Four Things We Learned DIY-ing our Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Popcorn Ceiling Removal is a Messy Job

The initial plan was to DIY our popcorn ceiling removal for the entire upstairs, by ourselves, in order to kick off our home office remodel project. By the time the dust had settled, we had whittled that goal down to just one single room. Here’s what we learned:

  1. Before you even start, you may need to check for asbestos.

Luckily, we weren’t affected by this, as our house was built in the 1980s, but if your ceilings were done before 1978, then your DIY popcorn ceiling removal project may be dead before it even gets started. If your ceilings were done in that earlier era, you’ll need to get the popcorn tested for asbestos (either via a mail-away kit or bringing in a professional.)

If it turns out your popcorn does contain asbestos, then your DIY project is essentially at an end before it ever gets started. You’ll need to bring in a professional asbestos remediator if you still want to remove it, and it’s going to cost you a pretty penny as well. Alternately, you can cover over your popcorn with an additional layer of drywall — but it’s still a good idea to bring in a pro for this job, who can ensure you’re encapsulating the existing asbestos correctly.

  1. You’re going to need to protective gear, and lots of plastic sheeting.

We’ve done a lot of DIY jobs around our house, including replacing toilets, adding wallpaper, laying tile, painting, replacing light fixtures, etc. Nothing compares to how messy this job was.

You’re going to want to place and tape plastic sheeting over your entire floor area. Unless you’ll be re-painting your walls afterwards, you’ll want to cover your walls in plastic too. You should assume that wet, sticky, sodden plaster will be getting on EVERYTHING that isn’t specifically covered with plastic. Because it will. Including, btw, your shoes — you’ll want to wear protective booties.

And while wetting it down helps, this is still a dusty process too. So you’re going to want a good quality breathing mask and safety goggles as well.

  1. If your popcorn has been painted, you’re in for a world of hurt.

If you have “bare” popcorn on your ceiling, count your lucky stars. Your process will be quite simple: spray, then scrape. But if your popcorn has been PAINTED, in particular if it was painted with an oil-based paint, your popcorn ceiling removal project just got a lot more difficult.

This was the situation we found ourselves in. The water we sprayed simply dripped off our ceiling, refusing to penetrate it whatsoever. As such, we had to adapt our process to: scrape, spray, sit, scrape, repeat.

First, we did a “dry” scrape to knock off as much of the paint as we could and create little holes through which the spray could penetrate. Then, we added vinegar to our spray solution, to help us eat through the paint. After spraying, we had to wait a little while to let as much absorb in to the material as possible. And then finally, the popcorn itself would start to come up. But even then, it wasn’t like the long, lovely ribbons of popcorn seen on many a You Tube video…our popcorn came off in piecemeal chunks, with the paint helping it to hold tight to the drywall. So we had to go over the same areas many times.

This, more than anything, led to our decision to only complete the one room that we were redecorating in the first place — after 4.5 hours of scraping a single room, it simply wasn’t worth it to us to try to get the other 3 rooms we have upstairs finished as well. We’ll wait until we’re planning full remodels of those rooms as well.

After the popcorn ceiling removal was finished, but before we sanded, re-textured, and painted.

After the popcorn ceiling removal was finished, but before we sanded, re-textured, and painted.

  1. Scraping is just the beginning.

When I thought about popcorn ceiling removal, I thought about the spraying and scraping. Period. End of story. I didn’t really think much at all about what comes after that part.

But, it turns out there are quite a few steps after the scraping is completed as well. First, you need to sand down the newly-exposed drywall, paying careful attention to seams. Once you’ve sanded everything, you can get a sense of how good or bad of a drywall job you’ve got: if it’s good, you can go ahead and just apply the texture and then a drywall sealant/primer directly; if it’s not, then you’ll need to apply mud over the drywall to even it out and get it to appear smooth and level.

Next comes the new texture, if you’re adding one, and finally, painting. So even after you’ve finished the scraping, you’ve got several more days of work still ahead of you.

All in all, I’m still glad we tackled this project ourselves, and doing so helped us save roughly $500 over the quotes we were getting if we had hired it out to a professional company instead. But if any of our friends are considering popcorn ceiling removal in their own house, let’s just say we won’t be enthusiastically volunteering to help.


  • Suzanna Pittman

    You’re not giving me a lot of hope with this post 🙁