Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Plaster
Plaster Knife Angle
Get Rid of Ugly Popcorn
Homeowners can cover over popcorn ceiling with plaster. I give step-by-step directions how. I'm an over 50 female homeowner, and I managed to cover all the popcorn ceiling in our house by myself. If I can do it, you can too.
Why Use this Method?
Popcorn ceilings are ugly–or at least unfashionable. They make a house dated. We’ve wanted to get rid of ours ever since we moved into our 1972 home. How? Scraping off the popcorn and re-plastering is one way, but our popcorn ceiling is painted and scraping didn’t work.Besides, we were worried about asbestos.
The Idea: I had been thinking about trying to use plaster on our ceilings ever since I plastered over wallpaper in our bathrooms. I searched the Internet and found nothing about this method (which is why I decided to post this information for other people). Finally, I decided to try using plaster on the ceiling of our garage as a test. That went all right and the plaster stayed up, so next I tried our smallest bathroom area (about 9 feet square). I figured if it went wrong it wouldn't be too much of a problem to fix and that if it worked in this area, which had the most humidity in the house because it was a shower area with no windows, it would work anywhere. With trepidation, I put the plaster on and then waited. It worked beautifully!
The Results: It took a few days to dry from grey to white. After about two or three weeks, I painted it and waited a bit more to see if there would be any problems. I checked every day but there was no cracking or peeling, even though the shower was used by our four girls. That convinced me it would work and I started on the project of doing our whole house. Over time, I covered about 2000 square feet of ceilings with this plaster method.
I started this process in 2009 in all of the main areas of our house. I finished the last bedrooms in 2014. All of the ceilings look great and we've had no problems, even in the bathrooms which get a lot of moisture. I'm actually going to work this summer to update the paint color on a couple of the ceiling and I've installed some new lights, so I have a few areas to replaster. Since I wrote the first article, many people have tried this method and written to me about it, saying it worked for them too.
Before and After
Pros and Cons
- Less messy than removing the plaster.
- You don't have to take furniture out of the room (just cover with a tarp).
- Can be done slowly and in stages (I worked while my kids were at school).
- Inexpensive (under $50 of plaster for a 8 x 10 bedroom).
- One person can do the job alone.
- Different looks can be achieved depending on the amount of plaster applied and the angle of the plaster knife.
- Hand-plastered ceilings give a home an upscale look.
- Time-consuming job for one person.
- Requires a lot of repetitive motion (I irritated my carpel tunnel symptoms and had to take breaks).
- The hand-plastered look might not go with all home styles.
Joint Compound (Pre-Mixed, All Purpose or Lightweight)
4 to 6 inch Drywall Joint Knife
Tray or bucket
Plastic for covering floor and furniture
Painter's tape or masking tape
Paper Towels and Water (for clean-up)
Variety of Decorative Looks
DIY PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Is your popcorn ceiling:
Step by Step
1. Preparing the room: Cover furniture and floor with plastic cloths. No matter how careful you are, you are bound to drop some globs of plaster as you work. These can be wiped up easily but are messy. You don’t want to try to get them out of carpet or a couch, so cover up or move it out of the way. Take off the covers of any vents in the room. This can be a good time to spray paint these and make them look new before you put them back.
2. Preparing your materials: Put your joint compound in a plastering tray or small bucket. Start in a corner of the room. Dip your knife into the joint compound and lift up a chunk (about ½ a cup). Note: You might want to practice on a board first before you start on the ceiling.
3. Getting started plastering: Starting at an edge of the ceiling least noticeable, press the compound down and then drag the knife across the ceiling at about a 45-degree angle. Press enough compound in to cover the popcorn. Lift the knife and keep on pressing the compound down across the ceiling until it is all about a ¼ inch thick. Some of the plaster may drop across the sides and fall (which is why you needed to cover the floor!). As you do this more, you will get better at knowing how to move the knife to catch the dropping compound.
My Same Technique
1.Working with plaster: Keep on scooping up the compound and pressing against the ceiling. Generally, it works to do a 2 foot by 2-foot section at a time. After you have pressed a couple of scoops onto the ceiling, you will probably want to go back over that section with your knife in order to smooth it and make sure that no section is too thick. Scrape the knife across the compound and move it to a section of ceiling that isn’t covered yet.
2. Try different types of ceilings: As you work with the compound, you will see that there are different types of ceilings you can make depending on how close you scrape the compound on the popcorn.
- Smooth Ceilings: This is a ceiling which has a very thin layer of popcorn. As you scrape the plaster across the popcorn, you press down hard and just barely cover the popcorn. It actually takes more time to do this sort of ceiling because you have to keep on scraping and pressing closely.
- Rough Ceilings: On these ceilings, you press lots of plaster down and don't go back to re-scrape as often. I did several variations of these. Some look like waves of plaster, others are more subtle. Experiment to see what you like. The plaster can be re-worked for an hour or so before it starts to dry.
3. Finishing the Edges and Molding. The edges and corners of the ceiling will look a bit ragged unless you use the tip of the knife or a finger to smooth it (you can wear plastic gloves if the joint compound dries your skin). To smooth it with a plaster knife, I usually used a 1” knife and put it at about a 35-degree angle parallel to the wall and used the tip to smooth where the ceiling and wall met. In some cases, I also used my index finger to do the same.
4. Ceiling Vents: Be careful not to plaster over the holes for the screws for your ceiling vents. Your vents will go back on easier if you do only a light layer of plaster around them. I used a 1” knife to make the areas around the vent go more smoothly.
5. Painting: Let the ceiling dry about a week before trying to paint it. Actually, since it will dry white, you may not even need to paint. Before you paint, be sure to cover everything again because the paint will get into the ridges of the plaster and sometimes drop down on your floor. I like using a paint with primer because they tend to cover in one coat and are thick so they don’t drip. Using a paint roller with an extension rod can make the job much easier because you won’t need a ladder for most of the work. You can use painter’s tape between the ceiling and wall, but I like to use a good quality 1” brush instead.
6. Colors: If you use something other than white on the ceiling, you will need to use a lot of paint to cover it. I've used white, beige, and light mustard yellow. These all look great, but I would probably stick to a white if possible.
Using this method is probably one of the cheapest ways to get rid of popcorn. The plaster knives, trays, and plastic covers cost less than $30 and lasted me throughout the project. I did throw the plaster tray away when I finished (in celebration!) but I still have the knife. Of course, you will also need a good stepladder. Mine got covered with compound during the project, but it still works just fine.
Your primary cost is the joint compound. The amount you use depends on how thick you apply it, but one 8’ by 10’ room uses about four to five 3.5 gallon boxes. I bought lightweight, which is a little bit more expensive, but still under $10 a box. That makes the entire project cost under $40-50 for a bedroom. I didn't keep track of all my costs, but I would estimate that I did the 2000 square feet of ceilings in our home for about $300. Truthfully, the biggest cost in this project is time and effort.
How Long Does Project Take?
I worked by myself to do our house and it took about 8 hours to do an 8’ x 10’ room. I was not able to work for eight hours straight at the work because the repetitive lifting and pressing were tough on my 50-year old wrists. However, by taking breaks every hour or so, I was able to finish most rooms in one day, or sometimes two half-days. Doing a ceiling in a weekend is certainly a realistic goal. Doing a whole house in a weekend is not unless you have a team of people.
Good for Do It Yourselfers?
Definitely. In fact, I'm not sure a professional would want to do this work because it is labor intensive and may not be worth their time. However, time is what a homeowner can give to a project for a house they live in. I am an over 50-year-old female college professor and housewife. Although I have done a lot of remodeling projects in my own home, I’m not a professional. If I can do it, you probably can too! In fact, because my husband was busy on some outside gardening projects, I did all of the
Who I am: I am an over 50-year-old female college professor and housewife. Although I have done a lot of remodeling projects in my own home, I’m not a professional. If I can do it, you probably can too! In fact, because my husband was busy on some outside gardening projects, I did all of our ceilings by myself.
Best DIY I've Done: Because I was doing the work while my kids were at school, I often had to set-up, plaster and then clean-up in about six hours. We do have tile floors, so I did not have to worry about carpet, but I was still amazed at how easy it was to change the look of our house with this one project. Our 1972 house no longer looks dated. I've done many DIY projects but this one is probably the most important one I've ever done to change the resale value and appearance of our home.
Before You Start
Not a Project for Every Popcorn Ceiling: Sometimes, another method may be better. If your popcorn comes off easily, this method may be a diaster. Before you attempt to do a whole room, I recommend starting in an inconspicuous place, like a closet. I did a section in our garage first, then a small bathroom.
Do a test: I let the whole thing dry for a week and then painted it. I was worried the plaster might fall off, so I waited several months, letting the bathroom get plenty of use and humidity before I started doing the other ceilings in the house.
Buy supplies one room at a time. You might be tempted to go out and buy the materials for the house at once, but I found that fresh joint compound was easier to use, so I bought just enough for one room at a time. Older mixes, especially if opened, can get dried out and hard to use.
Share Your Experiences!
When I first decided to try this, there wasn't anything on the Internet about this technique, so I posted my experience on my blog. To my surprise, that blog post went viral, which showed me that I wasn't alone in thinking about this idea. In fact, that post was the start of my Internet writing career. Since then, many people have written to tell me this method worked for them too. If you've tried it, shoot me an email, or better yet, share any tips you have in the comments to help other folks out. Happy plastering!