DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal - Yay or Nay?

21 Replies

I am debating removing the popcorn ceiling from a small room by myself. I understand the process involves spraying the popcorn ceiling with a chemical then eventually scraping it off.

How feasible is this for someone with no experience doing it? Can anyone direct me to a good video or guide/tutorial on how to do it? Any common mistakes to be careful to avoid?

Also, after the popcorn stuff is gone, how long should one wait before repainting?

ISSUE:- Asbestos contamination.

Contractors who do this work must be certified - - why, they need protective gear for the worker(s) and to shield the room so as to not allow contamination to spread throughout the house.  In addition the residue collected must be contained in sealed containers and disposed of at a contamination waste site.

It can be DIY, but you're risking alot to save a $1.95.  IMO, don't be foolish - - that's your family your placing at risk.

Could be asbestos present as NA Beard?  I don't bother inside rentals unless it needs painting badly anyway.  A flip or my own residence would carry more weight to consider taking it on.

Corey,

As NA Beard mentioned their is a high potential for asbestos contamination, however, if you have a newer property post 1978 (When asbestos was banned for this use) then their is little concern.  If before, then you should do your own research or call in a professional to test for asbestos.  If this is a commercial/rental property then you should definitely hire a professional to test for asbestos.  

If determined asbestos free I would use a steamer to steam the popcorn (if it hasn't been painted) and then scrap with a drywall knife.  This system works best with two people, one to steam and the other to scrape.  We did about 800 sq.ft. in a little under two hours including cleanup.  Cover everything you can with easily removable coverings and then just gather up mess and throw away.  You should be able to paint right away but you may want to consider priming first.  

Speaking from experience, just pay someone to do it. We've sanded it, we've scraped it, its never worth it. The biggest issue you will have is finding someone to do it, especially in just one small room. Another option would be to install 1/8 drywall over top of it. 

Originally posted by @Cheryl Packham :

Corey,

As @J Beard mentioned their is a high potential for asbestos contamination, however, if you have a newer property post 1978 (When asbestos was banned for this use) then their is little concern.  If before, then you should do your own research or call in a professional to test for asbestos.  If this is a commercial/rental property then you should definitely hire a professional to test for asbestos.  

Just FYI, although asbestos was banned for use in ceiling treatments in 1978, the materials containing the asbestos did continue to be sold after 1978.  So it is possible/likely that it was still used into the 80's.  The only way to know for sure is to have a sample tested.  Just didn't want someone possibly incorrectly assuming that it could never be in a house post 1978.

As for how to remove a popcorn ceiling (if it doesn't have asbestos and you decide to do it yourself), you don't need anything other than water.  I just removed some last month and it's super easy. 

Step #1 - Put something (i.e. tarp, drop cloth, plastic sheeting, etc) down on the floor to help catch the mess and make for an easy cleanup.

Step #2 - Fill a sprayer up with water and spray it on the popcorn ceiling.  I like to use a backpack sprayer like the one in the photo below because you can just keep pumping and spraying as you go.

Step #3 - Use a wide putty knife to scrape off the wet portion of the popcorn ceiling.  (It's easier to do with two people because one can be spraying while the other is scraping.)

That's really it as far as how to remove it.  There may be some additional prep work (i.e. sanding, puttying, texturing, etc) that's required afterwards, depending on what type of finish you want to end up with.  But the removal process itself is pretty simple.

A small room is not difficult to do. My house was built in 1989 so i doubt there was asbestos.

1. Move everything out of the room (preferred) or into the middle of the room and throw plastic sheeting over it. (This prevents all the dust from getting on everything)

2. Get a pump sprayer from Home Depot for $12 and fill with warm water. Spray the ceiling. it doesn't require any chemicals. Water will eat through the old popcorn texture. 

4. Allow the water to soak in for about 10 minutes or so and attempt to scrape. If the texture doesn't come off easily then spray water again to allow it to soak.

5. Scrape the ceiling with a scraper until it is all removed.

6. You never know what you'll find underneath the texture. That's why they spray that texture because it hides all the nails, and imperfections in the ceiling, and it is quick, cheap, and easy solution for home builders.

7. Remove all imperfections... hammer nails all the way in, sand the rough spots, etc. Make sure the ceiling is nice and smooth.

8. Spray the new texture on with an air compressor and a wall texture kit. The kit is about 65$ at Home Depot. That doesn't include the air hose or compressor. This is just the spray gun and the hopper that holds the new texture. The texture is just joint compound that can be bought in a box and mixed with water in a 5 gallon bucket.

9. There are different types of texture patterns you can do once the new texture is sprayed on. It does take practice to make it look perfect. I do the knock down texture. This means you spray and wait about 10 minutes for the texture to dry up a bit and run over the texture with a smoothing tool that turns the drops into a smooth and clean texture. 

-Sorry for the long post. It is not very difficult to do, but does take skill to do well. However, in my case it paid off extremely well. I did one full house while i lived in it and rented it out. It just makes it look so clean and much more modern. I just moved into my next house and am working on the texture right now. It made sense for me to learn it because a 1500 sq. ft house can cost up to $3-4K to have someone do it for you. So I knew spending a total of about $600 for a good compressor and everything was a good investment since it is already saving up to $7K from a company to do it for me. Of course you can rent or borrow everything you will need. 

Keep in mind if you are only doing one small room and never plan on doing it again, then just hire someone and pay them to do it. This saves you all the trouble, and they can probably do it quicker, better, and save you some frustration. Definitely watch videos on you tube and refer to the list I provided if you want to learn for yourself. This post makes the task seem more daunting then it really is. Good luck.

Originally posted by @Kyle J. :

Just FYI, although asbestos was banned for use in ceiling treatments in 1978, the materials containing the asbestos did continue to be sold after 1978.  So it is possible/likely that it was still used into the 80's.  The only way to know for sure is to have a sample tested.  Just didn't want someone possibly incorrectly assuming that it could never be in a house post 1978.

Thank you Kyle!  I didn't realize that!  

I am contemplating removing some popcorn ceilings, and didn't even think to consider asbestos as I am living in an older house. Thanks everyone for the wonderful advice. 

A good drywall finisher (or an old plasterer) can float the ceiling out without having to install a layer of drywall... best part, no seams that bleed through... 

Originally posted by @Account Closed :

A good drywall finisher (or an old plasterer) can float the ceiling out without having to install a layer of drywall... best part, no seams that bleed through... 

 Can you explain that in layman's terms?

Doing things yourself is overrated.

People either have lots of time and no money or no time and lots of money. If you have money already try to get someone else to do it for the best quality price you can find. I didn't say cheapest but best value.

I have done many things myself in the past and it is a very overrated experience..... : )

The person mentioning asbestos on popcorn past 1978 is a good point. For discussion purposes that also holds true for lead based paint. Even though it was not supposed to be used after 1978 some of the stuff was still out there being used up.

When it comes to people's health spend the money on the proper tests to be safe. It amazes me when  I watch a renovation reality or other rehab show and see people without masks or gloves throwing caution to the wind. They are so focused on something costing 800 instead of 1,000 that they make stupid mistakes.

Wow someone saved 200 but now they are sick and spent thousands on medical bills because they didn't take the proper precautions. Common senses needs to prevail.      

Originally posted by @Corey Demuth :
Originally posted by @Michael Paris:

A good drywall finisher (or an old plasterer) can float the ceiling out without having to install a layer of drywall... best part, no seams that bleed through... 

 Can you explain that in layman's terms?

It's essentially applying a layer (or layers) of drywall "mud" to the entire ceiling, thick enough to encompass the popcorn/texturing and smoothing (floating) it out.  Plaster trowels vs. drywall knives are typically used.  Using ready-mixed mud isn't advised (except for final point-up), but rather quick-setting compounds work best and thus, it's best left for the pros.  Properly done, a plaster-like ceiling can be had.

@Corey Demuth .  So what is a Small room?  And how old is the property?  How is the access to the room?  Is the property vacant?  The reason I ask, is all of this matters when considering this job.  The guys saying just slap up new dry wall need to reconsider if you are on the 5th floor walk-up.  Taking down the ceiling will cause dust, which can be abated by using the soak and spray method, however, you will need to do some touch up sanding afterwards.  I did roughly 500 sq feet myself.  After my neck and shoulders recovered...I found a guy to do it for 1$ a square foot...and decided paying the 500$ to finish the job was a better solution for me.  My strategy with every job I need done...is that I want to have a hand in it at first to understand what it truly costs.  There are some jobs I continue to do myself because I feel I can do a good job, and save myself money.  There are other jobs that I will never do, because im not good at them, and it costs me more in the long run.  

hi corey. i have done it myself. one room, it came off like melted butter, the other damn near took an act of God to get it off. depends on what is under it i guess. i used just straight water on it, but the vinegar and water might do the trick as well. yes, some of this stuff does contain asbestos. i had a sample tested before i even started it. found out it contained no asbestos, so i did it myself. yes, it does make a mess, but in a rehab, you are gonna have messes anyway, right?

Great advice from both sides.

Be safe, as with all your jobs.

I did my first house, about 1650sqft. Where there was carpet I was pulling I just sprayed scraped and let it fall on the carpet. No dust. the popcorn just scrapes off the ceiling.

I used painters drop mats on the tile I was going to keep.

Spraying.  Caution on the less water side till you get a feel for the amount needed.  

You do not want to get the drywall wet, just the popcorn.

When scraping watch your scraper angle to not gouge the drywall, saves repair time later.

Drywall over, never heard of that, but it seems like you are just covering a problem up.

I had an asbestos floor in on of my flips.  I decided to spend/waste, whatever, the extra money for removal instead of covering the floor up and leaving the issue.

Hope the project goes well.

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