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.
How to Paint Rounded or Bullnose Corners
How to Paint Two-Storey Walls – The Best Tip You’ll Ever Get
What Colour Should I Paint My Ceiling?
The Best Paint Finishes for Walls, Ceilings, Trims and More
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2017, UPDATED IN 2020
I’d love to just plank over my evil popcorn ceiling, but as an added bonus (not), I have a HUGE vaulted ceiling. Well, I love the vaulted ceiling but not the popcorn. I am wondering if that will make the planking process easier or more difficult! Any thoughts?
Hi Candace, I LOVE vaulted ceilings – lucky you! And yes, getting rid of the popcorn can make a vaulted ceiling even better. I think the only negative to planking a vaulted ceiling is the fact that you will need a taller ladder – otherwise it should be as straightforward as a flat ceiling 🙂
My husband and I just got done scraping popcorn ceilings that had been painted (I know because we painted them) off the ceilings of 5 rooms. There was no problem with getting it off. We just sprayed it with plain old water waited a few minutes and scraped. It was very easy and very messy. Don’t be afraid of painted ceiling. It was no problem.
Hi Laura, thank you for writing! I’ve been told that if it’s latex paint up there it can be easier, but if it’s oil it can be a bugger. I’m really glad to hear you had a good experience as it will help encourage others to take the leap!
We have just had popcorn ceilings “slicked” or smoothed by plasterers. They started by applying something blue on the ceilings that they said would act almost like a glue in helping the new plaster adhere to the ceilings, Days later, they applied a new coat of plaster that had to be lightly sanded smooth after it dried. A VERY messy job (we haven’t moved in yet), and also expensive, but the smooth ceilings now look beautiful! Definitely a job for professionals. Worth every penny.
Hi Lisa, that is ALSO a fabulous way to get rid of the popcorn without having to scrape or redrywall – and good for you for realizing it wasn’t really a ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of job 😉
We have just finished taking the popcorn off all of our ceilings. It is the best decorating decision that I have EVER made. We feel born again. Have painted most them l BM Cloud White. They are all beautiful .It was soooo easy to take the popcorn off. We sprayed sections with water, waited 10 seconds and then simply scraped away. Sometimes the popcorn came off as we sprayed. It is messy but DO IT.
Hi Emilia, this is good news – it does feel like a million bucks, doesn’t it! Thanks for giving readers that extra push they might need to get ‘er done!
Am I the only one in the world that thinks the popcorn ceiling isn’t such a big deal?
Wood planks on a ceiling seems top-heavy, like its upside down. I do like it in a porch or cabin though.
Hi Joanne! I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who don’t mind them at all. However, I’ve found that it is high on the list of features that aren’t appealing to homeowners. There are also some popcorn ceilings that are more subtle and not as deeply textured – these can be very liveable!
As for the wood planks, I’m with you. I know they ‘look cool’ and are definitely ‘on-trend’ but that’s what it is really – trendy and in 10 years I do think that they won’t be quite as big of a hit.
Thanks for writing!
Thank you for this post! I really needed this information and you tell it like it is!
Hi Lisa, thank you! I try to be realistic about things so you can know what you’re getting in to – rainbows and all!
I agree with you regarding the planks on the ceiling. I found the popcorn ceiling so so so easy to take off that I do not see any reason to leave it if was sprayed on after the asbestos ban was initiated. Also, one of my popcorn ceilings was painted and that ceiling too came off easily with sprayed water.
It sounds like a lot of you have had some great experiences – glad to hear it and thank you for commenting!
Our whole house was popcorn ceilings when we moved in. If you are buying a house, REMOVE THE POPCORN CEILINGS FIRST!!! We didn’t have it done because we thought it was too expensive and too much money to spend at the same time as buying a larger home and more furniture, We have 15 and 20 foot cathedral ceilings with huge skylights in them so we didn’t feel comfortable doing it ourselves. Anyway, it was TEN YEARS before we could bear to tear up our whole house to remove the popcorn; it’s a very messy, very dusty job. Do NOT let your husband talk you out of spending the money to do it before you move in!!!!! Lesson learned. We had ours scraped and a “level 5” drywall finish done. They are sooooo gorgeous now! And we could have been enjoying our perfect ceilings for the past ten years. Ugh! Do NOT wait!
I have tried the spray and scrape doesn’t work – I’ve been told there is probably a oil base primer or paint – so I don’t know what to do at this time – I decided to take to walls down prior to this and now I can’t scrape it – any thoughts
Ah yes, I bet it’s oil! At this point the best bet really would be to start with fresh new drywall, either going over the existing, or taking down what is there…