Home improvement

How to De-Popcorn a Ceiling


Nobody likes popcorn ceilings. They’re clumpy and dingy, and the older the house, the more likely they are to be keeping collections of dust and cobwebs. Sometimes, they even glitter.

From the 1950’s to the 1990’s, popcorn ceilings were popular in new construction (predictably, the glitter fad was a product of the 60’s and 70’s). Officially, the intention was to cut down on the sort of echoing you get in hardwood and tiled homes. But the fact that the texture disguised poor workmanship was also a plus.

Nowadays, many real estate agents advise would-be sellers to remove popcorn ceilings before showing a house. They seem dated to buyers, and tend to be viewed as work to be tackled—not something you want when you’re aiming for a sale.


Whether you want smooth ceilings to attract buyers or to match your décor, there are a couple factors you should consider first.

Know that you many not find pristine plaster underneath. Since textured ceiling were often installed as a cost-saving move, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to do some work to get things perfectly smooth.

Also, If your home was built prior to 1978, when asbestos was banned, there’s a good chance your ceiling is full of it. Even if your house was built later, test just to be safe.  Since construction companies were allowed to use up existing supplies, asbestos was technically used into the 80’s.

Once you know what you’re dealing with, your next move is going to be in one of three directions.


If your ceiling is asbestos-free and covered in just plaster, congrats. This is the easiest type to remove. However, “easy” doesn’t necessarily mean “clean.”

Before you get started, you’re going to want to remove as much furniture as you can and cover everything else—a portion of the walls included—in plastic sheeting and drop cloths.

Once you’re ready:

  • Dampen (don’t drench) an area of the ceiling with a squirt bottle or a garden hose set to mist.
  • Wait a few minutes for it to soak in and soften the plaster.
  • Used a scraper to remove the popcorn texture. Whether you used a pole to scrap from the ground or a ladder is your call.

If your ceiling is asbestos-free and painted, it won’t absorb the water you spray, and thus won’t loosen. This is, incidentally, how you tell if your ceiling is painted or not—take a squirt bottle to it.

Before you start the above process, you’re going to need to apply a paint stripper and let it do it’s magic. After that, the water should be able to penetrate to the plaster and you should be able to remove it with relative ease.

If your ceiling contains asbestos, call an expert. Asbestos isn’t generally problematic so long as it’s sealed, but once you start hacking away at your ceiling, there’s going to be some danger, especially if your ceiling is painted and requires more forceful removal.

A specialist should be able to do this safely for you, though some recommend simply covering up the ceiling with a layer of drywall.

Other options

If you’re having second thoughts about parting with your popcorn, there are some things you can do to help minimize the look. Flush-sitting ceiling lights are generally a no-go. They create extra shadows in the texture, aggravating the look of it. Try fixtures that direct light down toward the room instead of across the ceiling.

Careful decorating can also help to draw the eye down and away from the ceiling. Avoid long drapes and high-hung pictures, as they’ll lead your gaze up the wall. Instead, make sure most of your interesting elements are eye-height or lower.

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