How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling That Has Been Painted

Close-up of someone using a paint scraper tool to remove white painted popcorn ceiling.

Through the mid-70s and 80’s, popcorn ceilings became the rage in many homes across the country. Often referred to as stucco, cottage cheese, or acoustical ceilings, people installed these surfaces to provide sound absorption or to hide flaws and imperfections, inexpensively. If you have an older home, you may have a popcorn ceiling or two that hurts your eyes to look at every day. The good thing is that you can rid your home of this appearance.

Get a fresh look by covering the ceiling with new material, such as drywall, paneling or decorative tin tiles. You can also choose to remove the popcorn ceiling entirely. However, before you proceed with removal, read the following considerations to ensure that you understand what this project involves.

Test Material for Hazards

You should know that any acoustic texture material manufactured before 1980 may contain asbestos. Before you remove a popcorn ceiling, test a small sample of the material to determine if it contains asbestos. Keep in mind, that asbestos that remains intact does not pose a health risk. However, disturbing this hazardous material can cause fibers to become airborne and prone to become trapped in your lungs. This can lead to very serious health risks.

You can buy a home test kit, which requires you to scrape a small amount of ceiling texture into a sealable plastic bag and send the sample to a testing lab. To avoid any potential health risk involved in taking a sample, simply contact an authorized testing service to come to your home to perform the test. If you find that your textured ceiling material contains more than 1% asbestos you have three options:

  1. Have the popcorn ceiling removed by a certified asbestos abatement company
  2. Do not disturb the ceiling in place.
  3. Encapsulate the ceiling with another material.

Besides testing for the possible presence of asbestos, many professionals recommend that you also conduct a lead paint test, especially if you have young children in your household. Check your state laws to learn what your responsibilities are for testing for the presence of hazardous materials.

Removing a Painted Popcorn Ceiling

Although removing those lumps and bumps from your ceiling is not a difficult project it does require some time and muscle. Make sure that you wear an appropriate dust mask or respirator, goggles and other protective clothing.

Removing popcorn ceiling is one thing, but removing popcorn ceiling that’s been painted is entirely another. You’ll still be able to remove it, but it will be slightly more challenging, as paint adheres to the ceiling and acts as a sealant. You’ll need to spend additional time breaking down the paint before removing the material.

To prepare the room, its best to remove the furniture if possible. Make sure that you turn off the heating and cooling system and close off and cover all vents, using plastic and painter’s tape.

Also, cover (remove) light fixtures, outlets and wall switches. Protect floors with plastic or rosin paper extended about 12 inches up the side of the walls, and attach with painter’s tape. Follow these steps for removing a painted popcorn ceiling:

  • To help breakdown the paint, spray a mixture of one part vinegar to ten parts water on the surface of the ceiling.
  • Use a 4-inch utility knife/type scraper to remove the material. This method is messy and slow, but it works. Make sure that you saturate the surface so that the solution penetrates and allows you to easily scrape away the material.

Try alleviating some of the strain of working overhead by attaching the scraper to a pole.

*Popcorn ceiling removal service is not available in all states without proper licensure or certification, including Washington.

Prepare the Surface for Painting

Now that you removed the popcorn texture, you can start prepping the new surface for a fresh coat of paint. Proceed as you would for any project. Sand the surface of the ceiling with a drywall sanding stick. Fill any imperfections as needed. After you apply a quality coat of primer, you're ready to paint.

Need professional help with updating your ceilings or a painting project? Schedule a free estimate with your local pros at Five Star Painting. Once you've removed the popcorn ceiling, you'll want to get rid of any water leak stains, and maybe update the ceiling fans too!