Popcorn Ceiling Removal: DIY Methods And Total Cost

A lot of people fail to pay attention to the type of ceiling that their new house has. Original popcorn ceilings used minerals and synthetic polymers to texture ceilings and give them what was then a 
modern look. 

Now, most popcorn ceilings are made with styrofoam or a similar harmless material. They are one of the least popular types of ceilings in new homes, though they do exist. However, most people that have them, want them removed asap. 

What Are Popcorn Ceilings?

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Popcorn ceilings have been around since the 1930s. From the 1950s to the 1970s, they were quite popular. Since the first popcorn ceilings were used with asbestos, they were banned in the 1970s and new popcorn ceilings were applied without asbestos. 

After that, they became less and less popular. People initially believed they were perfect for hiding imperfections and offered sound insulation for upper stories. This may have been true, but they soon found out the cons outweighed those pros. 

Why Remove Popcorn Ceilings? 

You may be wondering why people seemingly all-of-a-sudden want popcorn ceilings removed. But the fact is that ever since the ban on asbestos, people have had popcorn ceilings removed from their homes. 

Today, the appearance of new popcorn ceilings is few and far between. But why? Popcorn ceilings aren’t necessarily ugly or unappealing aesthetically, are they? Maybe not, but here are the three main reasons people remove them. 

Dated

Popcorn ceilings simply look dated. They are out of style and will remind anyone of the 1970s. They don’t look at all modern and don’t work with any type of design style. Most people are more attracted to other types of ceilings. 

If you want an older type of ceiling, plaster is an awesome choice. Plaster walls and ceilings can last centuries if taken care of and are similar to drywall in many ways. Find out more about plaster walls and ceilings compared to drywall here. 

Pesky Texture

Another reason to remove popcorn ceilings is because of the texture. Unlike smooth walls, popcorn ceilings are a hotbed for spiders, cobwebs, and dust. Not to mention, the top layer can peel of, flake off, and release harmful particles. 

Asbestos 

This is the main reason to get rid of popcorn ceilings. If the ceilings were installed before 1980, there’s a chance that they contain asbestos. If this is the case, always have a professional test them before going the DIY route.

Never DIY asbestos walls or ceilings. Have a professional remove the popcorn ceiling if you fear there is asbestos in your home. They can rid your home of asbestos without causing you any harm in the future. 

How do you know if your home is being affected by asbestos? Hopefully, you can tell simply by the appearance of pre-1970s construction. But in some cases, health conditions appear with little to no sign of cause. 

Signs Of Asbestos Exposure

Here is the list of symptoms of asbestos exposure. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor. Though they may or may not be caused by asbestos, they should not be left untreated. The respiratory symptoms are more common and more serious. 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough or wheezing
  • Crackling sound when breathing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Pleural plaques
  • Respiratory complications
  • Pleural effusion (accumulation of fluid in the space surrounding a lung)
  • Pleural thickening
  • Asbestosis
  • Abdominal swelling and distention
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Hernia
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Clubbed fingers

If you’re not experiencing any symptoms but still have older popcorn ceilings, have them removed anyway. Popcorn ceilings put up before 1977 will have asbestos in them, so have a professional remove them as soon as you can. 

How To Remove A Popcorn Ceiling

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There are a few different ways to remove popcorn ceilings. These are the three most effective ways to remove the popcorn ceiling safely and effectively without having to hire a professional contractor which will more than double the cost. 

Method 1: Most Efficient Method

This method takes time but leaves you with a smooth look. You won’t need to buy much for it and if you do, it won’t cost more than $50. So, it’s a great, efficient, and likely the most common way to remove popcorn ceilings. 

What You’ll Need

  • Sprayer – similar to a garden or paint sprayer
  • Putty knife (and floor scraper if needed)
  • Drop cloth
  • Catch tray or pan
  • Ladder
  • Sander or sandpaper 

Prepare The Area

Lay your drop cloth out so that you won’t make a mess all over your floor. This is especially important if you have carpet because you’ll never get all of the particles and mud out of your carpet if you don’t lay a drop cloth. 

If your floors aren’t finished or you’re going to replace them, feel free to leave out the drop cloth. However, disposable drop cloths are cheap and are a great investment that makes for very easy cleanup. 

Spray The Ceiling

Popcorn ceilings are generally easier to remove when wet. However, it’s important that you don’t let the water soak through to the drywall beneath it. Use your sprayer to spray one area at a time to work on so it doesn’t soak too long. 

If the ceiling soaks too long, it will get the underneath ceiling wet, which could lead to cracks and even mold. So try to spray and remove quickly. You can always spray again if it’s not wet enough, just don’t let it sit. 

Start Scraping

There are two ways to do this and. Working in smaller areas, you can use the tray and putty knife to scrape off the wet ceiling. Or, you can use the putty knife only for touch-up work and remove most of the ceiling with a floor scraper. 

Using a floor scraper is easier since you can get the work done faster, but not everyone has one or can buy one. Putty knives are cheaper so if you only have a small area to work with, then they will work just fine. 

Method 2: Easiest And Cheapest Method

This method is much easier but it leaves you with a rough texture that looks like stomped drywall. It won’t leave a smooth ceiling but it can be done quickly and quite cheaply. If you want a bit of texture, then you’ll love how it looks. 

  • Popcorn ceiling removal tool
  • Drop cloth
  • Ladder
  • Drywall Hand Sander with screens
  • Mask (recommended)
  • Fan

Prepare The Area

This time, you won’t be wetting the ceiling. Instead, you’ll be doing it try. So don a mask, put down a drop cloth, and put a fan pointing out a window. Anyone with asthma should stay out of the room.

Using a mask is always a good idea when doing demolition work. However, it’s only necessary when there will be dust or harmful particles in the air. If you do a lot of renovating, keep a box around.

Scrape The Ceiling

This will be a little difficult. But you can actually scrape dry popcorn ceiling. You won’t be able to get it all off, but getting the top layer off can really make a difference in the end. You can try to go for more, but if you’re going to do that, just stick with method 1. 

Sand The Ceiling

After you get the top layer of popcorn ceiling off, you can start sanding with thick sandpaper or a sander. This will smooth out the area. The end result looks like stomped drywall which is a lot better than popcorn ceiling. 

Method 3: Mess-Free Method

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This method is more complicated to set up but easy once you get it right. If you don’t have a ShopVac, this may not be ideal as you’ll need to invest in one. The cheapest ShopVac is $50, with nicer ones being hundreds. 

  • Duct Tape
  • Drywall Taping Knife
  • ShopVac
  • Wide ShopVac Wet/Dry Nozzle
  • Extension Tube
  • Extra ShopVac Filter
  • Ladder Or Stilts

Wet The Ceiling

Wetting the ceiling is highly recommended. It will ensure the ceiling scrapes right off. Since you’re using a ShopVac, the moisture won’t affect the machine, so either option is viable. You can try one before trying the other if it doesn’t work out. 

Create The Tool

What you do is secure the extension and nozzle onto the ShopVac. Then, duct tape a knife under the nozzle so that when held upside down, any debris will fall into the nozzle. The knife should hover above the vacuum opening. 

Start Vacuuming 

All that’s left to do now is start vacuuming. For this method, stilts are a great help so you can move around as you vacuum and it will feel like vacuuming a floor. That said, a ladder will work just fine, it will simply take longer. 

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Cost Of Popcorn Ceiling Removal 

The initial cost of popcorn ceiling removal depends on whether you do it yourself or not. Of course, this also depends on the size of the room. Our examples will give an approximate cost for a 20×20 ceiling. 

In general, the cost is $1 to $2 per square foot. But this doesn’t include refinishing and painting. So when you add everything together, the cost can change. 

If all you’re paying for is materials, expect to pay a lot less than you’d pay for a professional to come and remove the popcorn ceiling. The average cost for materials is around $500 to do it professionally, without professionals. 

This will include paint to repaint when you’re finished. But that’s nothing compared to getting a professional. You pay for materials and labor. These workers make up to $40/hr for this job, and you’re paying for whoever they bring along as well. 

Expect to pay no less than $1000, but likely more. In the end, if you don’t have asbestos, doing it yourself is the better option. But to each their own, there’s nothing wrong with hiring a professional whenever you can afford it!