What Is a Popcorn Ceiling? 4 Pros And Cons Of Popcorn Ceilings

What is a popcorn ceiling? Well, if you live in a home built in the latter half of the 20th century, the answer might be right over your head!

Popcorn ceilings are a textured ceiling finish most often seen in residential buildings (though they sometimes make an appearance in commercial construction, as well).

At a glance, the texture may resemble a bunch of freshly popped popcorn — hence the name.

So is there a practical reason for using popcorn ceilings over smooth ones? Or is the decision to apply this unique texture purely an aesthetic one?

What Is a Popcorn Ceiling?

cheese-style ceilings
Image: Enoch Leung

Also known as acoustic, stipple, or (disparagingly) cottage cheese-style ceilings, popcorn ceilings feature a dense, bumpy texture. Popcorn ceilings first gained popularity in the mid-20th century.

Many builders and interior designers phased out popcorn ceilings in the 1990s. Despite largely falling out of favor, this texture is still used in some homes today!

Most popcorn ceilings are created by spraying plaster, styrofoam, and/or paper onto the unfinished surface. In some cases, a brush-on technique is used to apply the texture.

What Is the Purpose of a Popcorn Ceiling?

purpose of a popcorn ceiling
Image: Quinn Dombrowski

Believe it or not, popcorn ceilings were once considered on-trend! But that wasn’t the only reason they became so popular.

The main reason popcorn ceilings were the norm for several decades is because they are cheap and easy to install. Unsurprisingly, using a spray applicator is much faster than finishing a ceiling by hand!

4 Benefits of Popcorn Ceiling Texture

1. Hides Imperfections

Home ceilings don’t start out perfectly smooth. In fact, it takes a lot of work to cover taped sheetrock seams and other imperfections.

And that’s not to mention the effect roof leaks, drywall nails, and general wear and tear can have on a ceiling over time. Popcorn ceiling texture expertly hides all of these imperfections and more with minimal materials and labor.

2. Dampens Noise

As we mentioned, popcorn ceilings are also known as acoustic ceilings. This name stems from the texture’s ability to dampen unwanted noise within a home.

Popcorn ceilings improve acoustics via their increased surface areas compared to smooth ceilings.

Installing a popcorn ceiling in a room can improve the overall sound quality and prevent noise from leaking into other areas. Popcorn ceiling texture could even lessen noise from people walking overhead in a multi-story home.

3. Easy to Install

Applying a perfectly smooth layer of plaster to a ceiling is a long and arduous process. Meanwhile, popcorn ceiling texture can be applied with little more than a handheld sprayer.

Not only is installing a popcorn ceiling less labor-intensive. It also takes much less time than applying most other ceiling textures.

4. Affordable

Going hand in hand with popcorn ceiling texture’s ease of application is its affordability. Less time and labor spent means fewer installation costs.

This is a huge benefit for contractors, of course, but can also mean huge savings for homeowners.

4 Drawbacks of Popcorn Ceiling Texture

1. Not Easy to Paint

A fresh coat of paint can breathe new life into even the most outdated room. But painting a popcorn ceiling is no easy task.

While you can paint a smooth ceiling just like you would an interior wall, it’s very hard to get an even application over popcorn texture.

Wet paint can also soften the textured layer, causing it to flake off with the pressure from a brush or roller.

If you’re thinking of painting your own popcorn ceilings, all hope is not lost! Just be sure to invest in a paint sprayer and use a formula designed for textured ceilings for the best results.

2. Attracts Dust

All of those bumps might help dampen unwanted noise. Unfortunately, they also provide an ideal place for dust and cobwebs to collect.

In addition to collecting more dust in the first place, popcorn ceilings are also harder to clean than their smooth counterparts! Excess pressure could break off pieces of textured plaster, leaving bare spots on the ceiling.

Use a gentle duster to avoid damage. Or use a vacuum extension to remove dust and debris without physically touching the ceiling.

Do not use popcorn ceiling texture in any room where the ceilings may need to be thoroughly wiped down at some point — e.g., a kitchen, bathroom, or mudroom.

3. Difficult to Repair

Ideally, you’d never need to repair your home’s ceilings. But things happen.

Repairing a popcorn ceiling is possible. However, it’s significantly harder to achieve a quality finish versus repairing a smooth ceiling.

Because of the random nature of popcorn texture, patching the ceiling can leave glaring inconsistencies. For a consistent, high-quality finish, replacing the entire ceiling texture is often necessary.

4. Creates Shadows

Some types of light fixtures will create unattractive shadows when paired with a popcorn ceiling. Fixtures that cast light straight out along the ceiling’s surface are the most common culprits.

This issue can be solved relatively easily by installing different light fixtures. But it’s still something to consider before installing popcorn texture in your own home!

Does Popcorn Ceiling Have Asbestos?

popcorn ceiling Have asbestos
Image: Mary Lou Skowronski

Aesthetics aside, many homeowners worry that popcorn ceilings contain asbestos. In the case of ceilings installed in the United States pre-1978, this alarming fact is true.

Asbestos was a standard ingredient in popcorn ceilings before being scrutinized in the 1970s. To make matters worse, suppliers were allowed to continue using asbestos-containing products until the existing stock was gone.

The good news is that any popcorn ceilings applied after the mid-1980s should be free of asbestos!

How Do You Know If a Ceiling Contains Asbestos?

texture popcorn
Image: largestartist

While knowing the year your popcorn ceiling was applied can offer insight about whether or not it contains asbestos, it’s not the most foolproof solution.

If you suspect your popcorn ceilings may contain asbestos, it’s recommended to hire a professional to come out and test the material.

Should Ceiling Texture Containing Asbestos Be Removed?

Despite what you may think, removing a popcorn ceiling containing asbestos isn’t the safest solution. This is because asbestos is only harmful when present in the air.

Instead, homeowners are advised to leave the ceiling undisturbed as long as it is in good condition.

When it does come time to remove the popcorn ceiling texture, be sure to hire an asbestos abatement professional to get the job done.

Final Thoughts

There’s no indication that popcorn ceilings will return to the spotlight anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean you should omit the textured ceiling finish from your home design repertoire altogether.

Popcorn ceilings became popular for several reasons. And those reasons still offer very real benefits to homeowners today, including:

  • Affordable and quick installation
  • Noise dampening
  • Disguising surface blemishes

For some, however, the potential drawbacks (and outdated aesthetic) of the popcorn ceiling far outweigh any of its benefits!

If the thought of living with old popcorn ceilings overhead sends shivers down your spine, be sure to consult with a professional before removal. Testing for asbestos is a simple process that could save you and your family’s health!

How to Design Around a Popcorn Ceiling

For Ideas on how to breathe life into your popcorn ceiling or further tips on how to get it removed, we have several articles that tackle the subject. Look at each to find your own inspiration on what to do with popcorn ceilings.