Textured popcorn ceilings were somehow popular back in the 1960s and '70s, and surprisingly they’re still being applied today, especially in condominium complexes. The problem is people don’t seem to like popcorn ceilings very much anymore—assuming they ever did—and most homeowners today want them removed.
You could hire a professional painter or drywall contractor to do that, but it’ll likely cost between $1,500 and $2,000. Or you can do it yourself for about $50. Here’s how in five relatively easy steps:
Step 1 - Test for Asbestos
Spray-on acoustic ceiling finishes, including popcorn texture, manufactured prior to 1980 may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen. If you think your ceiling may contain asbestos, it’s important to have it tested before proceeding.
Put on a dual-cartridge respirator and scrape a small amount of popcorn off the ceiling and into a resealable plastic bag. Contact a local EPA office for the location of the nearest asbestos testing laboratory and drop off the sample. If your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, hire a licensed asbestos abatement company to scrape the ceiling clean. That's not a job to do yourself.
If the lab results show no evidence of asbestos, then it’s safe for you to get to work.
Step 2 - Prep the Room
Scraping popcorn off a ceiling can be rather messy, so start by emptying the room of all furniture, rugs, and lamps. Shut off the heating and cooling systems in the room, and turn off the electrical power. Lower the canopy (the upturned bowl-shaped fitting that goes against the ceiling) on any ceiling-mounted light fixtures or ceiling fans, then cover the lights or fans with a plastic trash bag. Finally cover the floor with canvas or plastic drop cloths, and drape the walls in lightweight plastic sheeting.
Step 3 - Get Ready to Scrape
The best way to remove the popcorn texture without damaging the drywall surface above is to first spray the ceiling with water to help soften the popcorn. However, if the popcorn has been painted, it won’t be able to absorb the water, making removal more difficult. If you’re not sure if the ceiling is painted or not, spray a small section with water and see if it soaks into the surface. If it doesn’t, then you’ll have to either dry-scrape off the popcorn—a much messier, tougher job—or apply a chemical paint remover first.
Okay, let’s assume your popcorn ceiling is not painted, which is usually the case. Next, take a three-gallon pump-up garden sprayer, fill it with hot water, and then add one half cup of liquid fabric softener, which will prevent the water from evaporating as quickly.
Step 4 - Soak and Scrape
Use the pump-up sprayer to mist the entire ceiling with water. Allow it to soak in for about ten minutes, then spray it again. Wait another ten minutes or so, and then use a ten-inch-wide drywall knife to scrape the popcorn texture off the ceiling.
You can also use a specially designed , which has a 12-inch-wide blade fitted with a metal frame. Thread the scraper onto any standard extension pole (or push-broom handle) and then clip a small plastic trash bag onto the frame. Now, as you scrape the ceiling, the wet popcorn will fall into the bag, making cleanup a whole lot easier.
To avoid gouging the ceiling, hold the drywall knife or popcorn scraper at a very shallow angle. If you use a bench grinder to round off the tool’s sharp corners, you’ll further reduce the chances of slicing into the drywall.
Once you’ve scraped the ceiling clean, stop and sweep up the popcorn from the floor, but leave the tarps in place.
Step 5 - Finishing Touches
No matter carefully you work, chances are the ceiling will have a few small scratches and gouges. Fill any imperfections with joint compound. Once the repairs have dried, sand lightly, then apply one coat of primer followed by two topcoats of ceiling paint. Then you can remove the tarps and admire your work.