Is there anything more universally loathed than a popcorn ceiling? If you find yourself staring upward, wondering how to remove popcorn ceilings, you are not alone. Let’s face it: They’re eyesores. They’re also known as acoustic ceilings, stucco ceilings, or, worst of all, cottage cheese ceilings. They were big in the mid- to late 20th century. Builders installed the textured treatment to help absorb sound from above or cover up imperfections in the ceiling. (It also helped skip some steps and save money, since it eliminates the need to paint the finished surface.) But like many trends from the 1970s, the popcorn ceiling has fallen out of favor and many homeowners are removing or covering up the unsightly surface.
If you’re tired of looking up at lumps and bumps, there’s good news. Removing a popcorn ceiling is a fairly easy and affordable DIY project that just requires some time and muscle. Should your ceiling need more TLC than just scraping and painting, there also options for covering up popcorn ceilings, such as wood paneling, pressed tin tiles, or new drywall. Ready to tackle the job yourself? We asked contractor Justin Krzyston, president of Stonehurst Construction and Design, how to remove popcorn ceilings safely and easily.
1. Test for Asbestos Before You Begin Popcorn Ceiling Removal
Before you start, it’s important to make sure that your ceiling doesn’t have asbestos. “Prior to the early 1980s, asbestos was an ingredient that many used in textured popcorn ceilings,” says Krzyston. “The popcorn texture was used to help home builders deal with sound travel, and it was a great fire retardant.” He recommends having the surface tested by a professional, or at the very least purchasing a do-it-yourself testing kit from the hardware store and sending the samples to a lab. If you go the DIY test route, make sure to use the appropriate safety gear, such as gloves, a ventilator or dusk mask, and eye protection. “Do some research before diving into a weekend project,” he cautions.
If your ceiling tests positive, you should have a professional licensed in asbestos abatement remove the texture or cover it with paneling or drywall. “If you have asbestos, it is best to leave the ceiling intact, as there is no real danger if it is in good condition,” he says.
2. Gather Your Tools
If your ceiling is asbestos-free, it’s time to get to work. Fortunately, the project doesn’t require any special tools, and you may already have everything you need on hand. The essentials include:
a garden sprayer
a wide putty knife or drywall taping knife
drop cloths or plastic sheeting
3. Protect Walls, Floors, and Yourself
“Scraping of the ceilings is also very messy—so have plenty of drop cloths and tarps on hand,” says Krzyston. Remove furniture from the room, and cover floors and walls with plastic sheeting. Attach sheeting to walls with painter’s tape. Taking down ceiling fans or hanging light fixtures will also make the job easier—just be sure to cover electrical boxes with painter’s tape to protect the wires from damage and water. “Turn off your HVAC system and close and cover all vents and electrical outlets with plastic,“ Krzyston adds. Since this is a job involving water, make sure to turn off the electricity to the room you’re working in.
Before getting started, you'll also want to open the windows to let air circulate. Keeping the space ventilated will help you breathe easier as you scrape away. You'll also want to wear a dust mask and safety glasses.
4. Spray the Ceiling With Water Before Carefully Scraping Away the Popcorn Texture
Fact: A wet scrape is easier than a dry scrape. Use a garden sprayer to wet a four-by-four-foot area of the ceiling. “You will want to wet down and spray the ceiling with water to make the removal of the popcorn easier,” he says. “Don’t soak it, though, as too much water could damage the Sheetrock that is underneath.” You’ll want to work in small sections; otherwise the areas will dry before you reach them. After you spray, wait about 15 minutes to let the water absorb.
Now you’re ready to start scraping. “Use a wide putty knife or drywall taping knife and gently run it along the wet ceiling,” says Krzyston. Be careful not to gouge the ceiling beneath. (Filing the edges of your putty knife can help avoid gouges.) Make your way around the room, until all the texture has been removed. In some areas, you may need to make a second pass. Remember, you can always spray the ceiling again to help loosen up a difficult area.
5. Sand, Prime, and Paint the Ceiling
Since you already have the floor and walls covered, go ahead and take care of sanding, priming, and painting now. If there’s any damage to the ceiling, such as gouges or damaged drywall tape, repair with joint compound before you start sanding. When you remove the popcorn ceilings, you might find hidden imperfections, like visible joints or screws; you can also cover these with joint compound and then sand them.
After sanding the ceiling, give it a fresh coat of paint. Once the paint job is complete, remove the plastic sheeting, reinstall fans or lights, and enjoy your newly smooth ceiling.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest