The Joy of Popcorn Ceiling Removal

By Kate Riley July 7, 2014

It’s always necessary to do the ugly, messy work before you can get to the pretty. We hate it, but we know it’s true. Before you can add the furnishings and window treatments and pillows and accents you’ve got to establish a clean foundation to build upon and doing so is never ever as fun as styling and arranging, but it must be done.

Enter the battle with sprayed acoustic texture otherwise known as the dreaded popcorn ceiling from the 70s and 80s. It’s everywhere in the house we bought and it must be removed. The process is messy if you do it yourself, somewhat costly if you don’t, but necessary for me in a modern home and one that adds value if you ask my broker/appraiser husband.

eliminate popcorn ceilings

We started the process in a bedroom, one that possesses the chicest combination: old tan carpet, yellowed outlet covers, peach metal mini blinds, brass mirrored closet doors, and popcorn ceilings. Really, it’s just so hard to part with it all.

This bedroom was a great place to start for one has not had the pleasure, joy, thrill, delight, excitement, and satisfaction of scraping a popcorn ceiling.

bedroom before

A fact you must know: prior to 1979, popcorn ceilings contained asbestos but it was banned in 1978 so if you have/own/purchase a home from that era grab a test kit at your local home improvement store to diagnose yours. If your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, leave this job to a professional lest you want to be poisoned. I don’t think you do.

However if your home was built in the late 80s as this one was (1989) you should be safe. I’m here to tell you the process is cheap and simple, albeit extremely messy.

kate popcorn ceiling

Supplies you’ll need: a very long garden hose to drag into the house; an attached spray nozzle with different mister settings; plastic sheeting to cover the floor/walls/windows; painter’s tape; plastic putty knives; joint compound; 180 grit sanding wedge; ladder; a respirator & safety goggles, and above all, tenacity.

I did a lot of The Reading Of The Tutorials online before I went shopping at Home Depot. Many of them said much of the same thing which gave me great confidence and off to HD I went with my shopping list. I felt equipped and prepared for the job ahead. It began like so.

First, remove any ceiling light fixtures, and make sure wires are capped with wire nuts. I’m replacing this fan with a more contemporary one later this month, this is the desert, so ceiling fans are welcome here. Also remove vent cover.

ceiling fan

Next, tape off any area you don’t want to get hit with moisture because you’re about to go crazy with a garden hose inside your house. Note that tape isn’t going to hold for long, my plastic sheeting + painter’s tape combo eventually came down and settled on the floor but cautious spraying does prolong its life.

painters tape on wall

taped off duct and box

Next enlist husband/DIY partner with pumped up gung-ho zest for project to spray the ceiling with the garden hose and mister nozzle.

hoze with nozzle

 mist popcorn ceiling

This can be a one person project – after 15 minutes Matt left to work on other things and I tackled the remainder of the ceiling myself – mist then scrape, mist then scrape.

Some people recommend different processes, misting two times, waiting 10 minutes, misting three times waiting 15 minutes etc. but mostly it requires misting an area a few times several minutes apart then scraping the texture off the ceiling. Look at this experience as a substitute for going to the gym, it involves a great arm workout plus a little leg work climbing up and down a ladder.

We tried a metal scraping tool but that seemed to do more damage to the underlying sheetrock so we used the plastic versions and they worked just fine.

plastic putty knives

scrape with plastic knife

Be sure to wear those goggles and a respirator… safety first friends.

removing a popcorn ceiling

Expect a pool of tasty goodness to collect below on the floor.

wet acoustic ceiling

I used the edge of the plastic tool to slice away the popcorn texture where it met the wall.

ceiling meets wall

You may encounter issues on the ceiling once you’ve scraped, peeling paper, random imperfections but that’s nothing a little joint compound can’t fix. Use the same plastic tool to apply it, wait for it to dry then sand it down with a 180 grit sanding wedge.



Blurry pic but whatev. One cannot be expected to photograph perfectly with the left hand when one is right handed. Universal truth.

Here is the ceiling all scraped, patched, sanded and ready for primer plus paint. Add a new fan above and new flooring below and then the pretty can begin.

scraped ceiling

I hate that air conditioning vent in the middle of the ceiling with a passion. I have to investigate the complicatedness of moving a smaller vent closer to the closet and away from the light fixture.

I didn’t take the final shot at the end of me covered in the popcorn goo but just imagine all of this coating every part of your hair, clothing, and body. Matt swears I’ve never looked lovelier.

popcorn goo

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. Messy? Yes, totally expect that. But if you fancy being coated in moist white texture and love the idea of a popcorn free flat ceiling I recommend this exercise in home improvement. Just roll it all up, discard, and forget it was ever there.

popcorn ceiling on floor

bag of popcorn ceiling

Total time to remove the popcorn ceiling in this 12 x 13’ bedroom including misting, scraping, compounding, and sanding was about 2 ½ hours not including the primer/paint necessary that remains so add another 45 minutes for the total project.

In other unrelated news, the reconstruction of the pool begins next week in our absence which we’re excited about because right now in the Ugly And Unsafe contest this pool is miles ahead. Also Gross if that’s a category.

pool repair

We’re tackling this pool renovation in two phases, part one is removal of this broken crumbling glass block wall that separates the pool from the spa. We’re having our contractor create a thicker wall between the two with plaster and tile and then give it an acid wash and chlorine bath so when we return in two weeks we can at least cool off in the pool between projects without worry of losing a limb.

Part Two will be replacing all that burgundy tile with glass or Mediterranean tile (undecided at the moment), but the new tile installation won’t happen until fall, we decided it makes more sense to pretty it up in the off season.

More updates coming soon… .



  1. Is it bad I wish I had popcorn ceilings (because at least then I could scrape them smooth)? We have the big, thick sponged wall texture on our ceilings and it won’t budge.

    Can’t wait to see the pool updates!

  2. Will this work with hideous ‘flower’ patterns on the ceiling too? Who designed such a thing???
    I can’t wait to see what your project house will look like when you finish, nut for now I wish you lots of strength!!

  3. Whoever invented popcorn ceilings is an evil prankster. Kudos to you for successfully combating it in your home, you are a braver soul than I!

  4. Oh man. I want to do this so bad, but I fear for my laminate wood floor. I can’t see this going well for me…

  5. We just bought our first home, and every room in the 2000 sqft has popcorn ceilings. I just tackled the first room and it did not go as smoothly for me, but it was a learning experience and has me ready to do the rest of the house (but room by room, over the course of a few years). :) it is completely worth it!

  6. Oh I’m so excited to follow along as you take this house from ugly to pretty!

  7. I didn’t know it was possible to remove those. I remember when I was trick-or-treating back in the days, one guy has them and it was kind of a grotto, with spikes and all!

  8. I just recently finished doing this to a 1200 sq. foot house, and your husband is right – it makes the difference. About mid way through, I purchased a rolling scaffold from Home depot for less than $100 – I will never paint or scrape popcorn again without it. It helps with holding your balance after staring upwards at the ceiling for long periods and gives you a place to lay your tools. Worth every penny: Can’t wait to see all that you do!

  9. When we did this at my mom’s house, we just used a hand-held spray bottle and let it soak the ceiling before scraping a section at a time. That way we didn’t have to worry about using a hose in the house. It worked great!

  10. We did this in our family room/kitchen. Worst day of my life. It was much harder to remove than yours seemed to be. So hard to get off, no matter what how much moistuire we put on it. Took ALL day and was the biggest mess I ever experienced. Then we hired someone to smooth out the ceiling because it was a mess underneath. However, it was worth it in the end. We now have a smooth, normal ceiling in one room of our house. We decided we would live with the popcorn in the rest of the house before we would go through that again! I’m happy for those whose popcorn is easier to remove than ours was. I will never buy another house with these kind of ceilings

  11. The popcorn ceilings in my house were painted over and so the water method will not work for removal. Any other suggestions other than scraping it off ? Thanks for any insight …

  12. I recall seeing a tool at Lowe’s that was designed to be used for this. It had a bag attached to catch the stuff that dropped off the ceiling as you’re scraping. I didn’t try it, but it looked like an interesting idea. Might be worth a try.

  13. Wow Peggy, haven’t seen those! I’ll keep an eye out for future ceilings, we have many more to do!
    Michelle, ours were painted too, it made the popcorn thicker but not more difficult to remove.
    Becky, we plan to hire out the high ceilings in the living room, dining room and master – I can only handle this a few more times (remaining bedrooms and family room) on the low ceilings. Ugh, such a mess!

  14. We did this in all of the rooms in our house. It IS a pain and a HUGE mess to tackle but SOOOO worth it when it’s done. You’ll love being able to look at pretty, smooth ceilings for ever after. I used a large spray bottle to mist water onto the ceiling, let it sit for a few minutes and then scraped with a plastic putty knife. I was able to hold the knife almost flat against the ceiling to scrape and that seemed to help avoid the accidental gouges in the drywall. If you have laminate floors and are afraid of the water ruining them a spray bottle works great. (Less water than a hose) Just be sure to put the plastic sheeting on the floor to cover and then go to town on that popcorn!

  15. I remember my Brother in Law doing this. He kind of MacGuyver ed the thing. He used a long hose to the wet vax and taped ( ? ) the scraper tool to it ? I remember he got most of the gunk in the wet vac.

  16. Married to a drywall contractor for 30 years and he has done this process over and over. Watching him take down our popcorn ceiling was fascinating as he was so efficient and quick (and he wasn’t covered in yucky popcorn!) Thought I’d share his techniques as he would never use a garden hose to saturate the drywall – use a new bug sprayer to squirt the water in very specific areas on the ceiling. And layer your contractor plastic in squares on the floor. Spray a corner (about 5×5, I think), wait for saturation and then scrap with a mud knife onto a layered plastic square. Pick up the square with damp popcorn on it, tie it up and place in corner (or another area). This keeps his baker’s rack and/or ladder clean and keeps one from stepping in the popcorn gunk on the floor!

  17. If your pop corn ceilings were painted, they will be harder to remove, than the standard issue non painted white ones. My 2 sons and I did about 1500 square feet easily, in a few hours. A pump type garden sprayer would be less messy than a hose. If you scrape with one hand and “catch” with the other holding a plastic garbage can lid, you can easily dump it into the garbage can, lined with a contractor bag. MUCH LESS MESS!!!!! It is quite an arm work-out though!

  18. We inherited a house, pre-’78, custom-built, complete with ‘popular’ asbestos popcorn ceilings. So, we paid the several thousands for the abatement. Then had the ceiling re-textured in a random sponge style. It was soooooo worth it! The new texture is subtle and we had a white latex semi-gloss painted over it – light and refreshing. Our neighbors & guests have all raved over our ceilings, wanting the numbers of both our ‘designers’ and contractors.
    I admit the asbestos thing freaked me out when the test results came back. But the most difficult part of the process was interviewing the abatement contractors and getting referrals.
    Also, we lucked out in that we didn’t have to ‘move out’ before the abatement could start!

  19. Painted popcorn ceilings are hard to remove, but another option is to cover it up with another layer of drywall (1/4″ thick). My husband is in the renovation business and this is what he does.

  20. If your ceiling is pre ’78 or if the mess is just overwhelming, you can drywall right over the popcorn. This is an especially good idea if you have vaulted or very high ceilings, or if your ceiling has been painted.

  21. Thanks Sue, I’ve read that too! Planking would be another easy way to just cover up the problem!

  22. Lots of good tips on here. I’ve finally finished ridding my whole house of popcorn ceilings earlier this year! I used a pesticide sprayer (that I bought new and only used for water). I would scrape the peaks off dry to get through the paint, then spray and wait. Too much water and the paper on the drywall peels but just enough and the popcorn scrapes off like butter. The bag/scraper combo did not work for me (the bag gets too heavy for your arms and the tool fast); it’s going to be messy no matter how you do it!

  23. That. is. gross. One of those DIY jobs that is dirty and messy and no one will notice once the ceilings are done and freshly painted. No one will notice but you, who will be very happy that you removed that popcorn and created a nice smooth finish.

  24. My husband’s previous house had popcorn ceilings which took me back to my parents’ building a house in the 70s’…I have no idea “why” but at the time a ‘textured’ ceiling was so cool. As a special touch, my bedroom had gold glitter along with popcorn. As said, so cool.

  25. When I painted our popcorn ceilings, I rolled back and forth over the same spot too many times and a layer of popcorn started coming off. This makes me wonder if you could use a thick napped roller to apply the water.

  26. I think the popcorn was once an upgrade for accoustics, especially with cathedral ceilings. That and carpeting. Very different now with clattery hardwood. We had ours removed and were surprised how much light was added to the room. Popcorn ceilings suck the light out of the room with their texture. There is a shadow created on one side of the bump.

  27. jUST LOST MY LONGISH POST. Basically, use DIFwith enzymes, baking soda and HOT water in a pump spray fore really tenacious mudding. It’s a miracle.

  28. OOps! I meant to say DIF, hot wat and FABRIC SOFTENER. This is mainly for ceilings that have been painted. Score it a few times, as well.

  29. Great job! Just want to qualify–your house was most likely safe since it was built so late, but even though asbestos in the ceiling was outlawed in 1979, the stock already manufactured could be used until it ran out, so anything to the mid-80s could have it.

    Unfortunately, my dad’s house probably has it in the addition built in 1964, but until I’m ready to remove it, I’m not testing it!

  30. I bought my house when it was being built new in 1998. It has popcorn ceilings throughout….that’s one thing we’ll be keeping forever with this house…

  31. I am sure during this process you have read any tutorials and every solutions to problems like this one and I trust you for the method you are using. But, I am concern about spraying an interior ceiling that wasn’t made to receive any water, plus on gypse who isn’t waterproof like in a bathroom. I would use a smaller sprayer tool (like those little bottles with a thin spray at the end instead of a gardening hose.
    I am sure your ceiling is dry now but that would be a big concern for me. I would’nt want any molding issues because of that kind of projects who are made to make the house better ;-)

    • Great point Eugenie! The finer the mist the better, it’s hard to see in the pic but you wouldn’t want to create a huge shower!

  32. Kate, I always enjoy your posts but this one made me laugh out loud :) Thanks for making this grungy process sound entertaining and fun- makes me think that I could handle this project at our next house!

  33. Hi Kate! Just a word of warning for you when, in case you weren’t informed of this yet. When you acid wash your pool, it is extremely important to brush the sides EVERYDAY after the acid washing is complete. There are tiny holes in the plaster, (much like when we have our teeth whitened) that have filled by ‘water deposits’ that will be removed when acid washed. This will make the plaster much more susceptible to stain! So until the little (very little) holes are filled with water ‘deposits’ again, dirt will accumulate in them and stain your pool! I learned first hand. The peeps that acid washed the pool at my last house didn’t tell me this. It stained terribly. At the house we are in now, we faithfully brushed the sides a couple times a day until it ‘cured’….maybe for the first week to 2 weeks. Hope this helps.

    • Thank you Ms. Lizzy! These things I’m learning, we’ve never owned a house with a pool before! Thanks so much for the tip!

  34. I tackled this on my own not knowing of a way, other then just start scraping. I didn’t use any water at all, I held a cookie sheet in one hand and a scraper in the other, and it went fine, It may not be perfectly flatly smooth but I think it looks great, and planned to do it in the other rooms as well. I think when I tear up the old carpet I will tackle the living room kitchen area. Once it was painted over it looks great, NO water involved. I was amazed at how fast it went I had the bedroom done in less then a hour. My house was built around 1995.

  35. so glad you posted how to do this……………..we have a popcorn home too…………………igh…….. would have never thought about wetting it down first…. here’s to having a scraping party!!!!!!!! lol!

  36. For 24 years we lived in a “50’s” rambler with FLAT ceilings and LOVED it. I like color on my ceilings in many areas, not white. THEN we built a new house with popcorn and vaults (didn’t think of asking for plain sheetrock. Hated it. Bought a new, pre-built a few years later, with popcorn and vaults. Still hate it. But we’re just too “beyond” the climbing and scraping point. Guess I’ll have to price it out or learn to ignore it. Ick! This is a really helpful and informative article. Thanks.

  37. Kate, I wanted to post this comment a few days ago but got distracted. Anyway, fun pic of you removing the ceiling! Such great advice for so many! x Maria

  38. I know I’m the minority here but I sort of like popcorn ceilings. I lived in a place for a few years that had them and I sort of kinda almost miss them. I’m not sure why they’re called popcorn ceilings though, because I think it looks more like cottage cheese. Haha! One day it will be all the rage again and everyone will be hating their smooth ceilings and paying to have them “repopped”. =)

  39. Donna is right! We have cathedral ceilings and the people who built it paid extra to have the popcorn applied (and didn’t pay to have it applied to the closets, LOL). We just had ours removed this year and have SMOOTH ceilings with no tacky texture of any kind. Soooo excited. My dh and I did remove the popcorn in a small bathroom on our own; we decided we were NOT interested in doing the whole house and paid someone. Best money we ever spent!

  40. PS. I can’t wait to see what you do with the pool. I don’t know of any bloggers who have tackled a pool and will be excited to see the process.

  41. You said that right KJ. There are hardly any bloggers giving an explanation of what they do with the pool. I tried removing popcorn ceiling at my house some days back but did not know what to do with the pool. Now I will get to know that!!

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