring out water until the sponge is only slightly damp.

    You can also use a paint roller to apply the cleaning solution. The roller must be only slightly damp—no dripping water! Roll the solution over a small area at a time. Rinse the soiled paint roller well and remove as much water as possible before moving to a new section to clean.

  4. Whiten Dark Stained Areas

    If you have had a small leak stain or have dark sections near a fireplace, a solution of one part water and one part chlorine bleach can lighten the stain. Mix the solution in a spray bottle and wearing safety glasses, lightly spray the stained area with the bleach solution. Allow the area to air-dry.

  5. Circulate Air to Speed Drying

    After cleaning or treating any stains, use circulating fans to dry the ceiling as quickly as possible. Do not go back to treat any stains again until the ceiling is completely dry. Too much moisture can cause the texture to disintegrate.

  6. Do a Final Clean Up

When the ceiling is clean, remove the drop cloths from the room and vacuum away any popcorn and dust that may have fallen. Carefully dispose of the loose material because it is not safe for pets or children to consume.