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How to Remove a Stucco Popcorn Ceiling and Update Your Home

By Mary McCoy

diy couplePopcorn ceiling is the bumpy-looking ceiling treatment home builders used from the 1950s to the 1980s to improve acoustics and mask ceiling flaws. Also known as “cottage cheese ceiling” and “stucco ceiling,” the popcorn finish started falling out of favor in the late 1980s and early 1990s because some formulations contained asbestos.

Disdain for popcorn ceiling gained momentum in the 2000s when homeowners started to acknowledge these ceilings are ugly, outdated, and tend to attract dust and grime. Many homeowners who live in older properties are now hiring contractors to remove the dingy texture from their homes.

If you’re tired of your ceiling looking like cottage cheese, it might be time to scrape off the popcorn texture. Thankfully, you don’t need to hire an expensive contractor for the project.

The Benefits of DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Popcorn ceiling removal is messy and time-consuming, so it isn’t for the faint of heart. It involves scraping away existing texture, re-texturing the ceiling, and then painting the finished product. But as long as you’re willing to put forth the effort, this messy project isn’t very difficult or technical.

The primary reward of DIY removal is the substantial monetary benefit. According to Homewyse, you can expect to pay a contractor $0.71 to $1.25 per square foot for popcorn ceiling removal and re-texturing. For a 1,500-square-foot home, that amounts to roughly $1,500, with the costs increasing substantially for larger homes. On the other hand, you can do it yourself for no more than a couple hundred dollars – perfect for a homeowner on a budget.

Removing popcorn ceiling also pays off when you try to sell your home. While a popcorn-less ceiling may not increase the value of your home, it vastly improve its marketability. A marketable home tends to retain more interest, sell faster, and collect more of its original asking price than homes without desirable updates.

Supply List

Before you start scraping and re-texturing, head to your local hardware store and purchase the following items. The included price estimate is based on mid-range items from a national hardware store:

  • Plastic Drop Cloths. Once you start scraping the ceiling, chunks of texture and grit will fall onto the floor and furniture. Buy multiple plastic drop cloths you can use to protect your furniture and flooring. You can always substitute old sheets, but only if you’re willing to throw them away post-use. If you use a sheet or drop cloth that isn’t waterproof, be extra careful when it comes time to spray the ceiling. Estimated cost: $10 for a pack of six.
  • Painter’s Tape. Use this to secure drop cloths. Estimated cost: $3 per roll.
  • Ladder. Depending on the height of your ceilings, you may need a small stepladder to reach the popcorn. Estimated cost: $50.
  • Protective Gear. Expect texture to fall on you. Protect yourself with safety glasses, a face mask, and rubber gloves. Estimated cost: Less than $10 for all three.
  • Pump Sprayer. Before you start scraping, use a pump sprayer, which moistens and loosens the texture. Estimated cost: Less than $20.
  • Ceiling Texture Scraper. Opt for a model that helps catch some of the falling texture to reduce mess. Estimated cost: $20.
  • Drywall Compound (Joint Compound). Expect to repair portions of the ceiling after scraping off the texture with drywall compound. Also, use the compound to create the ceiling’s finish – either smooth or textured. Estimated cost: $8 for one gallon, which covers about 100 square feet.
  • Sanding Sponge. If you use drywall compound for repairs, a sanding sponge helps level out the compound. Estimated cost: $2 apiece.
  • Putty Knife and Utility Knife. The putty knife is for applying the compound, and the utility knife is for cleaning up dried, rough edges. Estimated cost: $15 for both.
  • Large Trowel for a Smooth Finish. If you want your ceilings to have a smooth finish, use a large trowel to apply the drywall compound once the texture is removed. Estimated cost: $5.
  • Texture Sprayer for a Textured Finish. If you want your ceilings to have a textured finish, but don’t want to do the texture by hand, use a texture sprayer. Avoid the purchase price by renting one for a day. Estimated cost: $50 for a one-day rental.
  • White Ceiling Paint. To complete the project, paint the ceiling to provide a protective seal. One gallon of ceiling paint covers up to 300 square feet. Estimated cost: $25 per gallon.
  • Paintbrushes. If you’re painting your ceiling by hand, purchase paint rollers and paintbrushes to complete the job. Estimated cost: $15 for a package of required supplies.
  • Paint Sprayer (Optional). If you’re doing more than one room, consider renting a paint sprayer instead of using brushes or rollers. A paint sprayer can speed the painting process considerably. Estimated cost: $25 to rent for the day.

remove popcorn ceiling

How to Remove Popcorn Texture

1. Protect the Space

Take the time to perform the prep work necessary to sufficiently protect your space. This makes a big difference when it comes time to clean up at the end of the project, and it also limits your exposure to harmful chemicals.

  • Test Your Ceiling for Asbestos. This is the most important step of your project. If your texture was applied before 1979, have it tested for asbestos before you do anything else. You can find an asbestos inspector by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency website for a listing of your state’s inspectors. If your ceiling has asbestos in it, scrap your DIY plans and hire a contractor to properly manage the asbestos.
  • Remove Items From the Space. Move your furniture out of the room for the easiest clean up.
  • Position Drop Cloths. Place drop cloths across every portion of the floor, taping them to the base molding to prevent gaps. If you’re only doing one room, consider taping a drop cloth to the door to prevent dust from escaping (if you do this, make sure you open a window).

2. Moisten the Texture

Moisten the popcorn texture to minimize dust and loosen it from the drywall. Some people just use a spray bottle to mist the ceiling, but a pump sprayer makes the process a little easier.

  • Fill the Sprayer. You don’t need any special formula. Water works just fine.
  • Moisten Five Square Feet at a Time. Lightly spray a small, five foot square prior to scraping. Don’t use too much water, as that can damage the underlying drywall. If the texture doesn’t scrape off easily, spray a little more water on the texture.
  • Wait 10 Minutes. Allow the texture to soak up moisture for about 10 minutes prior to scraping.

3. Scrape off the Texture

When the water soaks in sufficiently, the texture should fall right off the ceiling with a quick scrape.

  • Put on Protective Gear. Put on your gloves, face mask, and safety glasses before scraping.
  • Scrape in a Small Square. Start scraping in the area you moistened. Use your ceiling scraper for ease.
  • Use Your Putty and Utility Knives. For texture in the corners and by the molding, scrape with a putty knife. For extra stubborn areas, try using a utility knife for removal.
  • Complete the Room. Continue moistening small areas, allowing the water to soak in, then scraping the texture until everything’s removed.
  • Wipe Down the Ceiling. Use a wet paper towel to wipe down the ceiling. This removes any remaining dust residue.

diy popcorn ceiling removal

How to Refinish Your Ceiling

Unfortunately, you’re not quite done with the project. Once you’ve finished removing the popcorn texture and wiping down the drywall, wait 24 hours before refinishing the ceiling. The 24-hour wait period allows the ceiling to dry.

1. Repair Drywall, If Needed

Sometimes scraping away ceiling texture leaves the underlying drywall damaged.

  • Use Your Putty Knife to Fill Blemishes With Drywall Compound. Imagine you’re frosting a cake – with firm, steady strokes, fill blemishes to leave a smooth finish. Firmly glide the drywall compound across the surface, making it as smooth as possible to avoid the need for extra sanding.
  • Wait at Least Four Hours Before Sanding. Once the holes are filled, wait for the compound to dry before sanding rough edges with your sanding sponge. Put on a face mask and safety glasses before sanding.

2. Apply Drywall Compound

Now that the popcorn texture is removed and the ceiling is repaired, you need to apply a new texture to protect the drywall.

  • Consider Protecting Your Walls. If you didn’t drape your walls with drop cloths, consider protecting them now by taping drop cloths along the molding. This is especially important if you’re using a texture sprayer.
  • Wear Protective Gear. Although you don’t have to wear your gloves, face mask, and goggles, consider gearing up to protect yourself from falling compound or from developing blisters on your hands.
  • Option 1: Apply a Thin Compound Layer for a Smooth Finish. Working in small squares, use your trowel to scrape a thin layer of drywall compound across the ceiling. You can try for a completely smooth finish, or opt for a stylish semi-smooth texture. If you go for a semi-smooth texture, use a rented texture sprayer for the right look. The texture sprayer allows you to skip the step with the trowel.
  • Option 2: Use a Texture Sprayer for a Semi-Smooth Finish. If you’d prefer a semi-smooth texture (like an orange peel), rent a texture sprayer to get the right look. Protect your walls with taped-up drop cloths, then load the texture sprayer’s gun hopper with joint compound and connect the spray gun to the air compressor. Adjust the pressure of the air compressor to the specifications in the manual, then spray the ceiling from a distance of roughly three or four feet. Spray in a smooth and even pattern, similar to what you would do with a can of spray paint. Check your work periodically to make sure you’re not missing any spots.
  • Work Meticulously Across the Ceiling. It may take a while to get the hang of it, but you’ll quickly learn how to use the trowel or texture sprayer efficiently. Keep moving in small sections until the entire ceiling has a thin layer of drywall compound.

3. Paint the Ceiling

Allow the new drywall compound to set for at least 24 hours, then use white ceiling paint to give your ceiling a clean, crisp finish.

  • Protect Your Walls and Floors. Even if you’ve managed to avoid using drop cloths to this point, protect your room from paint drips by using them now. If your drop cloths are already in place, double-check to make sure there are no gaps or tears.
  • Use a Sprayer or Brush to Apply Ceiling Paint. Load your paint sprayer with white paint, or pour the paint into a pan for hand application. Spray or roll the paint methodically in small sections. The rollers and brushes might save you a couple bucks, but consider renting a paint sprayer if you’re covering a large space. The paint sprayer saves you time and the physical discomfort of trying to paint above your head.

Final Word

If you’re interested in beautifying your home and boosting its value with straightforward DIY projects, popcorn ceiling removal is just one place to start. Other low-cost projects that offer a quick property face-lift include repainting your walls, refinishing your cabinetry, or replacing dated light fixtures.

Besides the cost-savings involved, you may find that putting in the hard work actually increases your enjoyment of your home. If you’re on the fence about renovating or relocating, a simple DIY project can help you see your current home with new eyes.

Have you tried removing popcorn ceiling? What additional tips can you offer?

Mary McCoy
Mary McCoy, LMSW is a licensed social worker who works closely with individuals, families, and organizations in crisis. She knows first-hand how financial choices can prevent and mitigate crises, and she's therefore passionate about equipping people with the information they need to make solid financial decisions for themselves and their loved ones. When Mary isn't on her soap box, you can find her hiking, jogging, yoga-ing, or frolicking with her family.

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