Is anyone out there a fan of popcorn ceilings? You can probably count those crunchy textured popcorn ceiling aficionados on one hand. If you, like most popcorn ceiling critics, are convinced that your popcorn ceiling needs to go, you’re probably ready to find out the best way to remove it mess-free. Great Guys Painting shares how!

Drawbacks to Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn ceilings, also known as textured, acoustic, or cottage cheese ceilings, became popular in the 1950s and were touted for providing better sound absorption. But beware of their drawbacks: 

  • If installed before 1979, they can contain asbestos and/or lead. 
  • They can hide ceiling imperfections like cracks or badly installed drywall. 
  • They make a home look dated and obsolete. 
  • They can look especially disgusting when they’re over a kitchen or bathroom where they catch grease, moisture, and dirt. 
  • They’re difficult to clean. You can’t just wipe down a popcorn ceiling to clean it. You need to spray paint it because a brush or roller causes the little popcorn bits to fall off.

How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling Without Making a Mess

1. First Test for Lead or Asbestos

In the early days of popcorn ceilings, asbestos was a key ingredient for binding the mixture. However, in 1978, the EPA put a stop to asbestos use, leading to popcorn ceilings being made with stucco or styrofoam instead. Before embarking on a popcorn ceiling removal project, it’s crucial to assess the ceiling’s condition and age.

If your home’s popcorn ceiling dates back to before 1979, there’s a high likelihood that it contains lead and/or asbestos. Both of these substances are carcinogenic, so you’ll want to hold off on any scraping until you’re certain your ceiling is free of these harmful materials.

You can find EPA-approved lead and asbestos test kits at your local home improvement store. Simply collect a small sample and mail it to a lab for analysis. Alternatively, reach out to your health department or a local authorized testing service to have your ceiling tested.

If it turns out that your popcorn ceiling contains more than 1% asbestos, it’s essential to hire a certified abatement company to safely remove the texture. Never attempt this on your own, as disturbing asbestos can be extremely dangerous and lead to lung cancer.

2. Gather Materials and Tools

You’ll need:

  •  Ladder 
  • Drop cloth or plastic sheeting
  • Painters tape
  • Safety goggles
  • Respirator mask
  • Screwdriver, 

Additional tools and materials depending on which method you’ll use: 

  • For a non-painted popcorn ceiling: 
    • Shop vac
    • Extension cord
    • Shop vac scraper attachment or wide spackle knife
    • Duct tape.
  • For painted popcorn ceiling 
    • Garden sprayer
    • Distilled white vinegar
    • Hot water
    • 12″ spackling knife
    • Trash can and lid

3. Prepare the Space

  • Move your furniture into the center of the room so that it will be easier to cover and protect from dirt and debris.
  • Remove art or wall decor. 
  • Turn off the electricity to the room you’ll be working in so there is no power to light fixtures, ceiling fans, or ceiling heat coils. 
  • Remove ceiling fans and light fixtures. Cover all ceiling vents with plastic and painters tape.
  • Cover the floor with a drop cloth or plastic sheeting. Use painters tape to secure the cloth or sheeting.
  • If using the shop-vac method, using the extension cord, plug it into a room that still has power.

4A. Remove a Non-Painted Popcorn Ceiling Without Making a Mess 

The cleanest, least messy way to remove a popcorn ceiling is to scrape off the popcorn with a shop vac and a scraping attachment. This method works best for popcorn ceilings that haven’t been painted. There are two ways you can go when it comes to the attachment:

  • Duct-tape a wide spackling knife to the vacuum hose. Turn on the vacuum and slowly scrape the ceiling, section by section, with the spackle knife. A good strong shop vac will suck up all those little popcorn bits as you scrape.  
  • Or you can purchase a scraping attachment tool specifically designed to remove popcorn ceilings. For example, the Pop Eeze Popcorn Ceiling Scraper Vacuum Attachment Tool saves having to duct tape a spackle knife to your vac hose. Just be aware that this product is not recommended for textured ceilings that have been painted. The Pop Eeze comes with a funnel, three scraping blades, and instructions. 
  • Work section by section, simply running the scraper along the ceiling as the vacuum sucks up the debris.

4B. Removing a Painted Popcorn Ceiling Without Making a Mess

This method isn’t quite as mess-free as the shop vac removal method but works better for popcorn ceilings that have been painted. The paint acts as a sealant and makes the popcorn texture adhere strongly to the ceiling. Wetting the popcorn texture will help loosen the material and break down the paint.

  • Follow the instructions above under ‘prepare the space’. In addition, cover the walls with plastic sheeting.
  • Fill the garden sprayer with distilled white vinegar to 10 parts warm water. The acidic white vinegar will help eat through the paint and weaken it for removal.
  • Spray the ceiling section by section, waiting 10 – 15 minutes for the water and vinegar solution to soak into the texture. Don’t over-wet.
  • Start scraping, section by section 
    • Either you can just let the popcorn texture fall on the plastic sheeting on the floor. When finished scraping, just ball up the sheeting and put it in the trash can.
    • Or . . . hold the trash can lid under the area you’re scraping. This way you won’t have a mess of texture all over the floor.
    • Be careful not to gouge the ceiling with the sparkling tool.

5. What to Do Once the Popcorn Ceiling is Removed

Once all of the popcorn texture is completely removed, you’ll need to finish it and paint. 

  • If some of the drywall was damaged in the removal process, you may need to patch the ceiling with joint compound. 
  • Lightly sand the drywall. Wipe any sanding dust with a damp cloth and let it completely dry.
  • Prime, then paint the ceiling in any color of your choice.
  • Now you can turn the power back on, rearrange your furniture, rehang your art, and enjoy your beautiful new popcorn-free ceiling. 

Removing a popcorn ceiling is a labor-intensive process. But if you think you have the time and energy to devote to the job, great! However, if it sounds much more appealing to have a professional do the work in far less time that it would take DIY, then Great Guys Painting can help. Ask for a free quote and we’ll connect you with a reputable licensed and insured professional near you. 

You’ll definitely save time and stress when you hire a trustworthy expert to remove your popcorn ceiling for you. They have the experience and skill to do the work efficiently, plus they can prepare, prime, and paint your ceiling after the texture is removed so that your ceiling looks fresh, clean, smooth, and beautiful.


Ready to remove your popcorn ceilings but aren’t ready for the hassle of this particular DIY project? Get a fast, free quote from Great Guys Painting to get started. Request a free quote right now!