How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling

The steps to clean a popcorn ceiling are different from cleaning a flat one. Since popcorn ceilings have a rigid texture, they require gentle cleanings to prevent crumbling.

Popcorn ceilings are typical in houses built from the 1930s to the 1990s. They allowed contractors to cover ceiling flaws in a quick and efficient manner. The texture also provides a sound barrier, fueling their popularity.

Popcorn ceilingView in gallery

One of the downsides to popcorn ceilings is they can accumulate dust in their crevices, which is difficult to remove. If you’re ready to clean your textured ceiling, follow these steps. 

Supplies You’ll Need

  • Vacuum with a cleaner brush attachment
  • Lint roller or paint roller with duct tape
  • Feather duster

You may also need bleach, dish soap, a spray bottle, and a sponge to treat stains.

How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling: Step by Step

If your popcorn ceiling is from 1980 or earlier, it could contain asbestos. Asbestos is dangerous if inhaled, so you’ll need to check your ceiling for it before cleaning.

Since popcorn texture crumbles, prepare the room by laying tarps or sheets over furniture and floors. You’ll also need to wear safety goggles, a mask, and gloves.

Step 1: Dust Your Popcorn Ceiling

Use a vacuum with a cleaner brush attachment to suck up cobwebs. Then, go over your ceilings, vacuuming away all loose dust. After sweeping the ceiling, lightly go over it with a feather duster to knock down any remaining dirt.

If there are dusty spots that won’t come clean, tackle them with a lint roller or a paint roller covered in duct tape with the sticky side out. Gently roll over the problem areas, grabbing onto the dirt.

Step 2: Clean Stains

You can’t wash your entire popcorn ceiling with water like you would a flat ceiling. Liquid can cause the texture to break off. So instead, you’ll need to spot-treat problem areas.

Smoke, water stains, mold, and mildew – If you notice yellow or brown stains on your popcorn ceiling, they may be water stains. Water stains most often look like circles or ovals with darker rings around the edges. If you have water stains, fix the water source before cleaning.

Smoke stains can look yellow, orange, or gray. Mold and mildew stains may look like green, black, brown, or orange specks on the ceiling.

You can treat all these stains the same – with bleach and water. Here’s what to do:

  • Open windows for ventilation, wear appropriate safety gear, and cover furniture and flooring with a tarp.
  • In a spray bottle, mix one part bleach with three parts water
  • Lightly spray the stain and dab it in with a sponge or microfiber cloth
  • Allow the area to dry
  • If the stain remains, repeat the process

Don’t oversaturate the stains, or the ceiling will crumble. You can use fans to speed up the drying process. 

You might need to spray the area several times, allowing the surface to dry between applications.

Grease stains – Grease stains make the ceiling look darker and are common above stoves. They most often appear in splatter formation.

Treat grease stains on your popcorn ceiling by mixing a teaspoon of dish soap in a quart of water. Put the mixture in a spray bottle and lightly spray the problem area. Use a sponge to dab the stain and allow it to dry.

Again, be mindful not to overwet your ceiling.

Can You Paint Over Dirty Popcorn Ceilings?

You can’t paint over dirty popcorn ceilings. If your ceilings are dirty, the paint will stick to it, sometimes streaking or showing through. So before painting, remove all dust with a vacuum and cleaner brush attachment or a feather duster. 

After you’ve removed all the dust, apply a stain-blocking primer to the stains and allow it to dry. Once dry, add 1-2 coats of ceiling paint. Doing this will make your popcorn ceilings white again.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What’s the best duster for a popcorn ceiling?

The best duster for a popcorn ceiling is a feather duster. The feathers can reach crevices without knocking down the texture.

Can you mop a textured ceiling?

You can’t mop a popcorn ceiling without ruining some of the texture. Plus, popcorn ceilings don’t handle moisture well. Dry dusting or vacuuming is the best method of cleaning a textured ceiling.

Can you spray paint ceiling stains?

You can do ceiling touch-ups and cover stains with ceiling spray paint. But, spray painting a large portion of the ceiling can result in toxic fumes. If you want to touch up your ceiling with spray paint, ensure it’s designed for ceilings and only use it in a well-ventilated area.

Can you steam clean a popcorn ceiling?

You should never steam clean a popcorn ceiling. The moisture from the steam will cause it to warp or fall apart.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning popcorn ceilings is a more delicate process than cleaning a flat ceiling. You should only dust your ceiling and avoid wet washing it. If your popcorn ceiling has stains, use an appropriate solution to clean it but avoid getting the ceiling too wet. Several light applications of cleaner will give you better results than dousing the stain.

If you can’t get your popcorn ceiling clean, it might be time to repaint. Remember to cover all stains with a stain-blocker first.