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Removing textured ceilings

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Like shag carpet or wood-paneled walls, popcorn walls and ceilings are an unfortunate trend we can attribute to the 1970s, although some might suggest it dates back to the late 1930s.

This trend can go by many names – popcorn, textured, acoustic – but at the end of the day, it’s a nuisance when it comes to painting walls or ceilings with a bumpy texture. The bumpy texture, resembling its namesake of “popped’ kernels, is applied to walls and ceilings through a spray made of drywall or plaster.

Don’t get me wrong, popcorn walls and ceilings are great for concealing imperfections like dings, dents and scratches. But they could be hurting your home’s value. Not to mention, if they were installed pre-1980, they could contain asbestos.

Whether you want to increase your home’s value, protect your family from harmful fibers hiding in your home or just enter the 21st century in home fashion, follow this guide for getting rid of popcorn walls and ceilings.

How to Get Rid of Popcorn Walls and Ceilings

Fortunately, removing popcorn textures from your walls and ceilings is fairly easy. Anyone who has experience working on a ladder and has the physical endurance to keep their arms raised over their head for at least an hour can complete this task do-it-yourself style.

Before you get started, make sure you get the right tools for the task. You can pick up these tools at any home improvement store, but for convenience, here’s what we recommend:

How to Get Rid of Popcorn Walls and Ceilings - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

  1. Plastic sheeting– $25
  2. Masking tape – $16
  3. Lightweight bucket – $6
  4. 12-inch taping knife – $14
  5. Garden hose – $40
  6. 6-foot ladder – $100
  7. Safety goggles – $8
  8. Surgical mask – $7
  9. Sandpaper – $8
  10. Joint compound – $6
  11. Joint knife – $10
  12. Cleaning cloths – $14

Prepping the Room

Before you start scraping at your walls and ceilings, take time to protect your furniture from potential harm from tools, water or debris by removing it from the room or covering it up with plastic sheeting, securing any loose ends with masking tape.

Turn off your heating or cooling for the duration of the removal process, as you’ll want to open windows for ventilation. Prevent air from blowing out of ceiling, wall or floor vents. While you’re at it, cover up any vents with plastic sheeting, as well as any electrical outlets (you’ll use water later in this process).

If both your walls and ceiling have popcorn texture, you’ll only need to cover the floor with plastic sheeting, securing it with masking tape. Make sure the floor is completely covered and secured, as the water or debris could potentially harm your flooring.

If just your walls or ceiling have unwanted texture, make sure you also cover whatever surface you want to protect from the popcorn debris. Repeat the process of covering your floor and mirror it on your walls or ceiling, careful to completely cover and secure it with plastic sheeting and masking tape.

Open any windows in the room and make sure the door to the room is closed to prevent any debris escaping into your hallway. Keep children away from the area and secure all pets either outside or in another room. Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from falling debris. You should also wear a medical mask to prevent debris and dust from entering your nose or mouth.

Removing the Popcorn Texture

The next step is to remove the popcorn texture from your walls and/ or ceilings.

If you can get access to an outdoor garden hose, bring the hose into the room and start to spray small sections of the wall or ceiling at a time. Some sources suggest a four-foot-by-four-foot stretch at once. If you don’t have access to a hose, fill a spray bottle with warm water.

You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of water runoff from the area, as the popcorn texture absorbs water. You should notice the color of the walls or ceiling darkening from the water. This means the water is absorbing properly.

After spraying your small section, wait for 10 – 15 minutes to start scraping, as the water will need to be completely absorbed to soften the surface and loosen the texture.

Carefully mount the ladder until you’re able to reach the wall or ceiling area that you sprayed with water, bringing with you the 12-inch taping knife and the bucket. Begin scraping the texture from the wall or ceiling area, careful not to apply too much pressure, since it could poke through the drywall.

The texture should easily scrape off the surface and fall neatly into your pan. Don’t worry about missing any pieces; your floor should be protected by the plastic sheeting.

If you notice that the texture is not coming off the surface easily, you might need to spray the area again to further loosen the material.

Repeat this process, spraying other small sections of your walls or ceilings until the popcorn texture is completely removed from the surface. Never extend your waist beyond the dimensions of the ladder, as it could tip over.

Clean Up and Next Steps

Once the popcorn texture is completely removed from your walls and ceilings, inspect the freshly scraped surface, looking for loose nails or screws that may have been unsurfaced during the removing process. Secure them back into the walls or ceilings before you move on.

Take a damp rag or cloth and wipe down any surface where you removed the popcorn texture. This will also give you one last opportunity to check that you successfully removed all of the popcorn texture before you move on.

Once you’ve wiped down the surface, apply a joint compound to the walls or ceilings using a joint knife. Be careful going back up the ladder and take your time applying the compound.

Let the compound dry overnight, leaving windows open and allowing proper ventilation. When dry, use sandpaper to smooth out any uneven areas where you applied the compound. Apply a second layer of the joint compound and let it dry overnight again. Sand the area one last time for best results.

When you’re finished, you’re ready to apply a coat of primer and a fresh coat of paint of your choice.

When to Call the Professionals

While this process can seem pretty simple on the surface, there are a couple instances where you should call the professionals to remove popcorn texture from your home.

Possible Asbestos Exposure

If your home was built prior to 1980, your popcorn walls or ceilings could contain asbestos, an insulating, fire-retardant material that’s harmful to your lungs if breathed in for long durations.

Before it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1977, asbestos was used in textured ceiling paint in most homes. It wasn’t until late ‘70s that the EPA linked asbestos fibers to lung disease and other medical issues.

There’s no way to be sure that your ceiling has asbestos until you have it checked by a service. If you retrieve a small sample of your ceiling and seal it in a container, you can mail your sample to a local service that can check before you start removing your ceiling.

If you choose to retrieve the sample yourself, make sure you do so wearing a medical mask, plastic gloves, eye goggles and long sleeves and pants to protect yourself from exposure.

Using the same process as you would to remove popcorn texture from a surface, spray a small portion of the area with water, and using a razor-blade knife, cut out a small sample, immediately securing it in a closed container and mail it to a local testing service.

If you don’t want to retrieve the sample yourself, there are asbestos testing services that come out to your home to grab it for you.

If your ceiling tests positive for asbestos, it’s best to call a professional to remove popcorn walls or ceilings. Depending on the service and how much popcorn texture you’ll need removed, professional asbestos removal costs can range from $3 – $7 per square foot and up to $2,750 in additional fees depending on the extent of the problem and size of the space.

Even if your home doesn’t have asbestos and you’d rather have a professional handle the removal of popcorn texture from your home, prices range from $1 – $2 per square foot, with the average homeowner spending around $1,570.

Previously Painted Popcorn Walls and Ceilings

Another possible problem you might encounter when trying to remove popcorn textures yourself is running into painted surfaces.

If the popcorn walls or ceiling have been previously painted, you can’t remove it using the normal methods of spraying and scraping because the paint provides a layer between the water and the ceiling that won’t allow the popcorn texture to property absorb water and soften for removal.

You’ll need to first apply a chemical stripper to break down the paint before removing the popcorn texture.

Because this can be harmful when not in professional hands, most homeowners opt to have a professional come out and handle the painted popcorn texture removal. If you choose to follow this route, removing popcorn textures with paint typically costs between $440 – $1,055 per 500 square feet.

Working with What You’ve Got

If DIY or professional removal is not a feasible option, there are ways you can make peace with your popcorn textured walls and ceilings, and the easiest is by giving it a fresh coat of paint. Don’t underestimate the impact of color in a room; you may find your popcorn ceilings to be a little more bearable after painting.

However, the process of painting popcorn ceilings is different than a normal paint job and requires a little more prep work, but most of the same tools that we used during removal. Here are a few new ones:

How to Get Rid of Popcorn Walls and Ceilings - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

  1. Feather duster – $17
  2. Paint roller – $13
  3. Roller tray – $3
  4. High build primer – $35
  5. Flat paint – $89

Prepping the Room

Not unlike prepping the room for popcorn texture removal, you’ll want to start by protecting your furniture and flooring with plastic sheeting. Secure it with masking tape.

Additionally, tape any areas you don’t want to get paint on, like molding, baseboards, flooring, walls or ceilings (depending on what you’re painting).

Before you apply any paint, make a moment to dust any popcorn textures, as they are prone to collecting dust and cobwebs.

Protect yourself with safety goggles, a medical mask and clothing that you don’t mind getting paint on. Make sure you have proper ventilation in the room.

Painting Over the Popcorn Texture

Applying paint to popcorn texture is different from other surfaces. Remember how popcorn texture absorbs water? Paint could possibly have the same effect if applied too heavily, so make sure you limit the amount of paint on your paint roller.

In one motion, use your paint roller to paint in one direction, stopping after each stroke. Don’t roll back and forth, because the popcorn could get too wet and start to peel. For the best look, let the paint dry completely before adding any additional paint to missed spots or problem areas. The repeat the process.

If you use flat paint, it will minimize the look of texture on your walls and ceilings. Pair this by first painting a primer designed for textured surfaces, typically labeled “high build” or “problem surface.”

While it won’t completely mask the bumpy texture below, it will make it look less pronounced and might give the room a more updated look.

Getting rid of popcorn textured walls and ceilings in your home can help increase your home’s value if you’re looking to refinance or sell your home. But if you’re just looking for a way to make your room look more attractive, a fresh coat of paint can do the trick.

Have you removed popcorn texture from your home’s walls or ceilings? Share your tips in the comments below!

This Post Has 2 Comments

    1. Hi Mike:

      If your house was built after 1980 and you like the look okay, nothing. Prior to that time, there may have been asbestos that you would find in there. So at that point, it’s a safety issue. But after that time, there’s nothing really wrong with it. Thanks for the question!

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