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DIY Home Improvement: How to Take Down Acoustic (Popcorn) Ceiling

By Edited Nov 28, 2015 1 1

Popcorn ceiling
Do you hate the look of your popcorn ceilings? Are you tired of seeing all the cobwebs that accumulate in them? Do you cringe when you think of how many years worth of dust and other funk is stuck in them? Removing the popcorn is definitely something you can do! Be forewarned, though, this project is a huge mess and will probably take more than one day to do. It's pretty easy to scrape off the popcorn and do any patching in one day, but usually the sanding, priming, and putting up the new texture have to happen on the second or third days because of drying times.

Please read the warning about asbestos at the bottom of the page. This guide is only meant for asbestos-free popcorn ceiling removal! Please also note that this guide does not address popcorn ceilings that have been painted over.

Things You Will Need

You will need:
Safely glasses and dust mask
Garden hose with a fine mist spray nozzle or spray bottle filled with water
Plastic drop cloths; the thin (inexpensive) disposable ones are good for a quick cleanup
Tape to affix the drop cloths to the wall; painter's tape if you don't want to damage the paint on the wall
Wide drywall taping knife (10 inches wide works well) or similar scraping device
Drywall pole sander with sandpaper
Drywall joint compound and putty knife for patching nicks and imperfections
Ceiling primer and paint brushes, rollers, pans, etc.

Nice to have:
Shop vac; to minimize dust and clean up quickly

Step 1

Prepare the room. Remove the furniture and lay down the plastic drop cloths. Tape the drop cloths to the wall a couple of inches off the ground to protect the edges of the floor. If there is a window, remove the curtains and tape a drop cloth over the window. Shut off the power to the room and remove any light fixtures. Cover the light fixture hole in the ceiling with some tape. If there are closet doors, it may be more convenient to remove them as well.

Step 2

wetting the ceiling (18103)
Using the garden sprayer or spray bottle, wet a small area of the ceiling. You want to wet it enough so that the popcorn will scrape off easily, but don't get it so wet that a watermark will be left on the drywall underneath. You may want to get a feel for how much water to use in an inconspicuous area such as a closet.

Step 3

scraping the ceiling (18104)
Using the drywall taping knife or other scraping tool, scrape the popcorn off the wet area and let it fall to the floor. Be careful to not nick the drywall as you are scraping. If you do, no big deal; you will just have more patching to do later. It is a good idea to wear safely glasses and a dust mask when scraping (not like my husband in the picture!)

Step 4

Continue wetting the popcorn and scraping until you have it all removed. Bundle up the drop cloths and put down new ones to protect your floor during patching, sanding, and priming.

Step 5

Survey the ceiling for any nicks, screw heads, seams that need mending, or other imperfections. Patch the imperfections with a thin layer of joint compound. Let them dry and patch again with another thin layer of joint compound. Taking care with this step really pays off in the end! You wouldn't want to have to look at an imperfection you could have fixed after your ceiling is all done.

Step 6

Put on your safety glasses and dust mask and sand your ceiling with the pole sander. Hooking the pole sander up to your shop vac really helps minimize the dust. Taking care with this step also pays off big in the end! You want a completely smooth ceiling after you are finished with this step.

Step 7

Get out your ceiling primer and prime the ceiling. Let the primer dry thoroughly before applying the finishing touches. You are now ready to finish the ceiling the way you want to. You may want to put up a different texture (orange peel or knock-down) or try your hand at a more decorative finish. You may have done such a good job patching and sanding that you have a gorgeously smooth ceiling that you can just go ahead and paint.

Tips & Warnings

Warning: Be sure that your popcorn ceiling is not the variety that is made with asbestos. Asbestos was banned for use in popcorn ceilings in 1978, but homebuilders were allowed to use up their supplies so many homes in the 1980s still have asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings. To test yours, look up a testing service in your community or on line and submit a couple of samples. Prices seem to range from $30 to $70 for testing - definitely worth it! If your ceiling contains asbestos, you should not attempt to remove it without professional help and equipment.


Jun 4, 2010 11:47pm
Beat me to it! Nice article, it's very easy to remove popcorn ceilings and something that is totally worth doing if there is no asbestos in the ceilings.

I found that spraying the ceiling (with a garden sprayer) actually took longer than actually scraping it, so it really helped to have someone to do it with me. We'd spray a 3x3 foot area for about 2-3 minutes and then scrape it all off in about a minute or two.
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