How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

You can remove a popcorn ceiling at home by protecting your walls and furniture, testing the ceiling materials, and carefully scraping it off while it’s damp.
Written by Payton Ternus
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Popcorn ceilings used to be all the rage, but many homeowners now find them unsightly and difficult to take care of. If you want to remove popcorn ceilings, you’ll need to properly prepare your home by testing the ceiling materials and protecting your furniture and walls from the mess.
Popcorn ceilings were extremely popular back in the 1960s and 1970s since they were low-maintenance and hid any imperfections. However, the texture gets dirty easily and can hide any holes or cracks that need to be fixed. Taking off a popcorn ceiling is a messy job, but well worth it if there’s a good foundation underneath.
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How to remove popcorn ceiling in your home

Ready to get rid of that pesky popcorn ceiling? Keep reading to learn how to remove popcorn texture from the ceiling in your home.

Testing the ceiling texture

Before you can begin the removal process, you’ll need to conduct two tests on your popcorn ceiling—a scrape test and an asbestos test.
There are two parts of the scrape test: dry and wet. Start with a dry ceiling and try to scrape off a small area. If it comes off easily, you can proceed with the next step. 
If it doesn’t, dampen a small section with water and try to scrape it again. Wet ceilings are easiest to remove in most cases because the ceiling will soften, but if the texture doesn’t soften, there is either paint mixed into it or the ceiling was painted over. In those cases, you’ll need to decide if getting rid of the texture is worth the tough removal process. 

Test for asbestos 

The most important step in removing a popcorn ceiling is testing for asbestos. Asbestos exposure can lead to serious health problems, like lung cancer. You’ll need to call your local health department to have a sample tested. If it’s negative, proceed to the next steps. If it’s positive, have a professional help you remove the ceiling or cover it safely.

Preparing your home

After you’ve tested the ceiling, you’ll need to get your home ready for the removal.
Removing popcorn texture from a ceiling is a very messy job. The wet plaster can flake off and get stuck to any exposed furniture or other belongings. Furthermore, you don’t want to soak any of your belongings with your pump sprayer while you dampen the entire ceiling. 
Here is the checklist to follow before removing popcorn ceiling texture:
  • Cover everything in the room in plastic drop cloths
  • Move all furniture out of the room
  • Remove all fans and other fixtures in the ceiling
  • Protect any can lights from water damage by stuffing them with rosin paper or newspaper
  • Cover all electrical boxes
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Taking off a popcorn ceiling

Once the room is properly protected against messes, you’re ready to start removing your popcorn ceiling!
You will need to work in small sections—an area measuring 4 feet by 4 feet is a great place to start. Lightly spray the area with a pump sprayer until it is damp, and let it sit for 15 minutes. If the popcorn texture hasn’t softened, repeat this step and wait for another 10 to 15 minutes to test the texture again.
When the drywall is soft, you can use your scraper to gently scrape it off the ceiling. Make sure to round off the edges of your scraper with an electric grinder, file, or sander to avoid accidentally gouging your ceiling. While you scrape, use a mud pan to catch the wet popcorn—the edge of the pan can also clean off your scraper.
After all of the popcorn texture has been scraped off, there will probably be imperfections left on your ceiling. You will need to sand down your ceiling before it’s ready for paint or any other finishes.

Why might your home have a popcorn ceiling

You may be wondering why so many homes have popcorn ceilings if lots of homeowners find them unsightly. This wasn’t the case 50 years ago—popcorn ceilings were extremely popular in the 1960s and 70s. They were a fairly inexpensive decor option and were easy to install.
Popcorn ceilings were low maintenance for homeowners—imperfections like cracks, damage, leaks, and poor craftsmanship were disguised by the texture. They were also designed to reduce echoes and ambient sounds, therefore boosting the acoustics in the room.

Popcorn ceilings and home insurance

It was common for popcorn ceilings installed in homes before 1980 to contain asbestos. Asbestos contamination makes the removal process hazardous—exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to lung scarring, lung disease, or lung cancer.
Most homeowners insurance policies will notcover asbestos removal because they contain exclusions for pollution. There may be exceptions where home insurance covers asbestos removal—for example, if the asbestos is exposed by a covered peril, like a windstorm.

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Yes! You can safely remove popcorn ceiling DIY style as long as it does not contain any asbestos. Make sure to test your ceiling to see if it has any asbestos before starting any work on it.
No, not all popcorn ceilings contain asbestos—but it was fairly common for popcorn ceilings installed before 1980 to have it. Before doing any removal work, make sure you test your ceiling for asbestos.
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