Popcorn Ceiling Removal: How We Did It, What We Learned, and What We’d Change

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This is a past project from our first house. I’m super grateful we documented this process (albeit it minimally) so that I can go back and remember how naive we were to think that this would be an easy task.

If you’re here due to a google search about popcorn ceilings, if I could sum it up: it was SO FRUSTRATING. And it saved us a ton of money by us doing it ourselves.

I hate popcorn ceilings. I hate removing popcorn ceilings even more. But I love non-textured ceilings.

There’s a YouTube video of this guy with a ShopVac and a scraper attached to the end who says “hey! I’m going to show you how to remove popcorn ceilings easily!”

This man sprays the ceiling, lets it soak, then vacuums and scrapes at the same time and it looks easier than slicing through butter.
If you haven’t seen it yet, click here for a similar video:

We got tagged in that video more times than I can count when we announced we were tackling the textured ceiling. It was thoughtful that so many people wanted to help us, but our texture had been painted over, so neither removal nor cleanup looked even remotely like that video.
I won’t lie to you: de-texturizing the ceiling was terrible. It was messy and exhausting. But… It’s absolutely possible and it will save you a ton of money if you do it yourselves, so here is how we did it:

1.) Check for asbestos.
This is extremely important. Asbestos are a dangerous carcinogen that were widely used in building materials for over seven decades. If you have a home that was built before 1978 (I would say 1980 to be safe, even though it was outlawed in the US before 1980), it’s possible that many components in your home were mixed with/covered in asbestos. We used this company to test our ceiling via a mailed-in sample. You only need to scrape a small amount (1 sq. inch) and you get results quickly.

2.) Prep the area around the ceilings.
Prep the walls and floors by covering them in flooring paper and cover your furniture (better yet — take them out of the room if possible). We had already planned on pulling up our carpet, so we just figured we could scrape the ceiling and roll it all up and dispose of everything all at once.
Retrospective insight: we did not cover the walls with plastic but I wish we would have because we had to wash them numerous times to get the gritty film off of the walls.

3.) Acquire the proper tools​​
Putty knives – I prefer the medium-sized plastic ones. We used both stainless steel and plastic, but the stainless ones punctured the drywall more frequently than the plastic ones
Safety glasses – these ones are breathable and fog free!
– Ventilator/respirator masks – this one is reusable
– Spray bottles – these amber ones are reusable and would be great for use in the home post-project
– Dawn dish soap – name brand is actually important here
– Floor covering
– Drywall mud
– ShopVac
– Paint rollers, handles, and handle extenders
– Kilz Hide-All Primer
– Ceiling paint
– Copious amounts of coffee, patience, and sacrificial clothing. You will get extremely dirty unless you have one of those YouTube-worthy ceilings.

This is the creepy haunted house stage of textured ceiling removal.

4.) Get your soaking mixture right
Grab the dish soap and spray bottle. We used about 1 tbsp of Dawn for every 16oz of water — ADD THE DAWN TO THE WATER TO PREVENT HELLA BUBBLES. We tried a mixture where we added vinegar as well, but it didn’t seem to do anything phenomenal other than smell like vinegar. Stir your mixture gently to avoid bubbling and spray super liberally all over the area you’re about to scrape. Let it sit for five minutes, grab a chair or a ladder, whats left of your sanity, and begin to scrape your life away.
At this point, you’re going to have to scrape down to the drywall. You’ll also need to be careful not to scrape away the seams or nick the drywall so you don’t have to mud more than necessary. It will look like a creepy haunted house at this point and you’ll likely feel very overwhelmed.

Words do not describe how disgusting I felt in this moment

5.) Mudding, patching, and sanding
This part is fairly self-explanatory. Follow the instructions on whatever mud you choose to use, and wait for it to dry before beginning the sanding and painting process. 
PRO (amateur) TIP: WAIT FOR THE CEILING TO DRY COMPLETELY AND THOROUGHLY WIPE AWAY ANY RESIDUE LEFTOVER FROM SANDINGIf you’re scraping the ceiling in a moist or humid room (ie. the South in general), do yourself a favor and run a dehumidifier on full-blast for 12-24 hours before you begin to patch and paint. The paint can and will peel if the surface underneath is not dry, or if it has even a very thin film of drywall dust.

6.) Painting
Cannot stress it enough: thoroughly wipe the ceiling down after sanding the mud down to a consistent, flat surface with the rest of the ceiling and let it dry completely. When dry and ready, grab the Kilz Hide-All primer and roll it on. It’s a very, very thick primer, and it really does hide all of the small imperfections.

If all goes according to plan (let’s be honest, home projects never really do), your ceilings should be done and should look pretty good. Our’s looked good. Not brand-new, but most people don’t look at a ceiling when they go somewhere anyway. There were spots hereand there that we had to touch up from paint peeling away (not waiting for dry times to completely finish), humidity in the air, dust particles on the ceiling, etc. But, for stripping four rooms of popcorn ceiling, we’re willing to take what we ended up with and content with never having to do it again.

BEFORE scraping, duh
AFTER! Also this isn’t the best after photo, I understand.
This was in 2014, gimme a break!


We learned through this process that you absolutely need to understand how crazy messy and exhausting this process is before you dive in. Everything on the Internet made it seem relatively easy, and it should have been, but it was difficult for us because the previous owner had painted over the popcorn which made the outer barrier impenetrable to moisture. We had to scrape away the outside of the texture, totally dry, and then spray once some of the paint had been chipped away to allow the mixture to soak in.

To this day, Jake and I compare all of our crappy home improvement projects on a scale of “one to popcorn ceilings”. They were that bad. SO much work. But, then again, it upped the resale value by way more than we initially thought it would. And we saved a ton of money by doing it ourselves, especially when we factor in the amount of labor hours it took us to scrape it all off.

We learned that we never wanted to buy a property with popcorn ceilings ever again. I hate to be that person, but you guys, this sucked. It was not fun. It was totally worth it, but our upper backs and shoulder ached for a week and we were so ragged by the end.

But like I said, it was worth it. No shadows, brighter rooms, higher resale value, and a more modern look.

If we did it all over again, we’d likely suck up the loss of ceiling height and just lay drywall over it instead of scraping.


If I’ve thoroughly scared you off with this tale, have no fear: there are options.

Option 1: covering your popcorn ceilings with sheetrock. This post by Family Handyman is a bit more involved than we wanted to get and involved more skills than we thought we were capable of at the time, but it would certainly get the job done with a fraction of the mess. The only real downside I can see here is lowering a ceiling height, and at 8 ft, we already had low ceilings. We did consider covering the ceiling with beadboard but we didn’t think that would have the same vibe we wanted to carry throughout the house.

Option 2: covering your popcorn ceiling with plaster. Again, more involved than we initially wanted, but if you have the time (or the money to hire this job out), then this could have a really beautiful outcome. This post by Den Garden shows how Virginia Kearney covered her house’s popcorn ceiling with plaster.

Thanks for reading, y’all! Happy renovating!


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