Your Guide to Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Small Projects and Repairs
By Mateos Glen Hayes October 11, 2021

In the latter half of the twentieth century, a new style of design became trendy in America. This aesthetic hoped to embody what would be the future of home design. Many of the ideas that came out of this period such as suspended ceilings, natural lines, and minimalism continued to be popular in the next century. For all those innovative ideas, some didn’t turn out to be as long-lasting as initially envisioned.

Popcorn ceilings turned out to be one of the ideas that didn’t outlast the millennium, although they did have some benefits. By the 1990s, popcorn ceilings were already seen as stodgy and outdated. Many homeowners began to see them as undesirable and even ugly. Fortunately, it is possible to remove a popcorn ceiling yourself, provided you use the correct tools and take necessary precautions. It can take time to complete this DIY project, but once the popcorn ceiling is gone it will be well worth the effort.

Why You Want to Get Rid of It 

There are plenty of good reasons to scrape away a popcorn ceiling, and these are just two of the most common ones. 

Outdated

Over Time, Popcorn Ceilings Have Become Outdated

Over Time, Popcorn Ceilings Have Become Outdated

Popcorn ceilings don’t go well with modern design styles such as modernism or minimalism and instead end up clashing with modern decor and make the whole design style feel outdated. Popcorn ceilings also tend to absorb quite a bit of light because they aren’t very reflective, which is bad news if you’re trying to aim for an airy modern feel.

The rough surface of a popcorn ceiling can also be rather difficult to clean and tends to accumulate dust and cobwebs quickly. This makes popcorn ceiling maintenance something of a chore. As popcorn ceilings age, they will also start flaking, sending specks of ceiling all over the place. That’s especially bad news if it’s in the kitchen since it means flakes could even get into your food.

Toxic

Asbestos Could Be a Major Health Risk at Home

Asbestos Could Be a Major Health Risk at Home

The other major reason to remove popcorn ceilings can be summed up in one word: asbestos. There was once a time where asbestos was heralded as a modern marvel prized for its durability and high fire resistance. But in recent decades it has been revealed to be a major health risk, and it is necessary to take precautions if you live in a home that has asbestos.

Asbestos may be durable, but it is also a major carcinogen. When it is disturbed, asbestos releases many long fibers into the air which can have major negative health effects if inhaled. Asbestos cannot be broken down by the human body, so any asbestos which is inhaled will scar lungs and cause respiratory issues in the long run. Asbestos poisoning can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other respiratory diseases decades down the line. For this reason, anyone who plans to work on a home that has popcorn ceilings needs to exercise caution. Asbestos was used as late as the 1980s, so it is still quite possible that your popcorn ceilings contain it.

Taking Precautions 

It is crucial to take some precautions before even starting to scrape away your popcorn ceiling, for many reasons.

Testing 

Sending Samples to Labs Might Be an Affordable Option for Inspections

Sending Samples to Labs Might Be an Affordable Option for Inspections

Testing is a good first step in your popcorn ceiling removal project since it’s the most definitive way to figure out if you have to deal with asbestos. The best way to get the full asbestos picture for your home, however. is to hire a home inspector. Your local asbestos home inspector might know about potential asbestos risks in your home and will be able to locate them for you.

It is recommended that you only hire professionals who are certified in asbestos inspections. This usually costs around $500. A more affordable option is to send a sample of your popcorn ceiling to a lab, but this won’t tell you anything about the condition of the asbestos ceiling. 

Risk Assessment

Assessing Your Decaying Popcorn Ceiling Risks Is Important

Assessing Your Decaying Popcorn Ceiling Risks Is Important

The condition is important to know because a decaying asbestos popcorn ceiling poses more of an immediate threat than an intact one. This is because a popcorn ceiling that is falling apart will begin to release tiny flakes and fibers all over the place which can then be inhaled by residents. A decaying asbestos popcorn ceiling is a much more urgent case for removal than an intact one. Of course, once you start removing the asbestos, it will begin to fall apart and flake everywhere, so you’ll have to prepare the affected room before starting work.

Measures must be taken to prevent the spread of asbestos flakes throughout your home. Do not sweep or vacuum places where asbestos fibers are present. To clear them, use a mop since this will prevent the fibers from taking flight. You must also be mindful of tracking asbestos fibers throughout your home. The room will have to be sealed with Saran wrap on doorways, vents, and other openings so that the flakes do not escape the room you’re working in. 

Protecting Yourself 

Protecting Yourself Is of Utmost Importance

Protecting Yourself Is of Utmost Importance

It is highly recommended that you don protection such as gloves, an N95 mask, and some construction goggles. After all, scraping away the ceiling will still produce flakes and fibers in the air regardless of whether there is any asbestos involved or not. Either way, you want to avoid inhaling those particles.

How to Remove Popcorn Ceilings Yourself 

The entire project shouldn’t take more than four hours to complete. You’ll need some paint scrapers, painter’s tape, a ladder, primer, tarps, and lots of Saran wrap. 

Prepare the Room

Prepare Your Room Before Removing the Popcorn Ceiling

Prepare Your Room Before Removing the Popcorn Ceiling

The first order of business is to remove any small furniture and knick-knacks from the room in question, shut off your HVAC system, and cut power to the room via your circuit breakers. Use the painter’s tape to apply a tarp to the floor, and then use it to put up plastic sheets (Saran wrap) over walls, windows, and doorways. Be sure to keep the room ventilated.

Start Scraping

All that’s left to do once the room is prepared is start scraping away. A painter’s scraper and ladder will help get the job done. If you run into some hard-to-reach areas, attach your scraper to a painter’s pole to make the job easier. When scraping a section, it’s best to moisten the area first with a bottle of warm water mixed with a tiny bit of dishwashing soap and wait twenty minutes.

This combo will loosen the material and make it easier to scrape away. It can also go a long way towards reducing flaking, which is what we want. A putty knife can help with scraping away in corners. As you scrape, be mindful not to gouge the ceiling by pushing too hard or scraping away too much material. Once you’re done, wipe away any flakes that got on light fixtures with a damp cloth. 

Removing Popcorn Ceiling and Refinishing

One of the main benefits of popcorn ceilings is that they conceal your ceiling’s blemishes. With the popcorn ceiling stripped away, those blemishes will rear their ugly heads once more, and you’ll need to patch them up. This is easily done by sanding away imperfections and covering up gouges, nails, or screws with joint compound. Once this is done, it’s time to prime the ceiling and paint it to whichever color you prefer.

Handling Asbestos

Asbestos Is a Carcinogen, Best Handled by Professionals

Asbestos Is a Carcinogen, Best Handled by Professionals

The safest way to dispose of asbestos is to hire an abatement professional to do this for you. Asbestos is a carcinogen, after all, so it’s better not to risk touching it. Of course, this isn’t always a realistic solution since abatement services can be quite costly.

In those cases, the general procedure is to wet the asbestos waste before double bagging it in plastic bags (make sure they don’t have any holes!) before being put in a leak-tight plastic container. Be sure to always wear a respirator and personal protective equipment (PPE) when doing this. Used PPE should also be disposed of in this way. Be sure to drop these plastic containers off at landfills that can process asbestos. If you want to go the extra mile, a HEPA vacuum cleaner can be used to remove asbestos from immovable fixtures and furniture.

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes