Like all outdated trends, popcorn ceilings, also known as acoustic ceilings, were once a popular choice in home design. This was partly due to their ability to mask imperfections and absorb sound. However, these textured ceilings have fallen out of favor, with many homeowners opting for a more modern, smooth ceiling finish. 

photo of scraping texture off ceiling with text underneath reading "popcorn ceiling removal: How to DIY it and when to call a pro"

Removing a popcorn ceiling might be the first thing you want to do when you buy a new home, but it’s a task that needs to be approached with caution. As well as being a messy job, there’s a chance your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, in which case you shouldn’t be trying to remove it yourself. 

In this article, we’ll give you a crash course on DIY popcorn ceiling removal, including when it’s safe, when it isn’t, and when to call a pro. 

The Critical First Step: Testing for Asbestos

Before you even think about scraping off that popcorn ceiling, it’s essential to test for asbestos. This mineral fiber, commonly used in building materials before the 1980s, is a common problem in older homes. It poses significant health risks if disturbed. Here’s what you need to know about asbestos and how to handle it safely.

Why Is Asbestos a Problem?

Asbestos was widely used for its durability and heat resistance, but it has since been linked to severe health issues. When materials containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny fibers can become airborne and inhaled, leading to diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Because of these risks, it’s crucial to determine if your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos before starting removal.

What Would Happen if You Accidentally Removed Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling?

Accidentally removing an asbestos-containing popcorn ceiling can release hazardous fibers into your home, posing immediate and long-term health risks to you and your family. Inhaling these fibers can cause serious respiratory illnesses, which may not manifest until decades later. Improper removal can also lead to widespread contamination, requiring extensive and costly professional remediation to make your home safe again.

How Do You Test for Asbestos? 

Testing for asbestos involves collecting a small sample of your popcorn ceiling and sending it to a certified laboratory for analysis. Test kits are available at Home Depot if you opt to do this the DIY way, but be sure you do so safely.

asbestos test kit product photo
Photo source: Home Depot

Here are the safety precautions you should take if doing this step yourself:

  • Wear protective gear, including a mask, gloves, and disposable coveralls, to prevent exposure.
  • Lightly spray the area with water to reduce the risk of fibers becoming airborne.
  • Carefully scrape a small section of the ceiling into a sealed, labeled plastic bag.
  • Contact an accredited asbestos testing laboratory for instructions on how to submit your sample.

Don’t feel comfortable testing your ceiling yourself? That’s totally understandable. You can hire a professional asbestos inspector to handle the testing, ensuring the safety of you and your family.

What to Do if Your Popcorn Ceiling Contains Asbestos

If your test results come back positive for asbestos, it’s best to avoid any DIY removal attempts. Don’t disturb the ceiling any further to prevent asbestos fibers from becoming airborne, and contact a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. They can safely remove or encapsulate the material according to your area’s regulations and safety standards.

Why Remove Popcorn Ceilings?

After all that talk about asbestos, you may be thinking you want to get it out of your house ASAP if your ceiling does indeed contain the harmful fiber. However, the US Consumer Product Safety Comission strongly advises against removing asbestos ceilings, warning “The best thing to do with asbestos material in good condition is to leave it alone!” Undamaged asbestos is not an issue; the health concerns only arise after asbestos material has been disturbed, releasing fibers into the air.

The only reason to remove popcorn ceilings, then, is for aesthetic purposes. So only worry about taking on this project if it’s something that bothers you or if you’re looking for a way to update the look of your home. There’s no doubt, it can make a big difference in any bedroom remodel, kitchen renovation, or as a standalone project to simply update your home a bit. Other options include covering up your outdated ceiling if it is particularly damaged or if you just don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of scraping it all off. Architectural Digest offers a few suggestions in their post on popcorn ceiling removal.

Preparing for DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal

If you test your ceiling and it’s 100% free from asbestos, it’s safe to go ahead with your DIY popcorn ceiling removal. Just like any DIY project, preparation is key! Here’s how to get started. 

The Tools You’ll Need to Remove Popcorn Ceiling 

Here’s a list of the necessary tools you’ll need to scrape away that outdated 1960’s texture off your ceilings: 

  • Safety glasses, a dust mask or respirator, gloves, and old clothing to protect yourself from dust and debris.
  • Plastic sheeting to cover floors, walls, and furniture, protecting them from water and falling debris.
  • Painter’s tape to secure the plastic sheeting in place.
  • A spray bottle or garden sprayer filled with water to dampen the ceiling, making it easier to scrape off the popcorn coating.
  • A wide paint scraper or putty knife or a specialized popcorn ceiling removal tool to scrape off the popcorn texture.
  • A step ladder to reach the ceiling safely and comfortably.
  • A bucket to collect the removed material.
  • Drop cloths as additional protection for floors and larger pieces of furniture.
  • Joint compound and sandpaper for repairing any damage and smoothing the ceiling once the texture is removed.
  • Paint roller and paint for repainting the ceiling once your DIY popcorn ceiling removal is complete. 

If you already have basic painting supplies like drop sheets and a ladder, you can see that the popcorn ceiling removal cost is pretty cheap when you do it yourself. 

How to Prep Your Room for DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal

As we said, removing popcorn ceilings is all about preparation. Follow these steps to prep your room for removing popcorn ceilings: 

  • Remove all furniture, decorations, and any other items from the room.
  • If removing large furniture isn’t possible, move it to the center of the room and cover it with plastic sheeting.
  • Use plastic sheeting or drop cloths to cover the floor, extending it up the walls slightly. You may also want to cover the full wall in areas with texture that will capture dust, as shown in the photo below from Home Depot’s guide to popcorn ceiling removal.
  • Close and cover all vents and doors with plastic sheeting to prevent dust from spreading to other parts of your home.
  • If your ceiling has any electrical fixtures, turn off the power at the circuit breaker to avoid any electrical hazards. 
  • Put on your protective gear, including safety goggles, a dust mask, and a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Tape over electrical outlets.
preparing for popcorn ceiling removal
Photo source: Hope Depot

For the safety of you and everyone else in your home, it’s critical to take these steps before you start your DIY popcorn ceiling removal.

How to Remove Popcorn Ceilings: DIY Steps

So, once you’ve safely prepared everything, it’s time to start your DIY popcorn ceiling removal. We’re going to break this into three steps – wetting the ceiling, scraping the popcorn, and smoothing the ceiling for painting or finishing. 

Wetting Your Popcorn Ceiling

Wetting the ceiling is crucial for softening the popcorn texture, making it easier to scrape off and reducing the amount of dust generated. Dry scraping can get quite messy and is not the best way to remove textured popcorn ceilings as it is not only more difficult, but can also result in you inhaling dust from the ceiling.

 what to do: 

  1. Fill a spray bottle or garden sprayer with warm water. For extra effectiveness, you can add a few drops of dish soap to help penetrate the texture.
  2. Start by lightly misting a small section of the ceiling, about 2-3 square feet. Wait about 15 minutes to let the water soak in.
  3. After waiting, touch the area to see if the rough texture has softened. If it hasn’t, mist it again and wait a few more minutes. Avoid over-saturating, which can damage the drywall beneath.

When you’re happy with how wet your ceiling is, you can start the scraping process. 

Scraping Off the Popcorn Ceiling 

Once the ceiling texture is moist enough, you can begin the scraping process by following these steps:

  1. Use a wide putty knife or a specialized ceiling scraper to gently scrape the popcorn texture off the ceiling. Hold the scraper at a shallow angle to avoid gouging the drywall. ‘The Family Handyman‘ recommends this helpful tip: consider rounding the corners of your scraper with a file or sander to prevent gouging the ceiling.
  2. Work in small sections, about 2-3 square feet at a time, to ensure the texture remains moist and easy to scrape. Re-wet areas as needed.
  3. As you scrape, allow the debris to fall onto the drop cloths or tarps below. You can also attach a plastic bag to your scraper to catch the falling texture and minimize cleanup.
  4. For areas that are difficult to scrape, re-mist with water and wait a few more minutes before trying again. Use a smaller putty knife or a utility knife for tight spots or edges.

After you’ve finished scraping the ceiling, it’s time to smooth and prepare it for painting. 

scraping a popcorn ceiling
Photo source: The Family Handyman

Preparing Your Ceiling for Painting or Re-Finishing 

Whether you choose to paint your ceiling or re-finish it in some other way, you’ll need to first make sure it’s smooth and prepped for whatever’s next. Here’s how: 

  1. Once all the texture is removed, inspect the ceiling for any remaining rough spots or damage. Use a utility knife to remove any small pieces left behind.
  2. Lightly sand the entire ceiling with a sanding pole and fine-grit sandpaper (220-grit) to smooth out any imperfections. Wear a dust mask and goggles.
  3. If you find any gouges or holes, fill them with joint compound using a putty knife. Allow the compound to dry completely, then sand it smooth.
  4. Apply a coat of primer designed for ceilings. This will seal the surface, cover any stains, and provide a uniform base for your paint or finish.
  5. Once the primer is dry, paint the ceiling with high-quality ceiling paint or apply your chosen finish. Use a roller with an extension pole for an even application.

There you have it! Your ceiling is now free from the ugly popcorn texture and ready for you to modernize it – what a relief! If you’re looking for ways to level up your ceiling’s look, check out our ideas for DIY moulding and trim next. But of course, you’ll need to clean up your mess first…

How to Clean Up After DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Once you’re free of your popcorn ceiling, it’s time for the cleanup. Make sure you keep your protective gear on, then begin by carefully folding up the drop cloths or tarps with the collected debris inside. This will help contain the mess and make it easier to transport.

Use a HEPA vacuum to clean the floors, walls, and any other surfaces where dust might have settled. HEPA vacuums are designed to capture fine particles, including any residual dust from the popcorn ceiling.

With a damp cloth or mop, wipe down all surfaces, including walls, floors, and any furniture that might have been exposed, to remove any remaining dust. If you had vents or ducts covered during the removal process, carefully uncover them and vacuum any dust that may have settled nearby. Ensure your HVAC system is free of debris before turning it back on.

Disposing of Popcorn Ceiling 

After the cleanup is complete, you need to think about how to dispose of your waste. Before disposing of any material, check your local regulations regarding the disposal of construction debris. Place the scraped material in heavy-duty garbage bags. Double-bagging is recommended to prevent any tears or leaks during transportation.

Take the bags to a designated construction and demolition (C&D) waste facility or a hazardous waste disposal site, if required. These facilities are equipped to handle and process such materials safely. 

If you’re unsure about how to dispose of the material properly, consider hiring a professional waste disposal service. They can ensure that all materials are handled and disposed of in compliance with local regulations.

When Should You Avoid DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal and Call a Professional Instead

Taking matters into your own hands is a great way to cut down on the cost of removing popcorn ceilings, but it’s not always a safe DIY project. If your home was built before the mid-1980s (as most homes with popcorn ceilings were), there’s a good chance you’re dealing with asbestos ceilings, and unless you’re 100% confident in your abilities to test for yourself, you may prefer to call a pro. 

Especially if you have health concerns such as asthma or allergies, professional popcorn ceiling removal may be the best route for you. They have the tools, protective gear, and experience to ensure a smooth, safe, and high-quality removal process, which means less stress and a great end result for you. 

Final Thoughts on DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal 

Removing a popcorn ceiling can dramatically transform the look of your home, making it more modern and visually appealing. Whether you choose to tackle the project yourself or call in the experts, it’s essential to prioritize safety and proper preparation. 

By testing for asbestos, using the right tools, and following careful procedures, you can safely remove asbestos, leaving you with a blank slate ceiling to create any type of aesthetic you’re looking for. Good luck! 

Looking for more quick projects to update your home? Consider checking out ways to cover up an old backsplash, DIY faux granite countertops, and ways to organize your home next!

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