How to Remove Popcorn Ceilings for installing cork ceiling tiles

Popcorn ceilings, also known as cottage cheese or acoustic ceilings, have a bumpy and textured appearance that unfortunately are not fun to touch. Popular in the 1970s to late 1980s, removing these types of ceilings can be easy, just messy. However, there is an element of danger involved in this removal process so please read the warning.

WARNING:  READ THIS BEFORE STARTING THE REMOVAL PROCESS.

Many popcorn ceilings installed as late as the mid-80s may contain asbestos, so before starting this project, call an asbestos specialist or test the surface using an EPA-approved test kit (the sample collected with the kit must be mailed to a lab for testing and analysis). The mere presence of asbestos in a home is not hazardous, but disturbing texture may release the fibers and become a health hazard.

*Removing asbestos should be only be done by a certified asbestos abatement contractor.

*The guidelines in this project are suggested for those who do not have asbestos in their home.

If your popcorn ceiling is covered in paint, it may be more difficult to remove. Paint can prevent the texture from absorbing water, which is necessary to loosen the material. In this instance, you’ll likely need a chemical stripper to breakdown the paint barrier. Follow the manufacturer instructions when applying the chemical stripper.

 

Step 1

Tools and Materials

  • Ladder
  • Tarp and/or plastic sheeting
  • Painter’s tape
  • Safety gear; safety goggles, face masks
  • Lawn and garden sprayer or spray bottle (using a small spray bottle will require more time and effort to cover larger areas)
  • Paint scraper (6” to 10” for better results)
  • Painter’s pole (optional)
  • Putty knife
  • Dish soap or chemical stripper
  • Water

 

prepare to remove popcorn ceiling texture for cork ceilig tiles

Step 2

Prepare the Workspace

  • Move small furniture items from the immediate area and cover larger pieces and other personal belongings with a tarp or plastic sheeting to shield them from dust and debris.
  • Turn off the heating and cooling system and cut the power to all ceiling fans and lighting fixtures. Remove lighting and fans if possible. 
  • Mask off all areas. Use painter’s tape to affix plastic sheeting to floor, walls and fixtures. Cover any areas you plan to keep; this will help on clean up later as this removal and repair process will create a lot of debris and powder like dust. (Floors especially will get a lot of debris, protect well.)
  • Make sure to keep the room properly ventilated to allow fresh airflow.

    DIY how to remove popcorn ceiling for cork ceilig tiles

 

Step 3

Remove the Popcorn Ceiling

  • Prepare to scrape off the textured material. Make sure to wear the proper safety protection gear when removing popcorn ceiling. 
  • Paint scrapers help extend your reach when paired with a handle or painter’s pole. However, if you do not have one, using a paint scraper and ladder works well too.
  • You can scrap each section while it’s dry, but applying a bit of water often helps moisten the material for easier removal. Saturate a small section of the material using a lawn or garden sprayer; water mixed with a small bit of dish soap, such as Dawn Dish soap is a good solution. Apply enough to loosen the material without causing damage to the drywall underneath. Make several passes if necessary. Wait 15 to 20 minutes for the material to absorb the solution, then do a test scrapping. If the material is still difficult to remove, repeat the moistening process. (It can take up to 2 hours for the moisture mix to soften the popcorn, test for yourself)
  • Work in sections and scrape at a 45 degree angle, apply a firm pressure and push smoothly away from you. Do not push too hard as this may cause the paint scraper to gouge too deep. Popcorn ceilings that have not been painted can come off in crumbles and painted ones in sheets. (Messy, messy, messy, so take care. This wet stuff can and will stick to your feet and floors.)
  • When working towards walls or corners, be careful. Do not run too close to edges, try leaving a 1inch to 1 ½ inch gap; use a small putty knife to scrape corners, crown molding and extra residue, otherwise you can cause damage that will need to be fixed. Remember to tidy the spots around fixtures that are left hanging, but be careful not to gouge the drywall or tear joint tape throughout the removal process.
  • Repeat these steps until you have finished the entire ceiling, then allow it to dry. Remove the scrapings and clean for next step.

    DIY how to remove popcorn ceiling texture for cork ceilig tiles

 

Step 4

Check and Repair the Ceiling

 

  • You may need to patch or do repairs on some areas of drywall after the texture has been removed. Popcorn ceilings often conceal imperfections that will become visible once the surface is uncovered.
  • It is best to do any repairs needed at this time. Often even minor damage can and will detract from new textures if left untreated. Repairing your ceiling from any underlying issues or just in general, may require a professional. Please consult a general contractor to help you with this or if you have questions.
  • We also recommend you sand the ceiling once the repair work is done/dried for a better working surface. 
  • Prime and paint your ceiling as desired.
  • Once dried, clean area thoroughly. Restore any ceiling fixtures and the power. Then arrange room back to normal.
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    how to remove popcorn ceiling texture for cork ceilig tiles
    how to remove popcorn ceiling texture for cork ceilig tiles