How to Deal With Popcorn or Textured Ceilings – Tips & Ideas
(Painted or Unpainted)
Few things strike fear into the heart of a homeowner like a popcorn ceiling. That lumpy, bumpy, cottage cheese surface (reminds me of one of my body parts) that was popular from the 1950 to 80s is undoubtedly the least popular ceiling finish and can be a bugger to deal with.
Now usually I’m all unicorns and lollipops when it comes to decorating and updating, but I’m not here to blow rainbows up your toosh (sad but true), so I’m going to tell it like it is…and it ain’t always good. Will it be worth it in the end? Sure. Just be prepared for some challenges along the way.
TIP 1 IT MAY CONTAIN ASBESTOS
Before 1989* (so I wasn’t even born yet…uh-huh) asbestos was a common ingredient in popcorn ceilings (and many other household products). Nasty stuff. There are home kits you can buy to test for asbestos (here), but it is NOT something to mess with if you don’t know what you are doing. If it were me, I’d spend the money on a trained professional who can do the test properly and safely.
(*Some sources say 1989 some say 1979/1980 – I like to be on the side of caution)
Check out this article here if you want to read more on that topic… How to Handle a Popcorn Ceiling That May Contain Asbestos
TIP 2 DON’T EXPECT A SMOOTH LANDING
Do you know why popcorn ceilings were created? They aren’t just for acoustic value, they were also created for lazy drywallers and builders who were overjoyed when they discovered that they didn’t have to be as precise with their finishing as the popcorn finish would hide all of their sins.
Often, you will see seams, pockmarks and other flaws that were previously covered by a chunky layer of popcorn
TIP 3 EXTRA LIGHT = EXTRA FLAWS
If you have a good dose of direct natural light coming into the room, this will highlight any bows, seams or patches – so you better hope your drywaller was a stickler for detail…
TIP 4 IF IT’S BEEN PAINTED, BETTER CROSS YOUR FINGERS
I’m always amazed at how many popcorn ceilings HAVEN’T been painted. I mean, it’s been upward of 50 years and the damn thing is still in its sprayed-on state – WHO DOES THIS!? So, if you decide to scrape the popcorn off and are lucky enough that your ceiling is unpainted – consider yourself blessed.
Not sure if it’s been painted? Here are a few tips…
- Unpainted popcorn ceiling (or textured ceiling) often looks slightly 2 toned, where the base of the ceiling is slightly drier looking and the popcorn looks slightly different.
- Take a wet cloth (after you’ve tested for asbestos) and wipe an area that is tucked away – in other words, don’t do this in the middle of the room. If you wipe the ceiling and the popcorn wipes off (which means it’s absorbing the water), then it isn’t painted. If it doesn’t wipe off, you may be in for a fight.
Take a wet cloth and wipe your ceiling, if it comes off, it hasn’t been painted. If it doesn’t come off, you may be in for a fight
Now, why do I say cross your fingers? Well, you’d better hope that it scrapes off easily. It is quite possible that you will need a heavy-duty stripper (usually chemical base), rolls and rolls of plastic and tape and it will likely include huge chunks of your drywall. And remember, a patched flat ceiling will be VERY noticeable if it’s not fixed by a professional – you may be good at drywalling, but I bet you’re not that good.
By the time you are done turning off the electrical, hosing your ceiling down with a potentially toxic stripper, scraping, drinking, patching, swearing, sanding, painting, etc…you may have decided that maybe you should’ve just re-drywalled the damn thing and called it a day. I’ve also read that you can try vinegar and water – call me a sceptic, but, I bet it’s not that effective PARTICULARLY if it’s oil paint.
So what’s the moral of my story? If it were MY home (and I do love ‘do-it-yourself jobs’ and have a hate-on for popcorn ceilings) this is how my priorities would fall…
1. If it’s unpainted, HELL YEAH I would try scraping it and cross my fingers that the ceiling was in ‘reasonable’ shape when I finished. I would then hire a professional to make it smooth and level or learn to live with an imperfect surface.
2. If it’s painted, I’m on the fence. I would either grab a large tub of butter, a salt shaker and EMBRACE the popcorn or I’d dive on in and cross my fingers. Worst case scenario? It doesn’t go well and you have to put up new drywall or use some sort of planking/paneling to cover up the mess – either way, at least you won’t have popcorn anymore! (read more here re: drywall install)
And yes, I will be doing a blog post re: other great ways to cover up popcorn or textured ceiling. In the meantime, check this out… How to Plank a Popcorn Ceiling
POPCORN CEILING REMOVAL – HOW-TO’S
- Great instructions (and hands-on advice) for how to remove a popcorn ceiling – Rain on a Tin Roof
- How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling – Today’s Homeowner
- How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling – Bob Vila style
- A well-laid-out case for covering a popcorn ceiling with new drywall – Family Handyman
Are you a glutton for punishment?
- How to Remove PAINTED Popcorn Ceiling – This video in no way will prepare you for the blood, sweat and beers that are coming your way. Youtube video
So there you have it, no rainbows, no unicorns – just plain old common sense.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2017, UPDATED IN 2020