6 Easy Tips On How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling Effectively

Do you dread looking up at your home’s popcorn ceilings every day? You’re definitely not alone!

Popcorn ceilings have fallen out of favor in the world of interior design. Although they're easier to clean, they may harbor dangerous compounds like asbestos.

Despite what you may believe, learning how to remove a popcorn ceiling is relatively easy. (But you absolutely must test for asbestos and lead before taking on this project by yourself.)

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.

What You’ll Need To Begin

Popcorn ceiling removal requires just a few basic tools and, as a result, is not very expensive.

Many of the required tools and supplies are items you’ll already have on hand:

  • Hose or spray bottle
  • Putty or taping knife
  • Plastic drop cloths
  • Painter’s tape
  • Protective gear (coveralls, dust mask, goggles, gloves, etc.)
  • Drywall joint compound
  • Pole sander
  • Primer
  • Paint

6 Easy Tips On How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling Effectively

1. Test for Lead and Asbestos

Before you can even think about removing a popcorn ceiling, you need to know if it’s safe to do so. Popcorn ceilings installed before the 1980s may contain asbestos.

Ceilings painted pre-1978 may also contain lead. Asbestos and lead are often “treated” by sealing the offending material beneath a layer of paint.

So even if the outermost layer of your ceiling is lead- and asbestos-free, the same isn’t necessarily true of the layers underneath.

If you are 100% sure your home is free of these compounds — newer builds are the most common exception — testing may not be necessary. But it never hurts to perform a test just to be safe.

Can You Remove Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling Texture Without a Professional?

DIY removal of asbestos from a single-family home is legal in the United States (local laws may vary). It is not, however, recommended.

Extreme care must be taken before disturbing asbestos-containing materials. Not only do you need to protect yourself through the process but you also need to ensure that asbestos does not contaminate the rest of the building.

Legality aside, many municipalities require a building permit to remove asbestos from a home.

There’s also the matter of how the removed ceiling texture will be disposed of. Asbestos cannot be thrown in the regular trash.

Instead, it must be carefully transported to a qualified waste facility.

2. Prep the Room

prep the room

Anyone familiar with popcorn ceiling removal knows that it’s a very, very messy process! Prepping the space before you start will save you a major headache later on.

Begin by removing as many items as possible. This includes decor, furniture, appliances, and all other portable objects.

Anything that cannot be moved should be covered with a plastic drop cloth. Use tape to secure the plastic and create a makeshift seal around the item.

Apply plastic (taping as needed) to all other surfaces in the room — i.e., windows, floors, walls, and doors.

Seal off any open hallways with a piece of plastic to prevent dust and debris from spreading throughout the home. On a similar note, be sure to close and cover all vents in the room.

3. Wear Protective Gear

Even if your popcorn ceiling is free of lead and asbestos, exposing your body to all of that dust is far from ideal.

Wearing the appropriate protective gear will not only keep you safe but also keep you relatively clean throughout the removal process.

4. Dampen the Ceiling

A wet popcorn ceiling is much easier to remove than a dry one! Water is the secret to making popcorn texture removal as quick and stress-free as possible.

Using a hose or handheld spray bottle, dampen the ceiling one section at a time. The goal is to scrape the entire section before the ceiling has enough time to dry.

Start with sections that are a few feet across — you can adjust the size of each section as needed.

Pro Tip: Do not soak the ceiling. Excess moisture could seep through and damage the layer of sheetrock above the popcorn texture. Warm water may be slightly more effective than cold water.

5. Scrape, Scrape, Scrape

scrape

Now it’s time for a bit of elbow grease. Using whatever drywall knife feels most comfortable to work with, begin gently scraping the popcorn texture from the ceiling’s surface.

Pay close attention to the amount of pressure applied as you scrape. Too much pressure could damage the material underneath the textured finish.

Pro Tip: File down the corners of your putty or taping knife before scraping your ceilings. This can help prevent gouges in the ceiling that must be filled later.

Depending on the texture’s thickness, more than one pass may be needed to remove it all. Don’t hesitate to re-spray each section as the surface dries to make removal a bit easier.

6. Refinish and Paint

refinish and paint

While scraping will remove the unwanted popcorn texture, it’s unlikely to leave you with a totally smooth ceiling. Fill any scrapes or gouges on the surface with a joint compound. Allow to dry.

Sand the ceiling using progressively finer grits until the surface is sufficiently even. Keep in mind that particularly small imperfections may be invisible after painting.

Prime and paint your new smooth ceiling to match the rest of your home decor.

Is There a Special Machine to Remove Popcorn Ceiling Texture?

Special machinery isn’t required for popcorn ceiling removal. But using a vacuum attachment can make the process easier and less messy!

The POPeeze Popcorn Ceiling Scraper attaches to a shop vac to remove and collect the popcorn texture all in one step. While there are several similar attachments out there, this one is a top choice among DIYers and professionals alike.

Average Cost to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Removing a popcorn ceiling may not cost as much as you think, especially if you’re willing to complete the labor yourself!

Homeowners can expect DIY popcorn texture removal to cost $.50 per square foot on average. This estimate covers the necessary tools and supplies.

If you already have a large collection of tools, the overall cost may be cheaper. Also, since most of the supplies are reusable, working on a larger area will lower the average cost per square foot.

The cost to hire a professional for popcorn ceiling removal is a bit higher. On average, this service will cost around $1 or $2 per square foot.

Before hiring a professional contractor, keep in mind that several factors can affect the final cost.

If your home features vaulted ceilings, water damage, or you plan to apply a new finish in the popcorn texture’s place, you should expect to pay a premium.

The presence of asbestos in your popcorn ceiling can also raise the price significantly.

How Much Does It Cost to Remove an Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling?

The cost to remove popcorn ceiling texture containing asbestos is between $5 and $15 per square foot on average.

Most of the additional cost goes toward protecting the rest of the home from airborne asbestos particles.

Does Removing Popcorn Ceiling Add Value?

Usually, yes! But you shouldn’t go into this project expecting to turn a profit. On average, removing popcorn ceiling texture will increase a home’s value by a few thousand dollars.

When you account for the materials and labor required to remove a popcorn ceiling, whether you tackle this project as a DIY or hire a professional, most homeowners will break even in the end.

Removing a popcorn ceiling containing asbestos may have a bigger impact on the home’s value. At the very least, potential buyers will feel more comfortable placing an offer on a house that has been properly treated for asbestos.

Final Thoughts

Removing popcorn ceiling texture can completely transform a living space. There’s really no better way to make an outdated home feel fresh and modern!

The biggest obstacle in popcorn ceiling removal is the potential presence of asbestos or lead. Fortunately, testing for these substances is fairly easy.

Once you know the contents of your popcorn ceiling, you can jump right into DIY removal or hiring a professional abatement service. Before you know it, those bumpy old ceilings will be a thing of the past!