You may have popcorn ceilings in that fixer-upper you bought. Also known as cottage cheese or acoustic ceilings, these textured ceilings were all the rage in the mid-20th century. However, today’s homeowners typically want a smoother look. Fortunately, you can probably get rid of the texture if you’re willing to put in the time and elbow grease. Here’s how to remove a popcorn ceiling.
Before you begin
The first step in removing a popcorn ceiling is ensuring it doesn’t contain asbestos. If the texture was applied before the early 1980s, it likely does. You can buy a DIY kit for testing at your local home improvement store or hire a certified asbestos abatement professional to check it out. If the popcorn contains asbestos, do not scrape the ceiling yourself. Asbestos is only harmful if it is released into the air. You can safely cover a ceiling containing asbestos with drywall, tongue-and-groove paneling, or pressed tin tiles. If you prefer to scrap the ceiling, leave the job to the asbestos abatement pro.
After you’ve determined it’s safe to scrape your ceiling, test the process in an inconspicuous corner. If the popcorn surface has been painted, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove. You can try using a chemical softener or cover the ceiling with one of the above methods.
Assemble your tools and prepare the area before you begin. You’ll need a water bottle or garden sprayer, a 4” wide putty knife or paint scraper, plastic drop cloths, painter’s tape, a ladder, safety goggles and a dust mask. You may also find a POPeeze useful. This two-sided scraping tool attaches on one side to a portable wet-dry shop vacuum hose and on the other to an extension pole. As you scrape using the pole, the tool funnels the popcorn into the vacuum. You can find a POPeeze at Amazon for around $45.
Prepare the room for scraping by doing the following:
- Open the room’s windows and turn off your heating and air-conditioning. Close and cover all vents and outlets.
- Cover walls and floors with plastic drop cloths (canvas ones will absorb too much water) and attach them securely with painter’s tape.
- Remove the room’s furniture or carefully cover it with plastic.
- Turn off electrical power to the room at the breaker or fuse box.
- Remove light fixtures and fans. Protect can lights by stuffing paper into them after removing the bulb. Cover all electrical junction boxes with painter’s tape.
Scraping the popcorn ceiling
To begin scraping, fill the spray bottle or garden sprayer with warm water. You may want to add a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Wearing your goggles and mask, spray a small section — a few square feet — with water. Be careful not to use too much, or you could damage the ceiling’s drywall. Wait 15 minutes or so, then begin scraping the watered area. If you are not using a POPeeze, try to collect the popcorn in a receptacle such as a plastic bag or a pan for drywall mud as you scrape. Be careful not to gouge the ceiling with the edge of your scraper.
If you have difficulty removing the popcorn but know it’s not painted, gently mist the area again and wait another 15 minutes before you resume scraping.
Most experts suggest wiping the ceiling with a damp sponge after scraping to begin the job of smoothing the surface.
Removing a popcorn ceiling is physically demanding, so take frequent breaks.
Finishing the job
Once you’ve completed the scraping and the ceiling has thoroughly dried, you’ll probably need to use drywall mud to repair gouges and then sand the ceiling to make it perfectly smooth. Then prime it and paint it your desired color. It’s more efficient to do these tasks while keeping the walls and floor covered with plastic.
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