Popcorn Ceiling Removal Instructions and Asbestos Safety

What to Do With Popcorn Ceilings Installed Before the 1980s

Popcorn ceiling texture

 TriggerPhoto/Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 8 - 20 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $20 to $30

If your home has ceilings with what is often called "popcorn" texture, you likely have considered having the texture removed. Painting these ceilings can be rather difficult and requires thick-nap roller covers. It also requires a lot of paint, since the texture soaks up paint like a sponge.

Besides that, textured ceilings catch and trap dust and are notoriously difficult to clean. They can make a room look smaller because the peaks create dark shadows. To make matters even worse, it's possible that the texture material contains asbestos. Removal is often the best choice, but if you're unsure about removing them, you may also choose to cover your popcorn ceilings with drywall, paint, or paneling.

Covering the ceilings is often more affordable than hiring a professional to remove them, however, it's also possible to take them down them yourself. Removing your popcorn ceilings should take one to two days, including time to let them dry between steps.

Safety Considerations

How you treat popcorn ceiling texture depends partly on whether you think the texture material contains asbestos. Not all popcorn ceilings have asbestos, but from the 1950s to the early 1980s, ceiling texture frequently contained some amount of it. Popcorn ceilings installed during this time frame are likely to have anywhere from 1 to 10% asbestos.

The first step in removal is to test for asbestos. This material is not dangerous to residents when contained; however, when disturbed, it quickly flakes away and enters the air. To remove popcorn ceilings with asbestos safely, proper safety equipment must be utilized at all times throughout the project.

Check with your local air and environmental quality agencies, as well as your permitting office, and follow their safety recommendations for removing this material.

If the popcorn texture was painted, there is also a possibility that the paint contained lead additives. Lead paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978, so if your popcorn ceiling was installed and painted before this point, the paint should be tested for lead content. Removing lead paint requires special safety measures.

To be safe, conduct testing for asbestos and lead before you proceed.

  • 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. 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: As with asbestos, inexpensive lead paint testing kits allow you to self-sample by scraping away flakes and crushing them to a fine powder.

Always wear breathing protection as you scrape the texture or conduct the at-home tests.

Before You Begin

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 the 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Texture scraper or drywall knife
  • Putty knife
  • Garden sprayer
  • Stepstool
  • Dust mask
  • Work gloves


  • 6-mil plastic sheeting
  • Painter's masking film
  • Spackle or drywall taping compound
  • Painter's tape
  • Fabric softener (optional)
  • Sandpaper
  • Contractor's bags


How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling Texture

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.

  1. 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 has textured 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.


    Some experts report good results by mixing in 1 cup of liquid fabric softener with each 1/2-gallon of water in the sprayer. This is said to help in softening the texture material.

  2. Scrape off the Texture

    After the water has been absorbed, scrape away the texture material. 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 textured 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 similarly small areas of about 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. Specialized texture scrapers, such as the Homax Ceiling Texture Scraper, are designed specifically for removing ceiling texture. That particular scraper is designed to attach a plastic bag for catching the texture residue.


    You'll likely be using a step ladder to reach the ceiling. Removing ceiling texture can be a wet and messy process. Use extra caution while working from a ladder of any height, as wet material may land on the rungs or steps and create a slippery surface.

  3. 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. Increasing the temperature and air ventilation will help speed the drying process.

    Allow the room to dry for a full 24 hours after removing the ceiling texture.

  4. Fix Ceiling Damage

    Gouges, scratches, and shallow holes are inevitable byproducts 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 the ceiling clean after sanding. The ceiling is now ready for priming and painting.

  5. 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).

  • How much does it cost to have popcorn ceilings professionally removed?

    Having a professional remove your popcorn ceilings typically costs between $905 and $2,907, or about $1-$2 per square foot. The size of your room and presence of asbestos will influence the cost significantly, with asbestos removal in popcorn ceilings costing $3-$7 per square foot.

  • Is it better to remove popcorn ceiling or cover it?

    Many homeowners choose to cover their popcorn ceilings rather than remove them, especially when asbestos is found. Scraping popcorn ceilings with asbestos causes the substance to flake off and enter the air, which is more dangerous than leaving it alone and covering it.

  • How long does asbestos stay in the air?

    Asbestos can remain in the air for 48 to 72 hours once it has been disturbed, but even after it settles, it can easily be agitated and enter the air again. Hire an asbestos removal professional if you are concerned about the presence of asbestos in your home.

  • Can you paint over popcorn ceilings with asbestos?

    Yes. If you find that it contains asbestos, you can paint over a popcorn ceiling to seal in the fibers. If the ceiling is damaged—especially by a hole or a large chip in the paint—this should be addressed immediately to prevent any asbestos from becoming airborne.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Asbestos Exposure and Reducing Exposure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Lead In Paint. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. Regulatory status of waste generated by contractors and residents from lead-based paint activities conducted in households. Environmental Protection Agency.

  4. What Does Popcorn Ceiling Removal Cost? HomeAdvisor.