Is there any feature in a home that will date its design as fast as an avocado tub or roll out laminate flooring? Yes, a popcorn ceiling! Popcorn ceilings were in their heyday in the 1960s and 70s and offered homeowners a lot of appealing benefits: it easily covered imperfections, added a layer of sound proofing and didn’t require painting. However, they also turned out to be great at catching cobwebs, holding dust and were difficult to clean and hard to repair if part of the popcorn was accidentally scratched away.
Removing popcorn ceilings can be a very messy and time-consuming job but it’s worth the effort to bring your ceilings into modern times, especially if you’re thinking of listing your home for sale in the near future.
The first step is important and should not be skipped. Popcorn ceilings installed before the 1980s could have asbestos, it’s important to have your ceiling tested. If the test comes back negative, you’re good to begin removal. If the test comes back positive you may opt to cover rather than remove your ceiling as to not disrupt the asbestos, or you can bring in an asbestos abatement company to safely remove the substance.
If you’re good to begin removing your popcorn ceiling, the next test you’ll want to do is a scrape test. Most popcorn ceilings will be easier to remove after adding water; however, you don’t want to find out yours removes more easily dry after you’ve sprayed it down to soak. Using a putty knife, scrape a small area dry. Then wet a small area with a sponge and try again. If the texture comes off more easily when dry, skip the steps for wetting the ceiling.
We did warn you this was going to be a messy project, so prepare for the mess as best as you can. Start by removing as much of the furniture and decor from the room as possible. Next, you will cover the walls and floors in plastic sheeting. Plastic works better than cloth alternatives as the wet debris will soak in or soak through the fabric. If you’ve had to leave any furniture in the room, cover that too. Your room will be out of use during the whole process, as you’ll also want to keep everything out or covered while you are sanding and prepping your ceiling for paint once the texture is removed. You’ll also want to remove any fans and light fixtures to keep them from getting covered in popcorn and cover the junction boxes with painter’s tape. For pot lights, you will want to fill the holes with crumpled newspaper to protect them from water. Turn off the power at your electrical panel to ensure safety throughout the project.
Wet the ceiling. This will (most likely, but refer to your scrape test) help the texture to come off more easily and keep down the amount of dust. Using a garden sprayer, mist the area where you are going to begin and let it soak in for about 15 minutes, but don’t wait too long as you don’t want the texture to dry. This is why you’ll also want to work in small areas, about four feet by four feet at a time so that one area isn’t dried before you get there. Be careful not to soak or overspray the ceiling as you don’t want the water to damage the drywall beneath the popcorn. You may need to spray another application if the texture hasn’t softened after 15 minutes.
However, if the texture doesn’t soften after a second application, it may be that the ceiling has been painted or has paint in the mixture. In this case, water won’t penetrate the ceiling and you will need to do a dry scrape before trying again to wet the texture.
It’s time to get scrapping. You can make this job a little easier on yourself with a couple of tips. First, it’s a good idea to file down and curve the edges of your putty knife. This will decrease the chances of you gouging and cutting your drywall with your knife’s sharp corners. It’s also a good idea to hold some sort of catch basin, like a putty tray, below your knife as you scrap. This will help keep some of the wet popcorn off the ground and decrease the chances it will be tracked through the rest of your house. Continue wetting and working in small areas until your popcorn texture is removed.
Once your popcorn is removed, it’s time to prep and paint. If you’ve got any nicks in the ceiling, patch and putty them just like you would your walls. You’ll probably want to give the entire surface a light sanding to ensure you’ve got a smooth ceiling ready for painting.