Read This BEFORE You Try DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal

By Chelsi Hewitt

Posted on June 24th, 2022

man removing popcorn ceiling

5 steps for removing popcorn ceilings | Asbestos testing | Should you hire a professional? | Popcorn ceiling removal cost | Is it worth it? | Alternatives

Like track lighting, avocado-colored appliances, and wall-to-wall shag carpeting, popcorn ceilings (also known as “stucco ceilings” and “cottage cheese ceilings”) were once the height of fashion—but are now seen as outdated and undesirable.

Worse yet, they sometimes contain asbestos — a silicate material that can cause lung disease and other serious health problems.

In this guide, you’ll learn why it’s a good idea to remove a popcorn ceiling, why popcorn ceilings might be unsafe, how to remove popcorn ceiling texture, and how to estimate popcorn ceiling removal cost.

Wondering how popcorn ceilings may be impacting your home value? If you're preparing to sell your home, our friends at Clever Real Estate can connect you with a realtor who can help you understand how ditching popcorn ceilings could help your home value.

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How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling Texture

1. Test for Asbestos

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Popcorn ceilings that were installed before 1980 can contain between 1% and 10% asbestos. Before it was discovered to be a dangerous carcinogen, and outlawed by the Clean Air Act of 1978, asbestos was often used in home materials like spray-on textures, tiles, and insulation because of its flame-resistant properties.

You have two main options to find out if your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos.

  • DIY asbestos kit: These kits are relatively inexpensive and can be accurate, though not as accurate as a professional asbestos assessment. If you decide to use a DIY test, make sure you use gloves, eye protection, and a facemask when you’re handling the sample. Most tests come with some safety equipment.
    • Professional testing: An asbestos consultant will provide you will the most accurate results. If you do find asbestos in your home, you'll need full professional asbestos abatement. Home Advisor can connect you with an experienced, well-reviewed one in your area.

If it is asbestos, you'll need a licensed asbestos abatement professional to remove or cover it

2. Prepare for the Project

If your popcorn ceiling is asbestos-free, you can remove it yourself. As you get started, you’re going to need some basic tools and equipment.

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Removing a popcorn ceiling can get very messy, so you’ll want to either remove your furniture or cover it using plastic sheeting or dropcloths.

Next, remove ceiling fixtures like lights or fans, and cover any recessed lights.

You’ll be spraying water on the ceiling to soften the popcorn material, so you’ll want to turn off electricity to the room for safety reasons. Cover any electrical boxes with painter’s tape. You don’t want any electrical wiring to get wet.

Finally, turn off your HVAC, and cover the vents. Open the windows to provide some ventilation while you work. Prepare for a long day — it takes several hours to scrape even a small ceiling.

3. Spray With Water

Use a garden sprayer to moisten the popcorn ceiling. A wet ceiling comes off easier, and with less dust. Let the ceiling sit and soften for 15 minutes.

Don’t apply too much water, or you could saturate and damage the ceiling underneath. Start with a small area of 4 feet by 4 feet; a moistened ceiling will dry pretty fast, so it doesn’t make sense to wet down a larger area than you can clear in an hour or two.

Pro tip: A painted popcorn ceiling won’t absorb water. If your ceiling is painted, wet down a small area and see if it softens. If not, you’ll have to dry scrape.

4. Scrape off Popcorn Ceiling Texture

Use your putty knife or drywall taping knife to scrape the softened popcorn material off the ceiling.

Be careful not to damage the ceiling underneath. Rounding the edges of your scraper or knife with a file can reduce the risk of gouging.

As you scrape, you can catch the removed popcorn material in a tray or other container, to reduce the amount of floor mess you have to clean up later.

5. Smooth the Ceiling After Scraping Is Complete

Once your ceiling is clear of all popcorn material, smooth out and sand down any gouges or scrapes. For larger holes or flaws, you can use a joint/filling compound.

Since you already have the floors covered and fixtures removed, now is a great time to repaint the ceiling. Once you’re done painting, sweep all the popcorn material up, remove the plastic sheeting and drop cloths, strip the painter’s tape, and reinstall all the fixtures.

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When to Hire a Popcorn Ceiling Removal Professional

If testing reveals the presence of asbestos, you should hire a professional for your popcorn ceiling removal. Asbestos is a highly toxic substance that has been proven to cause conditions like lung cancer and mesothelioma—it’s not something that should be handled casually.

If you don’t have the skills or experience to handle a moderately difficult DIY project that involves removing ceiling fixtures and some light electrical work, you’re probably better off hiring a professional.

If you can’t devote the necessary time, hiring a professional makes sense. Clearing a popcorn ceiling is fairly time-consuming, and will likely take a day or two (or more) for the average room.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal Cost

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The cost of popcorn ceiling removal depends on three main factors: project size, cost of labor, and materials.

  • Project size: The larger the area you’re clearing, the more costly (and time-consuming) your project will be.
  • Labor: Contractor fees can vary widely depending on where you live, the contractor’s experience level, and what time of year it is.
  • Materials: Primer and paint for the ceiling costs around $20-30 per gallon; your costs will depend on your ceiling’s area.

Generally, higher ceilings will cost more, as they require taller ladders, more prep, and more dangerous, careful work. And if you’re removing a popcorn ceiling that contains asbestos, professional asbestos remediation isn’t cheap.

Is it Worth it to Remove Popcorn Ceilings?

Popcorn ceilings have little or no appeal, so removing one will definitely increase your home’s value.

If you want to sell or flip a house, removing a popcorn ceiling can make it more appealing to buyers. That may not matter if you’re in a hot, competitive market with a lot of eager buyers willing to pay above the asking price.

Even if you’re not selling, it can still be a great way to build equity and level up your home’s aesthetics.

And of course, if a popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, it's absolutely worth it to address a potentially serious health hazard.

Alternative to Removal: Cover it Up

If full removal seems like too much work or proves to be too expensive, and testing reveals that there is no asbestos present, you could simply cover up the unsightly ceiling. You have a few options for this.

  • Drywall: Installing a new layer of drywall over the existing ceiling gives you a new, albeit slightly lower, ceiling.
  • Wood Ceiling Planks: These are very aesthetically pleasing, though can be challenging to install. An easier option is to use vinyl or laminate wood-look planks.
  • Skim Coating: Why not replace one texture with another? Applying a thin layer of drywall joint compound covers up the popcorn texture, and gives you a more modern, appealing scalloped/”wavelike” texture.

FAQs About Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Is it worth it to remove a popcorn ceiling?

Removing popcorn ceilings can be a good way to increase your home value. However, if you have a limited budget, there may be other projects that have a higher impact. Removing a popcorn ceiling also might not be necessary if you're in a hot housing market. Learn more about the benefits of popcorn ceiling removal.

How much does it cost to remove popcorn from the ceiling?

Based on data from HomeAdvisor, the cost to remove a popcorn ceiling averages around $1,862, or around $1–$2 per square foot. Professional labor can cost between $15 and $40 per hour. See if professional popcorn ceiling removal is right for you!

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Posted in DIY Home Projects, House Flipping, Home Improvement