Can Popcorn Ceilings Be Removed After They Have Been Painted?

Updated on December 8, 2015

Yes, popcorn ceilings can be removed after they have been painted. Removing the ceiling is much easier if it has never been painted, but it can be removed either way. Here are a few simple steps to quick and easy removal.

Pump Sprayer

Pump sprayer to wet popcorn ceiling
Pump sprayer to wet popcorn ceiling

Removing Unpainted Popcorn Ceilings

1. Remove all furniture from the work area.

2. Roll out plastic to cover the floor.

3. Use painter's tape to tape more plastic along the edge of the ceiling so that it drapes the walls.

4. Use either tape or spray adhesive to attach the wall plastic to the floor plastic. You are basically turning your room into a pool liner. Be sure to wrap any ceiling fans or light fixtures you don't want to clean later.

5. Place water in a spray container. You can use small spray bottles, but the simplest solution is a pump sprayer (see picture) which you can find at your local home improvement store. Spray an area of the ceiling until you see the popcorn turn a dull gray color. If the popcorn texture does not change colors, your ceiling has been painted.

Safety first! Popcorn ceilings built before 1978 may contain asbestos. If you are concerned about asbestos, have your ceiling tested before proceeding. Thoroughly wetting the popcorn should help keep asbestos fibers from becoming airborne. Make sure you wear an appropriate dust mask and safety glasses.

Another safety tip! As the "popcorn" begins to fall, the plastic may become slippery. Use rolled-out rosin paper if you need help keeping your balance.

Drywall Finisher Knife

Drywall knife to scrape popcorn ceiling
Drywall knife to scrape popcorn ceiling

6. Use a finisher's knife. Any width will do, but keep in mind that the wider the knife, the more area you cover with each scrape. Hold the knife flat against the ceiling and push away from you. Be careful not to gouge the drywall.

7. Take time to clean up and let the ceiling dry out. Simply pull the plastic off of each wall and roll the edges up as you head towards the door. By the time you get to the door, you should have a big ball of plastic and a clean room. Turn on ceiling fans or lights and let the ceiling have a few hours to dry.

8. If you made any gouges in the drywall as you were scraping, use a sanding sponge to sand the area lightly. Place some spackle (also known as drywall mud or drywall compound) on the damaged areas, and feather it out smooth with a finisher's knife. Take a look at your ceiling and touch up any uneven areas, such as nail heads or seams, that may need an extra coat of mud. Let dry, sand, and repeat if necessary.

9. If you are applying a new textured finish, such as stippling or knockdown, this sanding step may be skipped. But otherwise, using a sanding pole and some 120 grit sanding paper, lightly sand your entire ceiling for any rough spots. Your ceiling is now ready to paint.

Removing a Popcorn Ceiling That Has Been Painted

Don't despair, your popcorn ceilings can be scraped and brought up to date also. Begin by following steps 1) through 4) listed above.

There are a few things you can try as you go through the rest of the process:

  • Mix one part vinegar to ten parts water and spray it on the ceiling. The vinegar should help break down the paint.
  • Use a large pole-type scraper and more muscle. Wet the ceiling, scrape as much as possible, and then wet and scrape again. Only the areas where the liquid has penetrated through the paint will scrape away easily.
  • Use wallpaper stripper, or other paint strippers (though some are quite toxic).

If All Else Fails

If all else fails, or you are concerned about asbestos in the popcorn, laminate over the existing popcorn with a 1/4" layer of new drywall, or some decorative 2 x 2 ceiling panels from Armstrong or USG.

Using a Sprayer and Scraper to Remove "Popcorn"


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      12 months ago

      "If you are concerned about asbestos"? Holy shit! Anyone not concerned about asbestos is an idiot, putting themselves, their family, and future residents of the property at serious risk of an aggressive, deadly disease. This site is promoting casual DIY in a situation where professional asbestos abatement should be a serious consideration.

    • profile image

      val 2 years ago

      any idea how to remove popcorn ceiling that was primed with an oil based paint? Does the vinegar and water solution work on it?

    • profile image

      Christina 3 years ago

      this is great info-i'm in the middle of doing a ceiling that hasn't been painted-and i was wondering how hard it is going to be to do the ones that have been painted; sigh... i have to say it has been, (knock on wood), really easier than i thought it would be to do-i'm using a method i saw during my searches-using a spray bottle, wallpaper scraper, and a paint roller pan-holding it up as i scrape/what doesn't go in my eyes-pretty much has went in the pan!!

    • profile image

      Jeff 4 years ago

      I scraped before I applied the water to knock down the bumps then I soaked it down with the water I waited about 10 min. After some vigorous scraping I got it down to the sheet rock

    • Charles Webb-it profile image

      Charles Webb-it 6 years ago from Edmonds,WA

      awesome video good! not so much. LOL just kidding thanks fr the upload

    • RussellLHuey profile image

      RussellLHuey 6 years ago

      New to me that water and vinegar are useful here.Great information.

    • AllSuretyBonds profile image

      AllSuretyBonds 6 years ago

      Great Hub. I agree that removing popcorn ceilings is much easier if it hasn't been painted before. Your steps that you have mentioned are very organized and easy to follow.

    • profile image

      Eve 7 years ago

      Thank you! I would try that.

    • GoTo Gal profile image

      GoTo Gal 7 years ago from South Carolina

      Eve, I just finished a small ceiling that had been painted and wouldn't budge. I used a tool called a 5 in 1, (look in the paint department) if your ceiling is a large one I recommend a flat head shovel or spade to scrape. Use the scraper to knock the popcorn bumps off. Then spray with water. Knocking the bumps off will allow the water mixture to penetrate underneath the texture. Scrape again, re-wet and keep scraping.

    • profile image

      Eve 7 years ago

      I removed all the popcorn in the 2nd floor of my house but in the first one it looks like it has been painted; I have tried the wet-wait-scrape method but doesn't work, I tried it with vinegar, another time with soap and no results!

      Any idea?

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      My husband has done this before. Great tips!

    • GoTo Gal profile image

      GoTo Gal 8 years ago from South Carolina

      You will definitely feel it in your biceps and your neck. Also the up and down the ladder is a great workout for the thighs and buns.

    • ConversantLeaders profile image

      ConversantLeaders 8 years ago from Virtual USA

      Did not realize vinegar and water was so effective. Looks like this would also be an effective workout.