How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling (Without Making a Huge Mess)

Painting Popcorn Ceiling

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Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Yield: 500 square feet of ceiling
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $150

After enough time, popcorn ceilings begin to look dull, weary, and dated. Removing the popcorn texture coating is messy, but painting the popcorn ceiling is one way to bring back the ceiling's sparkle and freshness for little cost and with minimal mess.

Type and Quantity of Paint to Use

Interior acrylic-latex paint is the best type of paint to use for popcorn ceilings. Flat or matte is the traditional sheen for ceilings, since it reduces light bounce. If you need to protect your ceiling from moisture, though, use eggshell, satin, or semi-gloss paint sheens.

Popcorn texture ceilings require more paint than flat ceilings. One gallon of ceiling paint covers between 400 to 500 square feet of flat ceiling; double the quantity of paint for popcorn ceilings.

Paint, Cover, or Remove Popcorn Ceiling

Painting a popcorn ceiling is just one way to improve its appearance. For the long-term, it's helpful to weigh painting the ceiling against covering the ceiling or removing the popcorn texture.

Paint Popcorn Ceiling

Painting a popcorn ceiling is faster and easier than covering or removing the texture. It's less expensive than covering the ceiling, too.

Pros
  • Inexpensive

  • Easy and fast

  • Encapsulates potential asbestos

Cons
  • Short-term fix

  • Textured appearance remains in place

  • Possibility of asbestos if you need to disturb the surface

Cover Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceilings can be covered with 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch drywall or with tongue-and-groove wood planks installed directly over the popcorn texture. The covering is screwed into the joists above the ceiling.

Pros
  • Creates flat ceiling

  • Covers any potential asbestos

  • Increases soundproofing

Cons
  • Creates ceiling thickness

  • Adds weight to ceiling

  • Most expensive option

Remove Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceilings can be removed with warm water, a scraper, and plenty of patience. While it's messy, it's the ultimate way to return your ceiling to a flat state.

Pros
  • Creates flat ceiling

  • No height or thickness issues

  • Eliminates any asbestos

Cons
  • Potential asbestos risk

  • Messy, labor-intensive

  • Possible lead paint hazard

Safety Considerations

Some popcorn ceilings may contain asbestos. Prior to 1978, when federal law banned its use, asbestos was added to ceiling texture for its resistance to heat. Plus, the asbestos fibers helped strengthen the material. Through research, asbestos has been proven to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Popcorn ceilings in older homes may contain asbestos.

Asbestos does not always have to be removed. As long as the asbestos remains undisturbed, it can remain in place and be covered with paint or with drywall. If the asbestos-containing material is cut, broken, drilled, sawn, or sanded, asbestos fibers may be released into the air. Call qualified asbestos mitigation specialists if you need to do this.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Clean 5-gallon paint bucket
  • Roller screen for bucket
  • Paint roller frame
  • Extension pole for roller frame
  • Ladder
  • Work light
  • Shop vacuum with brush attachment

Materials

  • 2 gallons interior acrylic-latex ceiling paint
  • 4 thick-nap (3/4-inch) roller covers
  • 4-mil or thicker plastic sheeting
  • Painter's tape
  • 2-inch angled brush

Instructions

  1. Protect Room

    Remove all objects such as chairs, tables, lamps, or smaller items that can be removed from the room. Cover the entire floor and all remaining objects with 4-mil or thicker plastic sheeting. If possible, remove ceiling light fixtures and other obstructions. If not, tape around them with painter's tape.

  2. Test Ceiling for Asbestos

    If you suspect that your ceiling texture contains asbestos, test the material. Either use a home asbestos testing kit (where you collect samples yourself, then mail them to a lab) or have a local testing company come to your home and test.

  3. Test Ceiling for Previous Coatings

    Knowing how much paint your ceiling already has can help you gauge how much paint to buy for this project.

    Standing on a chair or ladder, flick a few drops of water on the ceiling. If the water absorbs rapidly, the texture may not be painted at all or it might have a poor coat that permits absorption. If the water beads up, the ceiling may have been painted with semi-gloss or glossy paint.

  4. Clean Ceiling

    Fit the brush attachment on the shop vacuum. Vacuum the entire popcorn ceiling to remove dust and cobwebs. Do not press firmly on the brush, as this can cause popcorn texture to flake off.

  5. Cut in Ceiling With Brush

    With the 2-inch brush, cut in all edges where the ceiling meets the walls. Paint around ceiling lights and other obstructions.

    Tip

    Most types of plastic ceiling faceplates that cover electrical junction boxes can be painted over.

  6. Prepare to Roll Paint

    Shine the work light upward. Pour 2 to 3 gallons of paint into the 5-gallon bucket. Hang the roller screen from the side of the bucket on the inside. Screw the roller frame onto the extension pole and add the thick-nap roller cover. Dip the roller in the paint, then squeeze it out by rolling it on the roller screen.

  7. Roll out Paint

    Roll the paint onto the popcorn ceiling. Start along one edge and finish a section about 4-foot by 4-foot. Continue to an adjacent section and paint that. Make sure that the ceiling texture is fully covered, but it should not be too thick or dripping with paint.

  8. Add Second Coat

    Open windows, if possible, or turn on fans to promote airflow. Allow the paint to dry for at least two hours. Apply a second coat.

Tips for Painting a Popcorn Ceiling Without Mess

  • Regulate the amount of paint on the roller cover. Popcorn texture needs a thick coat of paint, but too much paint can soak the texture, weakening it and causing it to fall.
  • Be very gentle when cleaning the popcorn ceiling with the vacuum. Use only a soft brush attachment.
  • Since more paint is used, painting a popcorn ceiling is messier than painting flat ceilings. So, thoroughly cover all items in the room before painting.
Article Sources
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  1. Learn About Asbestos. EPA.