How To Remove A Popcorn Ceiling

Hi y’all! We finally got around to working on the ceiling of another room. I don’t usually like to do “How To” posts because I’m not an expert in anything except my own style, but since popcorn ceiling removal is a big part of what we’ve been doing around here, here goes!

Remember Wren Disclaimer: Please remember we’re not professionals, we’ve just done the seventh room in our house, so we’re well-practiced. Also, be sure to check if there is asbestos or lead in the texture you are removing. Your process and outcome might be a little different due to different application and paint used.

I’m going to lay this out like it’s a recipe, so here are the ingredients:

  • heavy weight plastic to cover floor & light-weight plastic to cover walls
  • masking tape (we found that painter’s tape wasn’t strong enough)
  • small throw rug or towel
  • rags – like tea towel fabric with low texture
  • light source since ceiling lights and furniture will be removed
  • garden sprayer
  • large scraper
  • small spray bottle
  • putty knife
  • ladder and/or step stool
  • spackling
  • sanding block with pole
  • sandpaper (rough and fine grit)
  • mask
  • goggles
  • hat
  • work shoes

1. Clear the room, including light fixtures (remember to turn the power off).

It is so much easier to do this job if you don’t have to reach over furniture, even if it is covered in plastic. Your back will thank you if the room is completely cleared out.

Ceiling Prep Supplies

2. Cover the floor with heavy-duty plastic.

I place the plastic so it goes up the wall a few inches. I tape the seams and edges so we don’t trip and so the mess doesn’t get under/behind it. We use heavy-duty plastic because it has to stand up to walking on it and dragging ladders and other equipment around.

Cover the floor

3. Cover the walls with light-weight plastic.

I’m the OCD person in this house, so I get this job – think Dexter from the Showtime show. Since our ceilings are 8 feet tall, the 9 foot wide plastic sheeting is just right. I start the plastic a few inches on one side of a corner and run it the whole length of the wall, plus a few inches around the next corner. We finally figured out to use masking tape. The tape we use says 24 hour tape. We’ve had it on the wall longer than 24 hours, more like 2-3 days and we haven’t had a problem. Fingers crossed it will still work on different finishes of paint. It is tricky getting the tape up without accidentally sticking to the wrong part of the plastic. I do this part by myself, but it would be a lot easier with an extra pair of hands. I completely tape the edge so waste and water doesn’t get behind the plastic. I overlap the sheet of plastic for the next wall and run it the whole length of the wall, overlapping the corner, taking care to leave myself an out by overlapping at the door or doorway. Place an old throw rug or towel outside the room where we can take off our work shoes when we leave the room.

cover walls with plastic

It took me about 1 1/2 hours to cover a 10 x 12 room in plastic.

4. Wet and scrape the ceiling.

I wear a hat and mask when I scrape. I’d wear goggles too, but I already wear glasses. Even if you don’t mind getting dirty, you’ll appreciate the hat when you go to wash your hair. Paint dust is really gross when it gets wet and it takes more than one wash to get out of my hair.

scraping supplies

We use a small garden sprayer filled with water and this handy-dandy scraper for the largest expanse of the ceiling. This scraper works great and was totally worth the $18 it cost on Amazon.com. It was made to attach a trash bag to catch the debris, but we found a trash bag cumbersome and it blocks the view of what we’re doing. I keep a rag handy to clean the blade frequently.

ceiling

Working in small sections, like 3 x 3 or so, is best. If you spray the whole ceiling, some areas will dry before you get around to scraping them. When spraying, if the water drips from the ceiling, I think I’ve sprayed too much. When I start to scrape and it isn’t giving, I give the section another pass and let it soak for a bit. I hold the blade of my scraper at less than a 22.5 degree angle. If I got the ceiling wet enough, it should come off fairly easy, but I don’t freak out if it doesn’t. Just give it another spray and bring down another layer. If the ceiling looks pock-marked, I need to take more off.

scraping ceiling

We’ve learned to be very careful on the seams of the drywall where there is tape and mud. We figure out where the seems are pretty quickly, including where the ceiling meets the walls. These are the parts of the ceiling that are most likely to be damaged while scraping. I try not to scrape all of the mud on the seams down to the tape. If I get to the tape, I know I’ll have some repairs to make.

I think the hardest part of the ceiling to make look good is where it meets the walls. I’ve learned to go around the edge of the ceiling and use a small bottle sprayer and putty knife to scrape the popcorn. I do this because I found that sometimes the popcorn texture comes down the side of the wall a bit and you have to scrape up the wall, like you’d scrape the side of a cake pan to get out a piece of cake.

Ceiling edge

When I spray this part of the wall, I wipe the water off the tape holding up the plastic. I just figure wet tape won’t work so well. I’ve also learned that a damp rag will do wonders at wiping small flaws out of the mud that is under the popcorn I just scraped off.

It took me 2 1/2 hours (not including breaks) to scrape around the edges of the ceiling. I took my time and was as much of a perfectionist as possible. It took my husband about an hour to scrape the rest of ceiling after I did the edges. Then, I went back in and gave the ceiling another pass, scraping any parts Jeromy missed. This took another hour. So, 4 1/2 hours of scraping for a 10 x 12 bedroom.

My biggest advice for you, if you want to do this, is take your time scraping the popcorn off. Take lots of breaks. I usually can’t work more than 30-45 minutes without taking a break. My neck and shoulders get all kinked up and my arms get tired. It also gets really hot in a closed off room with one of those industrial lamps providing light. Do as slow and neat a job as you can in this stage. It will save you lots of time and effort when you try to fix the flaws and then paint the ceiling.

Do not be surprised if you find flaws in the drywall under all that popcorn. Each of the rooms we’ve done so far has multiple flaws in the drywall and seams. I guess that is why builders put up popcorn texture in the first place. They didn’t want to pay for perfection. Even if you do a great job, don’t expect perfection. Just expect it to be a whole lot better than that nasty, dirty popcorn you had before.

5. Let the ceiling dry over night.

We like to sweep up the popcorn that has fallen to the floor since we don’t like to walk on it while we spackle and sand the ceiling.

Popcorn removed

6. Spackle, dry, sand, repeat.

Hopefully, we didn’t do too much damage scraping the ceiling. By now, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. We use a tub of DAP spackling. We finally figured out applying the spackling as thinly as possible means we don’t have to sand the ceiling as much. Duh! The two things that stinks about this step are, it takes a while since you have to wait for the spackling to dry, and every time we look at the ceiling, we find another spot we need to repair. When you are sanding the ceiling, I highly recommend that you keep all of the doors in your house closed. Even with a room wrapped in plastic and a shut door, that dust will escape and find its way throughout your house. We also learned not to replace the HVAC filter before we do this project. When we did the hallway where the air intake is, we filled one of the expensive allergen filters with dust in one day. Oops!

sanding supplies

7. Clean Up!

We take down the plastic and give the room a good cleaning.

8. Paint the ceiling

My big advice here is to do the first coat running north to south and then do the second coat east to west (or vice versa). I did one room in our house the same way for both coats and I missed the same spot twice!

As we work our way throughout the house, removing popcorn and painting the ceiling, we are also changing out the light fixtures, painting trim, and painting walls. We haven’t done a single room yet where we didn’t also have to paint the walls because they usually look a little something like this when the popcorn comes down:

top of the wall

I apologize for the blurry picture, but I think you can still see how the very top of the wall is now damaged where the popcorn used to be. Groan. I have to repair and paint! And, if I’m painting the walls, I might as well do the trim, if it needs it.

So, here’s what the room looked like before:

Before

 Here is the room with all of the surfaces freshly painted:

After

I can tell you that even though it doesn’t look like a big difference, it feels like a new and fresh room! We’ve noticed that the ceilings feel a bit taller without that gunk hanging over our heads.

We haven’t purchased a new ceiling fan yet. I have a hard time picking out ceiling fans. Most of them are sooooo ugly and the ones I like are expensive. Figures. I painted the ceiling with Sherwin William’s Moderne White and the walls are Sedate Gray. I wasn’t sure what to paint this room, but I knew I wanted a neutral color, so I went with Sedate Gray because I liked how it looked in our dining room.

Our future plans for the guest room are to use two twin size beds configured like a sectional sofa, something like this, and we’ll move in the TV that is currently in our living room once hubby gets his new TV when we win the lottery, or maybe score a nice tax return.

So, what do you think? Do you have an easier way to remove popcorn ceilings? Do you know the proper professional way to do it? I could seriously use some advice because we are getting closer to tackling our rooms that have vaulted ceilings! Yikes! Once we get up on a ladder, we might decide to hire a professional.

 

3 thoughts on “How To Remove A Popcorn Ceiling

  1. I could have really used this post 4 years ago when we lived in GA. Our popcorn ceilings really needed to come down they were all dusty and dirty looking. Ugh! This is a great post!! I can’t believe you’ve done 7 rooms. That’s a lot of work but I know you are happy with the results!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

  2. Pingback: Finally, A Lovely Living Room! | rememberwren

  3. That is crazy amazing. We have a hallway and the livingroom with popcorn. It’s small popcorn, but still popcorn. I know I will hate this job, but I know I want to do it. Thanks for all the great tips!! I have to figure out if its been painted too……

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