The DIY Designer: The do’s and don’ts of removing popcorn ceilings


Authored By rainonatinroofblog

Let me preface this post by saying this is not one of those projects for everyone. Removing popcorn ceilings isn’t really difficult, but it is messy. Very messy. It can also be quite frustrating.

This project and its consequences sparked the entire makeover of the bathroom. In the end, it was worth it.

During this process, I not only learned what to do, but what not to do. I will share all those tips in hopes this project is easier for you.

Tools and materials needed

  • Tank sprayer
  • Drywall trowel or wide putty knife
  • Plastic sheeting
  • FrogTape
  • Ladder
  • Breathing mask
  • Water
  • Safety glasses/goggles

What you may need

  • Joint compound
  • Sandpaper

Step one
Before you start anything, you need to determine whether your ceiling could contain asbestos. If your house was built prior to or near 1978, your ceiling could contain asbestos. You can get it checked for asbestos before proceeding. Our house was built in 1969, but our contractor said we were in the clear when we took out a wall when we first bought the foreclosure.

Remove any light fixtures, and cover up the wiring so that it isn’t exposed to water.

If you want to avoid a big mess, you need to run plastic sheeting all along your walls and floors, securing it with tape along the edges. If you like big messes or you really don’t care to clean it up, you can skip this part.

Guess who skipped this part because she may have been a bit too impatient?

Yep. I am still cleaning popcorn ceiling remnants out of my grout.

Step two
Fill up your tank sprayer with water-nothing else, just plain water. Do not fill it so full that it is too heavy to carry across your shoulders while you are on the ladder. Yes, I nearly toppled myself over because of that.

Step three
Pump up the pressure on your tank sprayer, and aim your nozzle toward the ceiling. Begin spraying the water directly onto your popcorn ceiling. Wear safety glasses/goggles to keep the water and eventually the popcorn from dripping into your eyes. Do not try to be a rebel and not wear the glasses. Take it from me.

If you are working in a small space, as my bathroom is, spray the entire ceiling down at once. If it is a large space, work in sections.

After you spray the entire ceiling down once, go back to where you began and spray it down again.

Step four
Put on your breathing mask. Seriously, put it on. I mean it. 

After you spray down the ceiling completely the second time, go back to where you began, take your putty knife, and scrape the popcorn right off the ceiling. If it doesn’t come down easily with one scrape, stop and let the water soak in more or spray more water on the ceiling. Do not think that constantly scraping it will make it come down. Wait until it is soaked through, and it will come down super-easily-like mush.

Do not think that you can leave small pieces of popcorn behind. All those small pieces have to go, too. If they dry before you get to them, wet them back down and then scrape.

When scraping the popcorn off, try to keep the putty knife as level as possible against the ceiling. Do not put too much pressure on the edges, or you will end up tearing the paper of the drywall.

Step five
After you have scraped all the popcorn off, allow the ceiling to fully dry. If you scored an A+ in following my what not to do’s, you may not need to do this step.

Those spots where I tore the paper on the drywall needed to be fixed.

Lightly sand them to make them as even as possible, then spackle as needed. Allow the spackle to dry, then sand smooth.

Step six
Prime your ceiling with the paint primer of your choice.

You only need one coat of primer. This just helps to seal the drywall and keep your ceiling paint from soaking in too much and requiring multiple coats.

At this point, you can paint your ceiling white or whatever color you want to paint it.

What color did I paint my ceiling?

I’m so glad you asked. I painted it pink. Yep, pink. See it here.

See more photos on how to remove popcorn ceilings here.

Have you removed popcorn ceilings before?

Jenna LaFevor rants on at Rain on a Tin Roof about DIY projects, junk décor, thrifty finds, crafty creations and other decorating dilemmas. She went to UTC, where she got a teaching degree that now collects dust. When she isn’t trying to keep her kid from climbing out of the circus ring or making sure her husband’s shirts are taken to the dry cleaners so she gets out of ironing, she can be found with a paintbrush in one hand and a cheap beer in the other. But if you’re buying, she’ll have a cosmopolitan. You can email her at [email protected]; or you can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter @raintinroofblog or at her blog. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.