How to take off popcorn ceiling in 3 steps

How to take off popcorn ceiling in 3 steps



Once a popular design choice, popcorn ceilings are now the thing of homeowners’ and interior designers’ nightmares. Also known as cottage cheese or acoustic ceilings, homeowners would add the stucco ceiling texture to dampen sound. It was also a quick and easy way to hide imperfections and eliminate the need for painting. Now it just captures dust and is a pain to paint or repair. 

Luckily, removing this 1960s design eyesore is a simple although messy project for a handy homeowner or DIYer. While there are a few important steps to take before taking down the dreaded popcorn, once you start, it’s all about patience.


Testing before removal

If you have an older home, there is a chance your popcorn ceilings contain asbestos. Prior to the early 1980s, builders used asbestos in popcorn ceilings because it absorbs sound and is a flame retardant. The potential of asbestos means it’s important to test your popcorn ceilings before removing them. 

There are two ways to test your ceiling. The first is to call in a professional. The second is to DIY it with an at-home test kit from a hardware store like Home Depot. When collecting a sample, you must wear the appropriate safety gear, including gloves, a ventilator and eye protection. 

If the test comes back positive, don’t worry. As long as your ceiling is in good condition, the asbestos is not dangerous. Due to the carcinogens in asbestos, it is only dangerous if you breathe it in. If you still want a smooth ceiling, you need to call a professional asbestos abatement removal team to remove the popcorn.  


What tools do you need to remove a popcorn ceiling?

Removing a textured ceiling can get tricky, so it is always important to have the proper tools for the job. The right tools will keep you safe, protect your home from damage, and help you get the best result.

Here are the tools you need to gather. 

  • Garden sprayer or spray bottle
  • Putty knife or drywall taping knife
  • Waterproof drop cloths or tarps
  • Painter’s tape
  • Ladder
  • Safety goggles
  • Dust mask or ventilator 
  • Primer and ceiling paint


How to take off a popcorn ceiling in 3 steps

After testing for asbestos, you are ready to tackle this project. There are three major steps to follow to remove popcorn ceiling. The first is to prepare the space. Preparation helps you protect your furniture, belongings and yourself from damage, dust and debris. Be aware that removing popcorn ceilings is a very messy home improvement project. 

Next is the removal process, which will take time. The final step before cleaning up is to finish the ceiling, including painting, patching or paneling the now-exposed drywall.

Prep the room for popcorn ceiling removal

Removing a popcorn ceiling is going to be a messy DIY project, which is why it’s important to prepare the space before any work starts. This step is where drop cloths and tarps will come in handy.

Steps to prepare the space:

  • Remove small furniture items, linens, pillows and knickknacks from the room. Don’t worry about larger furniture or hard-to-remove items. 
  • Turn off the HVAC system. This helps keep dust and debris from entering the HVAC system and ductwork.
  • Remove any ceiling light fixtures and ceiling fans, and cover the electrical boxes with painter's tape. Make sure to cover securely to avoid water damage. 
  • If you have recessed lighting, simply stuff newspaper inside to keep the lights dry and turn off the circuit to them.
  • Cover any remaining furniture and personal belongings with tarps to shield them from dust, debris and water.
  • Use painter's tape to hang plastic sheeting along the walls and fixtures to protect them from damage. 
  • Make sure to keep the room ventilated.

Wet the ceiling and scrape off the popcorn texture

Now that you have prepped the space, it’s time to get to work. Scraping the popcorn texture off the ceiling is the most tedious and time-consuming part of this process. However, with patience, these step-by-step instructions will help you get the best results. 

  1. Spray the ceiling with warm water. Using the garden sprayer or spray bottle, spray a small area of the ceiling with water. Work in small sections, about 5-by-5 square feet. Do not oversaturate or overspray the ceiling. Getting the area too wet will ruin the drywall.
  2. Wait 10 to 15 minutes for the water to soak in. Don’t continue to spray other areas because they will likely dry before you reach them. Be patient. 
  3. Scrape the ceiling with the putty knife. Gently run the putty knife along the wet portion of the ceiling. You want to angle it just enough to get the textured layer off without hurting the drywall underneath. 
  4. Mind the corners of the putty knife because they are most likely to cut gouges in the drywall. If you accidentally cut into the drywall, make a note to patch it before painting. 
  5. Spray again if you need to. If you are having difficulty in one area, spray it again. Wet popcorn ceilings are easier to remove than dry ones.
  6. Section by section, make your way around the room. Make sure to mind any molding, fixtures and corners. 

For those who want to tame the mess around this project, a couple of tricks will help.

  • Use a mud pan to catch the debris before it falls to the floor. This takes a bit of coordination, especially if you are on a ladder. You can also use the pan to clean off the edge of your scrapper as you go along. 
  • Purchase a popcorn ceiling scraper with an extended pole or attach your putty knife or drywall knife to a painter's pole. This will give you an extended reach so you won’t have to worry about a ladder.
  • Attach a bag to the side of your scraper to catch falling debris.
  • You can also round off the corners of your scraping tool to avoid cutting into the drywall.
  • Dry scraping is less messy. While wet scraping is easier, it causes a sloppy mess. Some believe that dry scraping is just as effective and easy, but with less mess. If you are concerned about using water on your drywall, you can try dry scraping. Follow the same steps; just skip the water.

Sand, prime and paint the new ceiling

Once you remove the popcorn ceiling, it’s time to prepare it for the next stage. Sanding, priming and painting will make your new ceiling look amazing. Just make sure you’ve chosen your paint colors before you begin removing your popcorn ceilings. 

Here is how you can finish up this DIY project without having to tarp the room again.

  • Repair any damage. Fill any scrapes, holes or gouges with joint compound before sanding. Cover any imperfections, such as visible joints or screws. This is also a perfect opportunity to replace old or broken sections with new drywall. 
  • Sand the ceiling. Sand down the ceiling, including the repaired spaces, to prep the ceiling for paint and primer. 
  • Prime the drywall. The uncovered drywall needs priming to create a smooth and sealed surface for paint.
  • Apply a fresh coat of paint in your desired color. Consider using ceiling paneling for a unique look. This is also a great time to add new design elements, including molding, fixtures or lights.


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Get rid of those pesky popcorn ceilings in your home with these three easy DIY steps. Upgrading your home is that simple.

Your home protection is ready and waiting!