How Do You Remove Popcorn Ceiling? (8 Easy Steps)

I often feel that the time for a popcorn ceiling has come and gone. Sure, it was very popular many years ago, but the current trend is to have a ceiling that is smooth and also easier to paint. But here’s the good news. Removing a popcorn ceiling is an easy DIY project, and it only takes eight steps to complete the project.

popcorn ceiling easy removal

But here’s a problem. If you have a popcorn ceiling in your home, then you need to think about ways to manage to remove all of those small lumps and bumps before you can then get to work on having that smooth ceiling you are looking for.

Actually, all it takes is for you to follow several key steps that will make life significantly easier for you should you wish to go ahead and make progress with this project. So, that’s what I’m going to guide you through, and I promise that it’s only going to take a few minutes of your time to read the steps and to then have a full understanding of what you need to do to complete the job.

This is a task I’ve personally completed before. I admit it’s a bit messy, but the end result you can achieve is outstanding.

So, let me go through the steps to help you get started.

Can Anybody Remove Popcorn Ceiling?

removing popcorn ceiling

But first, I need to stress that anybody should be able to go ahead and remove a popcorn ceiling, even if you have little in the way of DIY experience. You don’t require any special knowledge or tools to complete the task, so there should be nothing there to put you off giving it a shot.

Yet, I do admit it can come across as a massive task if you look at those different notches and lumps on your ceiling and how many of them exist. But honestly, with the correct approach, you will be amazed at how easily you can remove this popcorn from your ceiling and bring everything up to date. 

With that in mind, I’ll start with the steps that you need to follow to get the type of ceiling you want, which does not include having popcorn on there. 

Step 1: Safety First

DIY safety glasses for popcorn ceiling removal

The first step has to focus on safety, and I’m not just talking about eyeglasses either. 

The problem with a popcorn ceiling is they were popular in the middle of the 20th century, and the scary thing is that some older buildings had asbestos incorporated into their ceiling. Now, this happened at a time when there was no knowledge of what asbestos could do to our health, so it was included quite innocently.

But that does mean there is a risk you could be facing asbestos. At that point, everything changes when it comes to how you can remove your popcorn ceiling.

If you fear the popcorn ceiling was installed before the 1980s, I suggest getting it tested for asbestos by an expert. Hopefully, you get the all-clear, as that will then allow you to move on to the next step of the project.

But let’s say your ceiling does come back as being positive for asbestos. Then, you have something completely different that you must deal with, and a professional should only ever remove asbestos. Do not try to do it on your own. It’s just not worth the risk.

Step 2: Gathering Your Tools

painters tape for masking off areas

After knowing you can safely work on your ceiling, you need to gather your tools together. Thankfully, you do not require too many tools to complete this task, and no special equipment is needed either.

I see the main tools that you need as follows:

  • Painter’s tape
  • A good quality dust mask
  • A dust sheet
  • Safety glasses
  • Some sort of water sprayer
  • A wide putty knife, or alternatively, a drywall taping knife

As you can see, most people will have those sorts of tools to hand, so there’s no reason not to go ahead and get started. Also, you can see how even going out to purchase these tools will not cost too much, so this really is a budget project that anybody can potentially work on. 

Step 3: Cover Everything You are Not Working On

covering items for popcorn ceiling removal

Once you have your tools together, it’s time to put that tape and dust sheets to good use. 

You need to cover the walls and floor and look at removing as much furniture as possible from the room. This project is a bit on the messy side, so covering everything with sheets to give some type of protection makes sense. Also, it will make the cleaning up part significantly easier. 

Also, if you have a ceiling fan, then take it down. It will stop you from potentially damaging the fan during the project, and the same applies to any lights that you can remove in advance.

The key here is to really have something of a blank canvas to work on while reducing the chances of damaging anything else.

But here’s another tip on what you need to cover.

If you have air-con, then make sure any vents are covered. The same applies to power outlets as the dust you will create has the ability to get absolutely everywhere, and that includes into the power outlets, so tape them up to play it safe.

Step 4: Turn Off the Power and Get Ventilation

ventilation for popcorn ceiling removal

The final preparation step is to turn off the power to the room. That’s because you will be using water during this process, and it just seems safer to turn off the power before you begin.

Once you have turned off the power, open the windows in advance. Again, this is because of the dust you will be creating, and it just helps to have some air circulating, and the window is the only option available to you at this moment.

But it would help if you didn’t worry too much about the dust because the water method you will be using will help reduce the amount of dust that’s created as you work through the project. 

Step 5: Wet the Ceiling

wet ceiling to remove popcorn

It has been proven that it’s easier to remove a popcorn ceiling when it’s wet as opposed to dry. That’s why I mentioned having some kind of water sprinkler that you can use to spray water on the ceiling before you start.

But don’t go ahead and spray the entire ceiling at the one time. Removing a popcorn ceiling is time-consuming, and parts of the ceiling would simply dry out before you get there, so you are wasting your time.

I recommend spraying an area of around three feet by three feet and working on that area before you move to another part of the ceiling. 

But here’s a critical point. 

When I talk about making the ceiling wet, I’m not talking about soaking it. If you soak it, then you do run the risk of the water damaging the ceiling while you try to remove the popcorn part. Instead, make it damp rather than anything else, and you should find you can make progress far more easily than you would have done if the ceiling was dry.

Finally, another tip. When you spray the ceiling, don’t start immediately. Instead, let the water be absorbed into the ceiling by holding on for up to 15 minutes. It does make a difference to what you can achieve when you get to work with the actual removal process.

Step 6: Removing the Popcorn

removing popcorn ceiling

If you were expecting some unique technique that requires a particular skill to remove the popcorn, then you will be somewhat disappointed. 

Instead, this is what you need to do to remove the popcorn effectively and as quickly as possible.

Take your wide putty knife, and you will soon understand why I mentioned the need for it to be a wide knife, and start to run it along the wet ceiling covering the area you have previously soaked. You want the knife to be quite wide to cover more of an area at one time. However, please don’t go too wide, or it becomes harder to control the knife and what it removes. 

But here’s an important tip. Do this gently, and do not apply too much pressure. The popcorn part is more fragile than you realize, and too much pressure may lead to you actually gouging part of the ceiling. If that happens, then you have a potentially more significant problem to contend with, and nobody wants to be dealing with that issue at this point.

Yet I know this potential for gouging the ceiling is something that’s very real, so I have a method that can at least reduce the chances of that happening. However, it’s not 100% guaranteed, so there’s still a chance that the occasional gouge will happen. But even if it does occur, I promise it’s not the end of the world. 

For this, you need to work at filing down the edges of the knife you are using. It would be best if you made them as blunt as possible, as you don’t really need that part of the knife for this project. So, as it doesn’t reduce the capabilities of the knife, there’s no need to run the risk of taking chunks out of the ceiling when it’s something that could be avoided quite easily.

What you should find is that the blade of the knife running over the popcorn part should be enough to remove it. However, some tricker parts may end up requiring a second attempt to get the majority of the popcorn part off. This is not unusual, but sadly it does slow you down a bit when trying to complete the project.

Once you have finished one area, spray the next section and repeat the process until you have completed the entire ceiling.

Step 7: After the Removal, Sanding, and Priming

sanding down ceiling after popcorn removal

I admit that your ceiling is going to look pretty horrible right now with all these marks where the popcorn parts used to be. However, don’t stress, as now is the time when you can get to work on turning your ceiling into something that actually looks pretty good.

The first thing you need to do is to sand the ceiling, and this makes a lot of sense. In doing so, you will be removing those last parts of the popcorn while also working at producing a smooth finish for those final touches.

Just a light sanding with a relatively fine paper will be enough. You want to remove those last parts rather than going in too heavy with the sanding, which would then leave marks on your ceiling.

Also, if you do have any cracks or gouges as a direct result of removing the popcorn, this is the time when you carry out repairs to get your ceiling looking as good as new.

To do this, you can use some simple joint compound to cover up the holes, then allow it to set and sand it level. Don’t worry about that it may be standing out as quite obvious that a repair has been carried out because you are not quite finished yet with this project.

I feel that this step is way more important than people realize. It’s your only opportunity to really get things looking ultra-smooth before you finish it off with some paint. It’s incredible how notches and spaces will stand out once your eye sees them, and if you don’t work on covering them up now, then you will be stuck with them unless you are willing to spend a lot of time and effort trying to fix them later. 

Step 8: Painting

painting a ceiling after popcorn removal

The final step is painting, and you can use any color you like to get your ceiling looking just the way you want. However, ensure it’s the correct type of paint for a ceiling and give it a thick coat just to ensure you do indeed cover up any of those minor repairs you had to carry out.

This is the easiest part of the entire process, and I also think it’s the most fun. You just know you have completed the hard part, and you now have an idea of what your ceiling will look like once the paint has dried.

After painting, remove all of the sheeting you have been using to cover up and protect everything and reinstall any fans or lights you had to take down as well. 

The only thing I would suggest is to ensure you use a quality ceiling paint. I have articles here on the site that will help you out with that, so be sure to check them out to gain some insight into getting the best ceiling paint for your budget. 

At that point, the job is done, and as you can see it was very easy to do. However, if you do not want to go to the extent of removing a popcorn ceiling, then there is an alternative. But honestly, this project is so easy to complete compared to other options that I just don’t understand why anybody would wish to do anything else. 

Another Alternative

drywall ceiling boards

So, your other option is to cover it up with something else. Seriously, while it does work, I feel this is more cumbersome and requires more work than trying to remove the popcorn ceiling in the first place.

Actually, the only time I would use this approach is if the ceiling is in a poor condition and you worry about possibly damaging it through the removal process. It would make sense at that point, but I don’t see any other situation where that would occur.

The first thing you can do is to install a new layer of drywall to the ceiling. This would involve creating a frame, attaching it to the existing ceiling joists, and then adding the drywall panels. I do admit that this is an effective method, and it will give you that ultra-smooth ceiling you are after, but it does involve doing a bit of work on your part.

Yet, if that sounds like too much work, then I do have another method that may make a difference for you.

Using Faux Tiles

Generally, the depth of the popcorn part on a ceiling is not too great, so that does allow you to use faux tiles to cover them up. Now, this is not going to give you the same look as the drywall since you will clearly have tiles up there, but I don’t see it as being too much of a distraction.

But here’s the cool thing. These tiles are light, and you can easily attach them to your existing ceiling by using construction adhesive. However, it will take some time for you to work on this solution since you need to hold everything in place until the adhesive has done its job.

Yet, this adhesive is known to be fast-acting, so it shouldn’t hold you back too long.

I see this as being a great way to cover up your popcorn ceiling without causing too much mess, and also the tiring job of trying to scratch off the popcorn. However, if you want to have a completely smooth ceiling, then you would need to cover all those spaces between tiles, so you could be giving yourself a lot of additional work just to get the same sort of end result. 

Using Planks

If tiles are not your thing, and you would prefer a wood effect on your ceiling, then you can use wall planks and use the same construction adhesive to glue them to your ceiling. Again, this can be time-consuming, but the impact it can have is pretty astonishing.

Also, if you do decide to go down the path of using planks, then there’s a possibility of using a nail gun to help hold them in place. This is certainly a faster way of doing things, and the results will still be impressive. I also see this as the better option since you don’t have to hold things in place for quite as long.

How Long Will This All Take?

popcorn ceiling

I’m going to be honest here and tell you that removing a popcorn ceiling can be a time-consuming job. Of course, the time it takes depends on the area size to be covered, but even a professional can take several hours to effectively remove the popcorn parts from your ceiling.

The fact it can take hours to remove even a small area is due to the fact the task isn’t because of the number of steps. It’s because those popcorn pieces are so small and annoying to remove with you needing to literally cover every square inch to remove them. Add in the potential need to sand down parts to get it smooth, wipe it down and then paint, and you can see how time can drag on before you have a smooth ceiling. 

But seriously, if you hate the whole popcorn ceiling look, then this is undoubtedly a project you want to go ahead and complete. The difference it will make to your ceiling is astonishing, and it will certainly look far more up to date than it did before. 

Does it Cost a Lot?

I think one good thing about doing this project is it doesn’t have to cost you that much money. But that only applies if you plan on removing it, smoothing the ceiling down, and then painting. If you intend to use tiles or planks to cover up things, then the cost can start to climb due to the materials used.

Also, it’s a project you can carry out on your own. If you were to hire a professional to come and do this for you, then you could end up spending a significant amount of money on this. It’s mainly due to the time it takes and them charging an hourly fee, so costs will rise quite considerably. I see this as a bit of an insane thing to do if you are physically able to do it yourself because it is such an easy and straightforward project to complete. 

Overall Conclusion

And that is how to successfully remove a popcorn ceiling on your own. I’ve focused on the removal aspect rather than simply covering it up. However, I did mention the idea of covering it up just to give you an alternative approach that you may contemplate. 

But as with any DIY project, being well versed in every aspect of the project is key to getting a wonderful end result. For that reason, I suggest checking out these other articles that will tell you more about popcorn ceilings. 

How to paint a popcorn ceiling

Photo of author

Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.