In the '60s and '70s, popcorn ceilings were the hip look for home ceilings. Originally used to hide imperfections in the ceiling wallboard, the popcorn texture was to the ceiling what shag carpeting was to floors.
Today, popcorn ceilings can make your home look dated, which can make it more difficult to sell if you're ready to move on. The good news is, you can instantly refresh your home's look simply by removing the bubly texture.
There are two important distinctions with popcorn ceilings, and both relate to time. Those installed before 1980 run the chance of containing asbestos, and asbestos can be dangerous when disturbed. Asbestos fibers can be knocked loose and inhaled, making removal more difficult and a health hazard. The same is true for lead paint. It was last made in 1978. Neither lead paint nor asbestos should be removed or disturbed.
For this reason, have the ceiling tested before removing the popcorn texture. Test kits can be purchased for both lead paint and asbestos online or at most local home centers. You can also contact an abatement company to test for lead and asbestos, to advise you or to perform a safe removal. Even if your home was built after 1980, it's always safest to have your popcorn and paint tested for lead and asbestos. More information about both lead paint and asbestos can be found online at www.epa.gov.
Professionals say the best option (that is also the least time-consuming and less messy option) is to simply cover over the old popcorn with quarter- or half-inch Sheetrock. This also is recommended if your popcorn ceiling has been painted, because removing it then is not as easy. If you don't want to deal with the mess, there are many ways to give your ceiling a new look with a coverup. The first is a ceiling treatment, such as beadboard, tin ceiling squares or shiplap.
If you decide to remove your popcorn ceilings once you've verified there's no lead paint or asbestos, the process can be messy, but not necessarily hard. To be sure of whether removal will work, try the directions below in a small area, such as the corner of a closet first. If that works, then proceed with the rest of the ceiling.
As with any paint-type project, the hardest part is in the prep work. Start by removing wall plates and ceiling fixtures, and cover all outlets and vents with plastic and tape. Cover the floors with plastic sheeting, and also tape plastic sheeting to the walls.
For the easiest removal, spray the popcorn lightly with water from a pump sprayer, and let sit for 15 minutes to loosen. Then use a scraper or a drywall knife to scrape the texture off. A plastic scraper may be better than metal, because it's less likely to damage the underlying Sheetrock.
Once the ceiling is scraped clean, patch any damage with joint compound or Spackle. At this point, you can decide if you want to add texture, wallpaper or another type of treatment. Then, it's time to prime and paint.