If your home has ceilings with so-called "popcorn" texture, you likely have considered having the texture removed. 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.
Also, textured ceilings catch and trap dust and are difficult to clean. They can make a room look smaller because the peaks create dark shadows. Further, it's possible that the texture material contains asbestos. So removal is often the best choice.
How you treat popcorn ceiling texture depends partly on whether you think the texture material contains asbestos. From the 1950s to the early 1980s, ceiling texture frequently contained some amount of asbestos. The first step in removal is to test for asbestos.
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.
Equipment / Tools
- Texture scraper or drywall knife
- Putty knife
- Garden sprayer
- Dust mask
- Work gloves
- 6-mil plastic sheeting
- Painter's masking film
- Spackle or drywall taping compound
- Painter's tape
- Fabric softener (optional)
- Contractor's bags
Removing popcorn texture can be messy, but it is not a difficult process, and it requires fairly ordinary tools and materials.
Test for Asbestos and Lead Paint
Two separate issues may affect older homes: asbestos contained within the textured product (the popcorn) and lead within the paint covering the textured 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. 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. As with asbestos, inexpensive lead paint testing kits allow you to self-sample by scraping away flakes and crushing them to a fine powder.
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 six-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.
Spray the Ceiling
Fill the sprayer with warm water and pump it to raise the pressure. Lightly spray a four-foot square test area of the ceiling and let it sit. If your ceiling only 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 a cup of liquid fabric softener to each half-gallon of water in the sprayer. This is said to help in softening the texture material.
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, four 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. It is designed to attach a plastic bag for catching the texture residue.
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 air ventilation will help speed the drying process.
Allow the room to dry for a full 24 hours after removing the ceiling texture.
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.
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 to properly remove spray-on “popcorn” ceilings. Southwest Clean Air Agency. Published December, 2007
Asbestos exposure and reducing exposure. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Published December 10, 2018.
Lead in paint. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published November 24, 2020.
Regulatory status of waste generated by contractors and residents from lead-based paint activities conducted in households. Environmental Protection Agency. Published February 12, 2013.