Popcorn Ceilings: Work of the Devil?

Real Estate Agent with The Cascade Team

 Hell fractal

There ought to be special place in hell for whoever invented popcorn ceilings. They're ugly, they're impossible to clean, they may contain asbestos, and they are a big turn-off to potential home-buyers.  My personal favorite is when it has glitter in it!  If you are trying to sell your home, I recommend getting rid of them.  Popcorn ceilings distract potential buyers from the true value of your home.  So what can you do?

The first thing you should do is test your popcorn for asbestos! Asbestos was added to many popcorn ceilings because of its strength and fire-proofing qualities.  It is very hazardous to your health.  If left undisturbed, they shouldn't cause any problems.  If the fibers are released into the air, they can be inhaled into your lungs where they stay and can eventually cause Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer.

You can have them tested at a local lab for about $25.00.  In the Seattle area, you can get more information from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. (http://www.pscleanair.org/regulated/asbestos/homeowners/asb-popcorn.pdf)

If you DO have asbestos, here are some options:

  1. Hire a certified asbestos abatement specialist to remove the "popcorn."
  2. Have new drywall installed over the popcorn ceilings.  One-quarter inch drywall does the trick. 
  3. Paint over them using a spray-painter.  Using a roller or brush causes pieces of the "popcorn" to fall.  Not only is this messy, but it can release some asbestos into the air. (Be warned, if you try this option, you still have popcorn ceilings and they will be much harder to remove later!)
  4. You can remove them yourself, but you have to follow very strict regulations regarding both the removal and the disposal.  I don't recommend this, but if you do decide to try it, make sure you get a permit and carefully research the proper procedures.  Otherwise you could endanger the health of your family, yourself, and possibly risk legal action.

If you DON'T have asbestos, you can still paint or drywall over them, but removing the "popcorn" yourself is messy, but not difficult.  I did my master bedroom by myself in about 4 hours, start to finish!  Here's how:

  1. Wear clothing you don't care about and cover your hair with a hat.  Do one room at a time.
  2. Take all of the furniture out of the room.  Trust me on this one.  You may want to do this right before you put in new flooring.  It's also a great time to give the room a fresh coat of paint. 
  3. Cover the floor in tarps first, making sure to overlap them and cover the whole floor. 
  4. Place a layer of disposable plastic film over the tarps, taping them together and to the walls near the floor.  You can purchase this in large rolls from the paint supply section of local home improvement store.
  5. Using painter's tape, place the same plastic film about 10 - 12 inches down from the ceiling all the way around the room.  This should overlap with the floor coverings.
  6. Now is when it gets messy!  You have to start getting the ceiling wet.  You can use a garden hose if you like.  I purchased a fertilizer sprayer and filled it with water.  (DON'T TRY TO USE ONE THAT HAS EVER HAD CHEMICALS IN IT!)
  7. Work section by section and give the water a chance to soak in before you start scraping.
  8. Use a long-handled drywall knife, and scrape off the "popcorn" which essentially drywall mud.  Be very careful as it is very easy to nick the drywall.
  9. Gather all of the plastic with the "popcorn" inside into a ball in the middle of the room, put it in a garbage bag, and dispose of it.  Note: This will be very heavy, so you may need help carrying it.
  10. Allow ample time for the drywall to dry out and, if you are lucky, the ceiling underneath will be mudded and taped, and with a little sanding, and possibly texture, will make it ready to paint. This is a great time to add crown molding!

It's messy, but it's very satisfying and inexpensive.  The room seems cleaner, the ceiling seems higher, and you've just added value to your home!

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Holly Gray
Rising Moon Interiors - Kalispell, MT
Professional Home Stager - Bigfork, Kalispell, Whitefish Montana

So far I have not encountered this in any of my jobs. I do agree it is UGLY! My in laws had it in their home, it was a big job to remove. They had to texture the drywall after.But, what a difference it made, major update!!


Feb 19, 2009 03:51 PM #1
Peg Prather
Vancouver, WA
Vancouver, WA

It's so funny that you would post this. Just yesterday I was asking my mom about the popcorn ceiling they had in the house were we all lived for about 20 years when I was growing up. I asked her if she and my dad ever painted it, and she said "yes, remember it had glitter in it!"  I had totally blocked that from my memory banks! What a disaster that trend turned out to be!

Feb 19, 2009 04:27 PM #2
Leslie Olson
Leslie Olson Interiors - Austin, TX
Interior Design and Redesign - Moved to Austin!

Thanks for the how-to instructions (and the asbestos warnings!) on getting rid of the dreaded popcorn ceilings. I'd also say that the dust from scraping the popcorn can linger for weeks. You might keep track of your air conditioner vent to make sure it's not clogged with the dust. That said, it's very much worth doing!

Feb 20, 2009 06:13 AM #3
Anne Bourne
StagingWorks - Toronto, ON

Great blog, thanks for the tips.  I had no idea that these horriffic ceilings may have asbestos.  I just recommend a client remove his.  We have done several room of our home yikes!  For the next room I'll definately have it tested. 

Feb 20, 2009 08:30 AM #4
Michelle Pimentel
Empire Home Staging Solutions - Upland, CA
ASP, IAHSP Empire Home Staging

Corey & Erika,

Popcorn ceilings unfortunately are still out there and are just as ugly now as they were 25 years ago!  I recently bid on a staging project for an upcoming client who has popcorn ceilings.  I had the painter bid out the property with both painting the interior and also the additional cost for removing the asbestos ceiling. I am praying that the client takes my advise and pays for the removal as well as fresh paint.  Buyers really are turned off by the old ceiling and of course have concerns for their health when they view homes that still have this treatment.

Feb 20, 2009 01:21 PM #5
Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS
Fathom Realty Washington LLC - Tacoma, WA
South Puget Sound Washington Agent/Broker!

Corey & Erika,

I don't like popcorn ceilings either but I have very few that contained asbestos. Good post!

Feb 21, 2009 12:53 PM #6
BethAnn Long
RE/MAX Inland Empire - Spokane, WA
Realtor, CRS, e-PRO, Spokane Wa Real Estate

Great post Erika!

Feb 21, 2009 01:54 PM #8
jane browne
exit realty advantage - Pensacola, FL


     I appreciate the step-by-step instructions on the removal of the popcorn ceilings.  I didn't know some of them contained asbestos.  Thanks for that info.  Builders should leave the popcorn where it belongs--in the microwave!!!


Feb 22, 2009 07:05 AM #9
c m
Colorado Springs, CO

Hubs did every room in our house, before we moved in, EXACTLY as you described.  It made a massive difference!  Good description, and information!

Feb 22, 2009 02:00 PM #10
Jennifer Mallory
Keller Williams Hudson Valley Realty - Nyack, NY
Nyack NY Real Estate Broker Associate

I really chuckled at the headlines. My favorite is when you get an 1880s farmhouse that was updated in the '70s with popcorn ceilings and linoleum floors over the hardwood. It takes a special kind of taste to be able to put that combination together!

Feb 24, 2009 05:15 AM #11
Corey & Erika Kahler
The Cascade Team - Kirkland, WA

Thanks everyone!  This has been a very personal issue for us and virtually every house in our Kingsgate neighborhood! 

Jennifer - those ones just kill me!

Feb 25, 2009 06:36 AM #12
Margaret Woda
Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. - Crofton, MD
Maryland Real Estate & Military Relocation

What a helpful blog post.  I hope I can find it again when I have a client ask me what to do with their ceiling.  My husband's solution would simply be to put new wallboard over top of them because he would say it's easier and faster to do that. 

Feb 25, 2009 05:24 PM #13
Corey & Erika Kahler
The Cascade Team - Kirkland, WA

Margaret, wallboard is not as messy, but I would say that it's faster and it definitely not cheaper.  Especially if you have to hire someone! -Erika

Mar 08, 2009 10:38 AM #14
Andrew Haslett
Van Warren Home Inspections, NAHI CRI - Fort Knox, KY
Heartland of Kentuckynulls, Best Home Inspector

Thanks for the clear instructions on removal.

Also, very good detail, particularly with regard to the asbestos warning, and simple explanation of some of the more obvious dangers of exposure to loose fibers.

Leslie Olson's point about the hvac ductwork was probably the only thing I could see you left out. Of course, there are parts of the country, and some houses, where they dont' have ductwork.

Mar 21, 2009 03:07 PM #15
Corey & Erika Kahler
The Cascade Team - Kirkland, WA

Andrew - I consider your comments to be high praise indeed, coming from a home inspector!  Thank you so much!

Mar 21, 2009 05:12 PM #16
Linda Leyble
The Colorful Bee Interiors - Great River, NY

Hi - I just wanted to chime in here, if people are still reading. Great advice Corey and Erika (I used to live in Kirkland - and I had popcorn ceilings - thank goodness, no asbestos!).

There are products that I just found that you can use - decorative tiles - that you can place on top of the popcorn ceilings.  I am going to suggest this the next time I come across popcorn ceilings. It's faster - and less dangerous and messy - and more decorative. I am going to use these decorative tiles on top of my ugly drop ceiling tiles in my basement.  If anyone is interested - I can find out the name of the company that makes them


Happy New Year


Linda Leyble

Jan 02, 2010 05:47 AM #17
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