What You Should Know Before Removing a Popcorn Ceiling

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated August 4, 2021
Pretty living room
Cavan Images via Getty Images

Popcorn ceilings were once popular for their texture, as well as their ability to hide flaws and insulate sound

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Popcorn ceilings were once a ubiquitous trend, but most of today’s hot topics involve their messy (and potentially dangerous) removal. Not only are they a bit outdated, but they also can be harboring asbestos. So if you’re planning to scrape that texture off, it’s important to test for possible dangers before moving forward with any projects.

What Is a Popcorn Ceiling?

Despite the name, popcorn ceilings don’t resemble the delicious movie theater snack. Instead, they look more like smashed-up kernels floating in a sea of Elmer’s glue. Some even lovingly refer to them as “cottage cheese.” They can be extra chunky like thick oatmeal, or more finely-grained like Cream of Wheat. No matter the look, though, they’re often met with disdain by most of today’s homeowners.

So, why all the recent hate for the popcorn ceiling? For one thing, many homeowners agree that it makes a room look dated. There are also valid complaints that the lumps attract nearly every dust particle that floats by. Whatever the reason, most people dealing with popcorn ceilings today are looking for removal.

“One thing that we’ve seen with the removal of popcorn ceilings is the feeling that the new ceiling is much higher,” says Bob Tschudi, Expert Review Board Member and general contractor in Raleigh, NC. “I’d say that almost every client of this renovation has been extremely pleased with the results. Removing popcorn ceilings is money well-invested.”

A Brief History of the Popcorn Ceiling

When popcorn ceilings were popular (roughly from 1945 to the ‘90s), they acted as a quick spray-on solution that covered flaws in one swoop. If you’ve ever finished a drywall ceiling, or if you’re familiar with how it’s done, you’ll know that it’s not an easy process. There are many layers of taping and mudding that can be difficult to master without flaws. Adding the extra texture was an easy way of covering these up.

Nowadays, professional local ceiling contractors take care to ensure a smooth, flawless finish that needs no cover-up. The dated popcorn ceiling is now a feature that most homeowners wish to get rid of, especially before putting a home up for sale.

Why the Popcorn Texture?

A big plus from popcorn ceilings was their ability to hide imperfections, but they also made great sound barriers. Sometimes called acoustic ceilings, the popcorn texture helped reduce noise and absorb sound. This made them ideal for high-traffic areas of the home, or wherever high ceilings would cause an echo. They were even known for their fire-retardant capabilities as well.

Asbestos: The Problem With Popcorn Ceilings

If you’re in a home built before the ‘80s, there’s a chance that your popcorn ceiling might contain asbestos. This once-popular building material was often used for popcorn ceilings before it became banned as a hazardous substance in 1978. Unfortunately, many older homes still have it, especially wherever there’s a popcorn ceiling.

This doesn’t mean you need to rush and scrape off your ceiling ASAP. In fact, until you’ve had it tested by a local asbestos testing contractor, it’s extremely important to leave it as is. Even if there is asbestos, you should be safe if there’s no crumbling or structural damage that could release the particles into the air.

Painting a Popcorn Ceiling

If your popcorn ceiling is asbestos-free and you’re ready for a new look, painting it is an option. As long as there isn’t any flaking or other wear, a new coat of paint might be just the thing to refresh the old ceiling. Apply paint with either a paint sprayer or thick roller to fully cover the popcorn texture. Oh, and don’t forget to dust it off beforehand!

“Note that if you eventually want to remove the popcorn ceiling, a painted ceiling is a labor-intensive job to remove and will cost more,” says Bob Tschudi. “Once painted, the process of removing the popcorn ceiling requires physical scraping as opposed to a spray-and-scrape approach. It’s very labor-intensive, and thus more costly.”

Removing a Popcorn Ceiling

Parents give toddlers snacks with ceiling behind
kate_sept2004 / E+ via Getty Images

Popcorn ceiling removal costs anywhere between $900 and $3,000. Prices depend on variables such as ceiling height and the overall complexity of the project. Dealing with asbestos calls for an asbestos abatement contractor near you, as removal could release dangerous debris into your home.

You can also remove a popcorn ceiling yourself if you don’t mind a messy project. Once you’ve determined that the ceiling does not contain asbestos, removal is pretty simple: For unpainted popcorn ceilings, spray it down with water and scrape it away with a putty knife. Painted ceilings will require a stripping product. A local ceiling repair contractor can help you with any hidden flaws you uncover.

If you want to hire a pro, a local popcorn ceiling removal contractor is your best bet. Or, if you’re not able to get rid of it just yet, there’s nothing wrong with embracing the retro vibe. At the very least, adding some dim, ambient lighting can make the texture a lot less noticeable.

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