How to Remove a Textured Drywall Ceiling

By HomeAdvisor

Updated October 20, 2016

Popcorn ceiling with light

On This Page:

  1. Before You Scrape
  2. Materials & Tools You’ll Need to DIY
  3. Preparation
  4. Removing the Popcorn
  5. Sanding, Repairing & Refinishing
  6. Benefits of Hiring a Pro

Popcorn and movies may go hand-in-hand, but popcorn and ceilings went out of style decades ago. Originally rising to popularity because of their easy installation and acoustic dampening effects (they’re also known as acoustic ceilings), popcorn ceilings aren’t very pleasing to the modern decorator’s eye and generally trap light, making a room appear dark and uninviting. The good news is that removing a popcorn ceiling — also known as a textured ceiling or, if you really aren’t fond of it, a cottage cheese ceiling — is entirely possible as a DIY project. And, in fact, making the decision to ditch the bumps not only impacts the modern style of any room, but also affects lighting, reflecting rather than bouncing around light to make a brighter, more open and inviting space.

Though the process is pretty straightforward, it’s usually tedious. Also, unfortunately, there’s one small caveat when it comes to removing a popcorn ceiling: those installed prior to 1980 may be harboring asbestos. If this is the case in your home, DIY removal is completely off the table. Otherwise, choosing to hire a pro may just be the best way to save yourself the time and hassle. Either way, understanding the ins and outs of removal is important for anyone looking to get rid of this design throwback from the 70s and 80s.

Before You Scrape

It cannot be stressed enough that self-removal of a popcorn ceiling can only take place safely if your ceiling is free of asbestos. If your home was built from about 1990 onwards, you’re probably safe. However, anything built prior to that harbors serious risk of asbestos, a common additive to paint and textured compounds prior to 1980, when it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber found in rock and soil. However, it has been directly linked to lung cancer, especially if inhaled at concentrated rates. While undisturbed asbestos-laced paint poses little threat, once you start the sanding process, you let the toxins loose into the air of your home. You can learn more about the facts and risks associated with asbestos presence and removal from the EPA’s website.

How to Collect Samples for Asbestos Testing

Safe and effective removal of a textured ceiling that contains asbestos can only be completed by a professional trained in containment methods and safe removal of asbestos. To determine if your home’s ceiling contains asbestos, start by taking a small scraping of the material and having it professionally tested. There are also home test kits available, but to be safe in the event of a false negative, it’s important to send the sample to a real lab instead. Find a list of labs around the country that perform asbestos paint testing at the EPA website, here.

To collect a sample of asbestos to send off with your testing kit, follow the steps below:

  1. Turn off your heat or air conditioning to limit airflow and the possible spread of fibers around your home.
  2. Fill a spray bottle with water and a squirt of dish detergent. Swirl the bottle to combine the liquids.
  3. Wet the area where you plan to take the sample. This step is critical because it helps keep the fibers from spreading if they’re present in the ceiling.
  4. Scrape off about a teaspoon-sized amount of textured ceiling, ensuring that you access the entire depth of the material down to the sheetrock, not just the surface.
  5. Place the sample into a container, such as a fresh Ziploc bag or the plastic cup that came with your testing kit.
  6. Clean off the container with a wet paper towel and label it. If you’re taking samples from several rooms, be sure to include the name of the room each sample comes from on the label.
  7. Many asbestos-testing companies recommend that, if the texturing covers 1,000 square feet or more of the ceilings in your home, you take at least three samples from different areas to ensure accurate results.

It’s only once a professional asbestos test is complete and negative that you can move on to a DIY popcorn ceiling removal project. Of course, you may still want to hire a pro for convenience’s sake, so take note of the work involved in this at-home project before you roll up your sleeves and get to scraping. In addition, removing a textured ceiling that’s been painted over is a job that’s best left to a professional. The wetting techniques you use to loosen an unpainted popcorn ceiling aren’t sufficient for saturating painted texturing, and a pro knows how to approach this special situation with the added benefit of years of expertise and specific techniques that ensure clean removal.

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Materials & Tools You’ll Need to DIY

Begin the process by gathering the right tools for the job. Minimally, you want to have all of the following on hand:

  • Enough 2–3 mm plastic sheeting to cover the walls
  • Enough 6 mm plastic sheeting to cover the floors
  • Rosin paper
  • Rags
  • Painter’s tape
  • Putty knife
  • Liquid dishwashing soap
  • Pump sprayer
  • Mesh sanding pad with handle
  • 6-inch-wide floor scraper
  • Drywall tape
  • Drywall compound
  • Dust mask/respirator
  • Clothing protection
  • Goggles

WIth these tools at hand, the process of actually taking down your popcorn ceiling can begin. Follow these steps to make sure the finished product is clean and beautiful and that the rest of your home survives the process without the need for extensive cleanup.

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  1. Before doing any scraping, make sure that the area is clear of furniture and that the floors and walls are covered adequately with appropriately thick plastic. Use the painter’s tape to secure the plastic sheeting to each surface. Also, be especially careful to cover completely if the room is carpeted and therefore prone to trap dust.
  2. Use the circuit breaker to cut off power to the room and cover all wall outlets with extra plastic to prevent dust from causing a short circuit once the power is restored as well as to keep water out during the wetting process.

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Removing the Texturing

  1. Begin the actual removal process by wetting the ceiling down in 4–6-foot-square areas. Use the pump sprayer filled with a solution of warm water and 2–3 tablespoons of dish liquid per gallon to saturate the entire area. Allow the solution to sit for 15–20 minutes to soften the material and penetrate into the deeper layers.
  2. Once the material is soft, start with the large 6-inch floor scraper and gently begin to scrape away the material, being careful not to chip into the drywall itself or tear away the tape holding it together. If, after 15–20 minutes have passed, the material doesn’t come away from the wall with ease, respray the area and wait an additional 10–15 minutes before you try again.
  3. Once you’ve gotten most of the material down with the large scraper, use the smaller putty knife to get residual materials out or to work in corners. Repeat this process around the whole room.

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Sanding, Repairing & Refinishing

  1. Once all the texture is off of the ceiling, you should be able to see some of the sheetrock coming through parts of the ceiling. This is fine, so long as the surface itself is smooth. However, especially if the original texture was uneven, you may need to sand down the entire ceiling to achieve a more finished look.
  2. In addition, if you managed to chip away at some of the drywall during the scraping process, repairs are pretty simple, but you’ll want to complete them before proceeding. Just use the joint compound and tape (if there’s a larger hole) the same way you would repair any drywall area. Allow the compound to dry for at least 24 hours, and then sand it smooth before moving on to the refinishing step.
  3. Once the ceiling is smooth and dry, prime and paint it with your chosen color. Make sure to choose a ceiling-specific latex paint for the best, longest-lasting results.
  4. When the ceiling is dry, make sure you thoroughly clean up the area under and around the ceiling before removing the plastic sheets and restoring power to the room. Start with a shop vac on top of the sheeting, wet down the walls and any smooth flooring and go over carpets once again with your regular home vacuum.

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Benefits of Hiring a Pro

As long as there’s no asbestos present, removing a popcorn ceiling is a pretty easy DIY job that most homeowners can complete over the course of a weekend. However, the preparation and cleanup can be a real hassle and make what is an easy physical task much more demanding and time-consuming. The benefits of hiring a pro to remove textured ceilings, whether in one room or throughout your home, are therefore abundant. They include:

  • Quick preparation – most homeowners simply need to remove small furniture and other items from the room to ready the space for a professional, but some pros can complete this task for an additional cost
  • Scraping is faster and more efficient
  • Professional removal includes cleanup
  • Most pros will include popcorn ceiling removal as part of an overall house painting job, making hiring easy
  • Professionals with experience removing textured ceilings know the right techniques to reduce damage to the ceiling properly and create a cleaner, more visually stunning result

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Questions to Ask

If you choose to hire a professional house painter to remove your popcorn ceiling, it’s important to ask the right questions before he or she arrives to avoid hassle and extra charges. Common issues include:

  • Whether you must remove furniture or if it’s included in the quote
  • Whether the pro turns off power and seal outlets or if this is your responsibility
  • What methods the pro has for cleanup and disposal of residual materials
  • If asbestos is present, ask about what the pro does to ensure he or she follows all necessary environmental and EPA-qualified assessments and cleanup procedures
  • Ask about asbestos testing and how it’s performed before the job is complete

Armed with the knowledge of how to remove your own ceiling, it’s easy to ask the right questions of any pro throughout your interaction. Use the steps and terms in this guide to help prepare for your discussion and display your knowledge of the procedures followed for proper textured ceiling removal.

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Cost to Remove Popcorn Ceiling

According to real cost reports, the average homeowner paid $1,439 for in-home textured ceiling removal at an average of $1–$2 per square foot of ceiling. The cost range is quite large, however, with most homeowners paying anywhere from as little as $788 to as much as $2,130. This is in comparison to costs of about $100–$300 when performing the job yourself.

Of course, it’s more than labor hours alone that affect the prices you can expect to pay for pros removing textured ceilings. In addition to sheer square footage considerations, variables that change price include the cost to remove furniture, the height and difficulty of reaching the ceiling and whether or not repainting the ceiling is included in the job. Asbestos removal can also add an additional $1–$2 per square foot onto the total price, and testing can cost around $70 depending on the number of samples you need to send in.

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