How to Remove Textured “Popcorn” Ceilings

Popcorn Ceiling Ceiling with textured "popcorn" finish
Textured popcorn ceilings went out of style years ago, but many older homes—and some new ones—still have them. While taking down a textured ceiling is not that difficult, it is a messy job that requires hard work and special safety precautions.

Hazards

There are two potential problems that can turn removing a textured ceiling into a DIY nightmare:
  • Asbestos: Acoustic texture manufactured before 1980 may contain asbestos and should be tested before being removed. While it doesn’t pose a health risk if left in place, removing a ceiling containing asbestos can stir up the fibers and cause them to become trapped in your lungs. More information about the dangers of Asbestos in Your Home can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency website.
  • Painted Ceiling: Another potential problem that can make removing a popcorn ceiling much more difficult is if paint has been applied over the texture. This prevents the texture from absorbing water, which is necessary to loosen the material. While a painted textured ceiling can be removed, it usually requires the application of a chemical stripper to breakdown the paint barrier.
To determine if either of these conditions applies to your ceiling, combine a few drops of liquid dishwashing soap with warm water in a hand sprayer. Lightly spray a small spot in an inconspicuous location, and wait a few minutes for it to absorb the water. If the water will not soak in, the ceiling has been painted. Otherwise, the texture should come off easily.
 Obtaining a sample of ceiling texture to test for asbestos.
To test ceiling texture applied before 1980 for asbestos, use a putty knife to scrape a small amount into a sealable plastic bag. If you’re concerned about the possible health risks involved in taking the sample, a testing service can be hired to come out and take it for you.

Send the sample to an approved testing service to see if it contains asbestos. To find a testing service in your area, contact the state environmental or health office. A directory of state offices can be found on the EPA website.

If the material is found to contain over 1% asbestos then by law you cannot remove it yourself and will need to contact a professional asbestos removal company or leave the ceiling as is. Even if it doesn’t contain asbestos, it’s important to wear an appropriate dust mask or respirator when removing the ceiling.

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