4 Simple Tips on How to Cover a Popcorn Ceiling

Before you think of scraping off your popcorn ceiling, learning how to cover a popcorn ceiling may save your time and money. The sheer mess of popcorn ceiling removal deters many homeowners from making the ceiling of their dreams a reality.

But what if there was a simpler solution? If your popcorn ceiling is in otherwise good shape, it may not be necessary to remove the offending texture at all. Instead, you can just cover it up!

There are several techniques that can make a popcorn ceiling seemingly disappear in a matter of hours. So deciding exactly how to cover up a popcorn ceiling in your home is entirely up to you!

To get a better idea of what a popcorn ceiling is and what you need to consider when dealing with any design, repair or removal read our guide: What Is a Popcorn Ceiling? 4 Pros And Cons Of Popcorn Ceilings.

Can You Cover a Popcorn Ceiling?

Covering unwanted popcorn ceiling texture is a great alternative to removal!

There are multiple ways to cover a popcorn ceiling for a fresh, contemporary finish. Some of the top methods include:

  • Skim coat — Using a thin layer of finishing compound, applied via a process called skim coating, to smooth over the bumps on a popcorn ceiling without adding much bulk.
  • Drywall panels — New drywall panels make quick work of disguising popcorn ceilings in a home.
  • Shiplap — Install wooden planks (or planks that look like real wood) to cover a popcorn ceiling and add a unique farmhouse aesthetic.
  • Beadboard — For a more modern appearance, cover old popcorn ceilings with beadboard-style planks.

The decision to cover (versus remove) an old popcorn ceiling isn’t just about interior design. It can also be about health and safety.

Many popcorn ceilings installed before the mid-1980s contain asbestos. Asbestos is extremely hazardous when inhaled.

While popcorn ceiling removal can release asbestos particles into the air, this is much less likely to happen when covering the ceiling.

Applying a layer of plaster, tiles, or wooden planks over the ceiling essentially seals in any asbestos for the foreseeable future.

What Is the Cheapest Way To Cover Popcorn Ceiling?

In terms of supplies, the cost to skim coat popcorn ceiling texture is almost always less than any other method mentioned here. However, it is also the most time-consuming for the average DIYer to complete.

How To Skim Coat Over Popcorn Ceiling in 4 Steps

Supplies

There are several skim coating techniques to choose from, but the most basic method calls for the following:

  • Drywall compound
  • Mud pan
  • Taping knife
  • Joint knife
  • Pole sander
  • Sandpaper
  • Sealing primer
  • Paint roller (optional)

1. Prep the Surface

prep the surface

At the very least, your existing popcorn ceiling must be clean before applying the first layer of skim coat. The ceiling should be free of all dust, cobwebs, and surface stains.

If your popcorn ceiling has tested negative for asbestos, removing part of the texture can make skim coating easier. The smoother the ceiling is when you start, the fewer layers it will take to create the desired finish.

A sealing primer is also recommended before skim coating. This will help adhere the drywall compound to the surface and prevent stains from leaking through.

2. Apply the First Coat

apply the first coat

Fill the mud pan with enough drywall compound to cover a small section of the ceiling — say, 3×3 feet.

It’s important to work section by section, otherwise the compound will dry before you’ve had a chance to finish spreading it.

Using a taping or joint knife, apply drywall compound to the ceiling’s surface and “skim” the blade across the popcorn texture.

Alternatively, some DIYers prefer to apply thinned drywall compound with a paint roller before skimming with a mud knife. The first coat definitely won’t be perfect but should fill in the highest points of the ceiling.

Avoid using too much pressure (holding the mud knife at a 30-degree angle is typically ideal) or overworking the drywall compound as it sets!

3. Repeat as Needed

Allow the first coat to dry and repeat the same process at least one more time.

Most skim coating projects call for at least two coats to create an even finish. Ceilings with dramatic textures or surface imperfections may take several coats to achieve the desired results.

You can chip away large imperfections in the drywall compound between coats but the majority of the sanding should be left for the end.

4. Sand and Finish

A pole sander is generally the best way to smooth an entire ceiling without too much effort. Start with 120-grit sandpaper and adjust as needed to achieve the desired finish.

Your freshly skim coated ceiling can be left as is or, once the drywall compound is 100% dry, painted to match the rest of the room.

How To Apply Drywall Panels Over Popcorn Ceiling in 4 Steps

Supplies

While installing drywall panels requires a few extra tools than what the average DIYer has on hand, it’s a relatively simple process once you have the basics:

  • ¼-inch drywall panels
  • Drywall screws
  • Joint tape
  • Joint compound
  • Mud pan
  • Stud finder
  • Drywall panel lift

Before running out and buying a drywall panel lift, check if one is available for rent in your area!

1. Measure the Area

Measure the surface area of your ceiling to determine how many drywall panels are needed. Be sure to purchase at least one extra panel in case of mistakes.

2. Hang Drywall Panels

hang drywall panels

Using a drywall lift, start in one corner of the room and begin installing the drywall panels.

Drive drywall screws into the ceiling joists — a stud finder is the best way to locate them — every 10 to 12 inches to secure the panels.

3. Finish Joints

Once the entire ceiling is covered, apply joint tape to each seam and the edges of the ceiling.

Use a wide tape knife to cover the tape and all screw holes with joint compound, smoothing it as you go.

4. Sand and Finish

After the tape is sealed and any holes are filled, you can begin covering the drywall panels with joint compound. Apply as many coats as are necessary to create a smooth surface.

Sand the finished ceiling as needed to smooth out any remaining imperfections. The surface can be painted once the drywall compound has fully dried.

How To Apply Shiplap Over Popcorn Ceiling in 4 Steps

Supplies

Installing shiplap is an easy DIY project that requires only a few basic supplies:

  • Shiplap
  • Screws
  • Brad nailer
  • Stud finder

1. Measure the Ceiling

Measure the length and width of your ceiling, keeping track of each measurement's direction if the room is not square.

If you plan to install the shiplap perpendicular to the ceiling joists (for greater stability), we recommend completing the next step before determining how much shiplap you need based on these measurements!

2. Mark Ceiling Joists

mark ceiling joists

Use a stud finder to locate the ceiling joists within the room.

Mark each joist using chalk or another medium — the marks will be covered by the shiplap in the end. Installing the shiplap parallel to the ceiling joists is possible but requires an extra step.

Before moving onto the next step, secure support beams perpendicular to the ceiling joists that will act as “new” joists going in the desired direction.

3. Install Shiplap

Starting on one end of the ceiling, place and secure the first piece of shiplap by driving screws into each ceiling joist. Secure the length of the shiplap between the joists with a brad nailer.

Continue this process until you’ve covered the entire ceiling with shiplap.

4. Finish

For a clean and professional finish, fill any screw or nail holes present in the shiplap.

Depending on the type of shiplap you’ve chosen, the ceiling can be left as-is or finished with a coat of paint or wood stain.

Crown molding can be used to hide the seam between shiplap panels and the supporting walls.

How To Apply Beadboard Over Popcorn Ceiling in 5 Steps

Supplies

The beadboard installation process is incredibly similar to shiplap. If anything, it’s simpler.

Here’s what you should have on hand for this project:

  • Beadboard
  • Panel adhesive
  • Brad nailer
  • Stud finder

1. Cut to Size

Before purchasing beadboard to cover your popcorn ceiling, be sure to measure the surface. This is the minimum amount of beadboard you’ll need.

Decide which direction you want the beadboard to lay on the ceiling. Cut each panel to size as needed using a razor blade or saw.

2. Locate Ceiling Joists

Locate and mark the ceiling joists in the room using a marker, pencil, or chalk. It’s a good idea to transfer these marks to the surrounding walls before proceeding.

If you don’t, you’ll no longer be able to locate the ceiling joists once the panels are in position.

3. Adhere Beadboard

Apply panel adhesive to the back of each beadboard panel — an S- or snake-shaped pattern is most efficient. Begin positioning and adhering the beadboard to the ceiling.

As usual, it’s best to start at a particular corner or wall and work your way across the room. Work with one panel at a time to prevent the adhesive from drying too soon.

While a panel lift is rarely needed when installing basic beadboard, this step is almost impossible to complete alone. Ideally, you should recruit two people to help lift and hold each beadboard panel in place as the adhesive sets.

4. Secure with Nails

secure with nails

Since panel adhesive alone won’t hold the beadboard in place forever, it’s important to reinforce the glue using nails driven into the joists. This step is why knowing where the ceiling joists are located is so important.

5. Prime and Paint

Finish your new beadboard ceiling by filling nail holes, priming, and painting the desired color.

Final Thoughts

With a bit of drywall or a few decorative panels, your outdated popcorn ceiling could be a thing of the past! While complete removal is ideal in many cases, it’s not always the most practical option.

Covering up the popcorn texture with a different finish is a great alternative that most DIYers can handle themselves.