Though popcorn or acoustic ceilings were once popular in homes and apartments, the bumpy look of popcorn ceilings quickly dates a home today. A very common home improvement is to remove a popcorn ceiling.

Before you jump into this project, however, it’s important to consider whether the ceiling texture might contain asbestos. Popcorn ceilings applied before the 1980s may contain asbestos, a fiber that is harmful when airborne.

If you’re unsure whether your ceiling may contain asbestos, you can buy a mail-in asbestos test kit for about $35. Be sure the kit is EPA approved. With this, you carefully scrape a small piece into a plastic bag that seals and send it to a mail-order certified testing lab.

If your ceiling contains asbestos, you have a couple of options:

  1. Instead of removing the ceiling texture, cover over it with a new layer of drywall. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, leaving asbestos in place is not hazardous—it’s removing it that allows the dangerous fibers of asbestos to become airborne.
  2. Have the texture removed. You should leave removal of asbestos to a professional asbestos abatement contractor.

How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling, Step by Step

If your popcorn ceiling does not contain asbestos, the following information will guide you through removal.

Begin by preparing the room for the mess, then move on to the removal process.

1 Because you need to spray water onto the ceiling to remove the texture, begin by turning off the power to the receptacles and light fixtures at the circuit breaker panel.

repair a ceiling fan breaker
Turn off the circuits that supply electricity to the room.

2 Protect the floor, baseboards, and lower parts of the wall by spreading heavy-duty plastic sheeting or water-resistant drop cloths across the floor and extending it about 18 inches up the wall. Tape the edges of the sheeting to the wall with blue painters’ tape.

3 Run 1 1/2-inch painters’ tape along the top of the wall, about 1/4-inch down from the ceiling. Drape the walls with plastic sheeting, taping the top edge to the painters’ tape along the top of the walls. Then unroll rosin paper on the floor to keep the floor from getting too slippery and make cleanup easier.

Tape protective drop cloths to the floor, and then the walls.
Tape protective drop cloths to the floor, and then the walls. ©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

4 Working in 2-by-2-foot sections,  use a garden sprayer to apply water to the ceiling, and then scrape the texture off with an 8-inch-wide drywall taping knife. Wear safety glasses and a dust mask.

Use a garden sprayer to wet the ceiling with water. Photo: Chapin
Use a garden sprayer to wet the popcorn ceiling with water. Chapin
8-inch Drywall taping knife is handy for scraping the ceiling. Photo: Marshalltown
8-inch Drywall taping knife is handy for scraping the ceiling. Marshalltown

5 Once you’ve finished scraping the entire ceiling, remove the plastic from the walls.

Leave the plastic sheeting on the floor until you gather and dispose of all of the rosin paper and wall sheeting.

Here is a helpful video from Home Depot that shows how to remove a popcorn ceiling, step by step:


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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort