6 Tips to Remove Textured Paint Like a Pro

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated November 2, 2021
Painting and decorating a room
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Swap orange peel or popcorn walls for something smooth and modern

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You’ve moved into your dream home, but you’re not ecstatic about the faux stucco paint that adorns the walls or the popcorn ceilings. Before you can give your walls a smooth coat of paint for a more modern appearance, you’ll need to remove the textured paint first. Follow these tips to help soak, scrape, sand, or even steam away those bumps and swirls to prep for a sleek, seamless surface.

1. Skip Chemical Paint Removers

Removing old paint from the wal
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It might seem like the best option to use a chemical paint remover, but these products may be worse for your walls than resurfacing them. Chemical paint removers can be health hazards if you don’t use them properly. Coming into contact with or inhaling paint strippers can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Serious health risks include cancer, organ damage, and even death.

2. Spray or Steam the Textured Coat

To remove textured paint like a pro, you’ll want to soften the work area with water in a spray bottle or a steamer. In addition to making the textured paint easier to peel or scrape away, the spray- (or steam-) and-scrape method will also prevent paint dust that may have asbestos from dispersing into the air.

  • Spray bottle: Spray a section, about two to four square feet, with water. Because paint is a sealant, you may need to spray the section thoroughly up to three times. Then, let the area soak for about 15 minutes before beginning to scrape away the textured paint.

  • Steamer: You can rent or purchase a steamer for paint stripping from most home improvement stores. Following the steamer’s instruction manual, hold the steamer about an inch from the wall for 15 seconds. The paint will bubble up, and you can start scraping it away.

3. Scrape Away Textured Paint

Once water saturates each section of wall, you can begin scraping away the textured paint. It’s best to start with smaller sections of two to four square feet. As you move along, you’ll be able to work faster and with larger sections of wall.

  • Use an 8- to 10-inch scraping knife.

  • Hold the end of the scraping knife at about a 30-degree angle against the wall.

  • If you start to feel resistance when scraping away the paint, re-spray or steam the area and let the water saturate and soften the paint before continuing on.

4. Find the Right Sandpaper Grit

The trick to removing textured paint on walls is to use the proper grit of sandpaper. Too fine of grit, and you’ll have little luck sanding away the textured coat. Too rough of sandpaper, and you could damage the wall and leave uneven spots.

  • For drywall, use 120- to 150-grit sandpaper.

  • For rough textures, like stucco or Venetian plaster, use 60- to 80-grit sandpaper.

  • Even for rough textures, start with the 60- to 80-grit sandpaper, but finish the job with a finer sandpaper to avoid damage.

  • Use 120- to 150-grit sandpaper if you’ve first sprayed and scraped away the wall. The sandpaper will help smooth out the surface before you add a new coat of paint.

5. Add a Skim Coat

Adding a skim coat means spreading joint compound over the wall to fill in the textured spots. You’ll clean the wall, lightly sand it, then apply joint compound in small sections. Finally, use a drywall taping knife to smooth out the compound to fill in the dips and gaps of the textured wall.

  • Be sure to lay down tarps, remove baseboards, and apply painter’s tape around windows and doors; applying joint compound with a roller can be messy.

  • Consider asking a family member or friend to help apply or smooth out the joint compound.

  • To smooth or skim, the joint compound across the wall, start with the drywall taping knife at the base of the wall and move it upward.

  • Work in smaller sections that are about two feet wide.

6. Use a Bright, Portable Light To Catch Missed Spots

Grab a ring light or other bright light on a tripod to help shine a light on any potentially missed spots after applying a skim coat. The wall’s surface may look smooth to your eye, but shining a light on the walls at different angles will help create shadows on any bumps that you may have missed. Once the walls look good under a harsh, bright light, they’ll look even better in natural or dim lighting.

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