How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling Texture {tutorial}

I never thought I would be writing a post about scraping off popcorn ceiling texture, but alas here I am. It’s a long story. Here are the gritty details:

What made you decide to remove the popcorn ceiling texture, especially when you are a renter?

The hubs, bless his heart, forgot to turn off the water in the upstairs bathroom…for 15 minutes. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Basically, all the water that flooded the upstairs bathroom trickled down into the subfloor and the layer between the top and bottom floors. The water had to go somewhere, and that means there was a 4x6 foot wet spot on the ceiling of the downstairs dining/living room. So we tackled the upstairs floor first and just let the 1st floor ceiling drip and then air dry.

Once it had dried, I thought I could just paint over the water stain. Wrong! As I rolled the paint on, the popcorn was coming off in chunks. A mold scare (turned out to be a false alarm) and a failed attempt at using the popcorn texture you get in a spray can from Lowes (it’s really only meant to patch up small areas) later, we arrived at the decision that we needed to remove the entire thing. Apparently, even a professional “popcorner” wouldn’t be able to match the new popcorn to the existing stuff. We really needed to scrape off the texture from the entire 1st floor ceiling if we ever wanted to dream of getting our $750 deposit back. Plus, I’d rather not look at this for the next 3 years.

So, that’s what happened. It is certainly an unfortunate situation to be in, but at the same time we’re learning a skill that we can use later down the road when we buy a house, one that might have popcorn ceilings. There’s always a silver lining, right? :) 

Now for the how-to. But before I talk about the process…

An important note on ASBESTOS:
Yeah, it’s true. A lot of popcorn ceilings contain up to 10% asbestos (and it’s more likely to be in your popcorn ceiling if the house was built prior to 1980). It’s not a big deal if you leave the popcorn texture alone. But it is dangerous to scrape it off and get all that poisonous dust and stuff in your lungs, which could lead to mesothelioma.

Step 1 – Test for asbestos! No surprise here. Scraping the ceiling texture is not a DIY project if the popcorn contains asbestos.

The hubs called all the local hardware stores before he found one that had an asbestos testing kit. I think it was around $12 or so. The kit is basically just instructions and a special postage-paid envelope that is addressed to the lab where you send the sample off for testing – I’m not so sure the kit was necessary. The lab we used was Pro-Lab: The Professional’s Choice for Environmental Testing in Weston, FL (954-384-4446).  

Once you have the kit, with a spray bottle filled with water, dampen the ceiling and wait for the texture to loosen up. Then take a razor (like the kind to open up moving boxes) and cut a ~ 2x2 inch sample. (I think J cut too deep, but do know that you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss any layers.)
Place the sample in your special envelope and mail it off. (Btw, you’ll have to send them a $30 check too – bummer.)

TIP: Plan on testing far in advance. It took 20 days from the time we put the sample in the mail before we got the email with the results! The wait was agonizing because if it had had asbestos it would have cost us thousands of dollars (yes, seriously) to hire someone to remove it safely.

Fortunately, our popcorn ceiling was asbestos-free!!! Let the removal process commence.

Step 2 – Buy your materials, assuming your ceiling is asbestos-free too (my fingers are crossed for you!).

Prep ($136)
·         Lots and lots of plastic tarps (i.e., drop cloths). Not so environmentally-friendly, but oh so necessary.
o   To figure out how many you’ll need, think about how much furniture has to stay in the room, wall space (you’ll be draping all of the walls & holding the tarps up with tape), and how much ground floor you’ll be covering.
o   In total, we spent around $38. That’s a lot of tarps!
·        2” Painter’s tape ($25 for 3 rolls) – As I mentioned, you’ll need it to hold up the tarps along the wall.
·     Protective gear: masks (3 for $12) +  eye protection (2 for $12)
Us wearing our protective glasses, masks, and coveralls. We're looking super stylish :)
·      Coveralls (2 for $14) & shoe covers (optional) – It’s a good idea for when you need to leave the construction zone. You can just slip it off and go get a drink of water without worrying about carrying the filth throughout the house.
·         Red rosin paper ($35 for 3 rolls)– lay on top of plastic sheet for easier cleanup.
    Scrape ($63)
    ·         Long poles (2 for $14) – We used bamboo poles that could be attached to the scraper, sander, & paint rollers.
    ·         Garden sprayer ($15) filled with water – You can find them at Lowes or Home Depot. I think you could also use a basic spray bottle, but it’s going to be a lot more work.
    ·         Step stool or ladder (already owned)
    ·         Ceiling texture scraper ($19 – but wasn’t worth the money) + a joint knife ($10) + putty knife ($5)

    Repair & Paint ($140)
    ·         Joint compound ($7) + joint tape ($2; we ended up not needing it)
    ·         Sand paper holder ($12), which could be attached to the pole + mesh screen sand paper (2 packs for $6) + rough hand-held sandpaper ($4)
    ·         Wallboard primer ($12 for 1 gallon)
    ·         Flat tintable ceiling paint (2.5  gallons for $57) – to return the ceiling to its original color after you’ve finished scraping. Or this would be a good excuse to get a little bit daring with your ceiling color.
    ·         Paint supplies – roller holders that could be attached to the poles ($8 for 2), paint rollers that are specifically designed for ceilings ($12 for a 6-pack), plastic trays ($7 for 3), paint brush ($4), & a nice sturdy paint holder with handle for spots that had to be touched up with a brush ($9)
    Note: Only some items include tax.

    TIME: 2.5 days to do 500 sq. ft.

    TOTAL COST (including the asbestos testing):  $381

    Although we spent a lot of money, we saved a ton by doing it ourselves. I’ve read that professional estimates run upwards of $2/square foot, and that’s just for the scraping and patching. Painting is an additional expense. On a message board forum, someone commented that the estimate for his 500 sq ft ceilings was $1,600 and included scraping, patchwork, and painting. I think it’s safe to say we saved well over $1,000 by DIYing this project!

    Step 3 – Turn off the electricity. Well, at least when you’re spraying water on areas around light fixtures. Our downstairs does not get enough natural light even during the daytime to be able to keep the electricity off the entire time. If you do get enough natural light, then you can keep your light fixtures looking good by removing them before you begin. We did this instead:
    TIP: If possible, have ample lighting as you scrape! In retrospect, we wish we would have had bright lights on the entire time we scraped because we did the worst job on the areas that we had trouble seeing.

    Click "read more" to see the full tutorial. 

    Step 4 – Cover EVERYTHING in plastic tarps. Remove as much furniture as you can first, and then cover the rest with plastic tarps. Cover the walls, taping them close to the ceiling. 

    Cover the floor and baseboards. It helps to tape the sides of the plastic sheet to the wall a little bit of the way up, so that way you don’t have to worry about the sheet slipping and exposing some of your carpet. It also keeps water from getting into your baseboards. (Oh and if you have two little furry babies like us, then make sure you lock them up in a different room or take them to puppy camp for the weekend.) 

    Step 5 – Lay sheets of rosin paper on the floor over the plastic tarp. I found that extremely useful tip here. The rosin paper will help with cleanup more than you can imagine. This is a very messy job, so it’s also smart to have a second layer of rosin paper to lay down when the floor is starting to pile up with the popcorn.

    Step 6 – Use a garden sprayer to wet the ceiling. Do this in sections. It’s difficult to say how much water to use. Just be conservative – if you soak it, you could potentially damage the drywall underneath.
    J wetting the ceiling
    Step 7 – Wait about 5 minutes and then start scraping. Our popcorn texture came off pretty easily. Whenever we ran into a spot where the texture was not coming off easily, we just sprayed it with some more water and waited for it to loosen up. If you wait too long after spraying the water, we found that the popcorn dried out and we had to respray the water. That’s why it is easiest to work in small sections.
    J scraping the ceiling. (I promise I did half the work - no pics because I was the one taking snapshots.)
    Step 8 – Repair any wall inconsistencies & then paint. Yeah, unfortunately the job doesn’t end with the scraping part. You also might have to do some repair work on the drywall. :( Here is what it will look like after you've scraped the popcorn:

    We got lucky and didn’t have too many bad spots. We just used some of the joint compound to cover exposed nail heads (only in 2 or 3 spots) and to repair gouges that we accidentally put in the drywall. You might also need to use the joint tape to cover drywall joints that are sticking out. Although we didn’t have to do this step, my understanding is that you wet the tape, press it along the joint, lightly cover it with joint compound, and then sand it when dry.

    Almost finished! Look at this mess:

    We also used a wallboard primer on a good portion of the ceiling in the living room and on the water damage spot in the dining room. In retrospect, we wish we would have primed the entire ceiling first and then painted.
    After that, just roll up the plastic and paper into the center of the room, as shown below:
    Roll sheets into the center for easy cleanup
    Then stand back and admire your work! Overall, we are pretty happy with the results!!
    No more water damage, no more popcorn ceilings
    Please let me know if you have any questions! Or if you have removed popcorn texture before, please leave a comment - I would love to hear from you if you did anything differently or if you have a suggestion for others or for me (if I dare do this again in the future). 


    Linking to...


    1. You two are amazing. What a mess to tackle, but it looks great. Your ceiling looks brand new and updated. We had popcorn ceilings in the additon of our old house and had to pay someone to come in and fix them. It totally transformed the room. Great job! You two are ready to purchase a fixer upper of your own.

    2. WOW. You guys rock. Couldn't find any info when we wanted to do the same thing. We had a new section of ceiling we had to match to the old 'popcorned' ceiling. Ended up popcorning. Which I have to say was the most obnoxious painting job I've ever had the displeasure to be a part of. The stuff went everywhere. It was like cottage cheese dripping off the ceiling onto my face the entire time. But at least the ceiling looks better than it did. I'd rather have taken the popcorn off though. Great job!

    3. Wow, you guys are extremely thorough! That's awesome. You did a great job. It looks like a lot of work, but definitely worth the savings. It's always good to have experience too, for when you do own a house, you just never know. And I think it's a confidence boost, when you realize you "can" do it yourself. Good info to know! :)

    4. Thanks for the support, ladies! It means so much! :)

    5. I DREAM of doing this, but I've heard it's nearly impossible once your ceiling has been painted. :( Your end result is amazing! You did an awesome job!


    6. Wow, I hope that I never have to do this project, but if i do, i'm coming back here for the directions! You guys did a great job.

    7. That was a lot of work. Whew! Great job to both of you. It looks good and the nicest part was that you saved a whole lot of money by doing it yourselves. see you.

    8. Hi Lauren... I right now in the middle of a popcorn removal job... If I had known it would be this easy, I would have done it a long time ago... In the past few days, have finished the family room, kitchen, dining room, and half of the living room... Fortunately only 1 bedroom has popcorn...
      To do the work, I always have with me a trash can, a bucket of water, and a big sponge. I use a small scraper since it's easier to manage... Wet down the ceiling... scrape away from the walls (I don't even cover the walls!), and dump what comes off right into the trash. Then I take the wet sponge, and wipe off whatever remains... Pretty easy, but time consuming! Next onto repairs!

    9. Thanks, Michael, for the tips! I think using a sponge makes a lot of sense, and it would be less messy. Maybe I'll try that next time.

    10. Thanks for sharing this tutorial! I will be attempting popcorn removal in the next few weeks. I hope my experience is like yours ;)

    11. We are in the middle of removing popcorn now. We're into the sanding-repairing-sanding-again stage. It doesn't look like you had to texture again at all. Were you able to simply paint over your flat ceiling and not see any imperfections? Looks like you did a great job.

    12. We did it this weekend and it was messy but well worth it!! Question, did you prime AND paint after? Thanks for the post!

    13. Great information! I am hoping this will also work for us...my question is our whole house has textured ceilings. Is the process pretty much the same to get rid of them? Our house was build in the late 1990's so I'm guessing an asbestos kit is also not needed. Would love your feedback! :)

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    22. What a great job; I never minded my popcorn ceilings until I started watching the DIY shows, and they're all telling me it's outdated; my popcorn ceiling is much higher than the rest of the ceilings, and I can't even begin to think I can do this, even on a ladder; I'm going to have to hire someone; you never know what you'll come across on the internet while searching, glad to have seen your great work.

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    Thanks for your kind comments!