Scraping My Painted Popcorn Ceiling
If there’s anything worse than a popcorn ceiling, it’s a painted popcorn ceiling. If your house was built between the 1930s and the 1990s, there’s a very good chance you too are blessed with this disastrous trend. Popcorn ceilings were first introduced as a cheap and easy way to finish a ceiling. They didn’t require the meticulous finishing and painting that their smoothe counterparts did, and they had the added benefits of better sound-proofing and those sweet sweet sexy bumps.
Because my house was a rental for decades, not only were my ceilings popcorned, but they had been popcorned again…. and again… and again and then painted over to hide any and all potential imperfections to impress the next round of tenants.
With lots of kitchen upgrades on the horizon, I thought it would be wise to go ahead and knock this project out first, before I felt too attached to any surfaces in my kitchen. Plus, the space is so small, I figured it wasn’t worth hiring it out. Here’s how it went and what I learned.
If you want to skip right to the downloadable how-to, click here.
STEP 1: ASBESTOS IS NOT THE BESTEST
Before you venture into scraping your popcorn ceilings, definitely take the time to check for asbestos, especially if you live in an older home. Asbestos doesn’t really pose a risk unless you disturb it - ie scraping a popcorn ceiling. If you do need to test for asbestos, there are two pretty simple ways to do it.
Order an testing kit online. Asbestos testing kits, like this one, are pretty straight forward. You take a small sample of your popcorn material, and then you use a prepaid package to send it off to their labs to get tested. They can take a couple of weeks, so if you need a faster turnaround the second option might be easier for you.
Collect a sample and take it to an asbestos testing lab near you. Literally just google asbestos testing “your city,” and you’ll find testing labs near you. These companies tend to be pricier, but the turnaround is faster.
STEP 2: PREP YOUR SPACE
Scraping your ceilings is a notoriously messy project - maybe one of the messiest DIYs. The more prep you do up front, the easier your life will be when you’re over it and tired and just want to be done.
I highly recommend tarping your floors and taping that tarp down to ensure it stays in place. I also covered all of my countertops and appliances with plastic tarp and taped it down where I could.
STEP 3: SCORE YOUR EDGES
This was definitely a lesson learned. If your ceiling is painted over like mine, I highly recommend scoring the edges where your walls meet your ceiling before getting started. When I first started scraping and would get to the edge of the ceiling, I often accidently pulled large chunks of paint off the wall. So to avoid this, I would take a box cutter and simply scored around the entire room where the wall met the ceiling. That way the paint and ceiling texture would break off before damaging the wall.
STEP 4: SPRAY, SCRAPE, REPEAT
Make sure to wear your goggles and respirator for this step. This was hands down the most challenging part of the process. Using a pressurized lawn sprayer, like this one, I wet down a portion of my ceiling. Then using a putty knife, I began scraping. Because my ceiling was painted, that first piece was definitely the hardest. After that, I was able to spray under the painted layer to loosen the popcorn and scraping became much easier from there. A few notes to keep in mind:
Not everyone thinks you have to wet it down to scrape it off. I found it helpful for two reasons - it loosened the texture and it created far less dust.
By wetting the ceiling texture, it’s going to turn into plaster. Wash your clothes as soon as you’re done!
Try to keep the putty knife as parallel to the ceiling as possible while you’re scraping. This will help prevent taking large chunks out of the drywall.
Because my drywall was so old and there were so many layers of paint and popcorn on them, I wasn’t able to scrape them completely smooth, so I intentionally left a bit of a rough texture behind.
STEP 5: CLEAN
Once all the popcorn is off the ceiling, you’re going to want to do a fairly deep clean. I wrapped up all of the tarp and debris and threw it out. Then I did a thorough wipe down of all my surfaces. Like I said, this stuff turns to plaster, so you want to get it cleaned up before it has time to harden.
STEP 6: PATCH
After I finished scraping the ceiling, using spackle and a putty knife, I patched any large holes, tears, cracks, etc. Because I had left a little bit of a rough texture on the ceiling while scraping, I tried avoiding any large areas of spackle, since the spackled areas would be quite smooth.
STEP 7: SAND
This is another step where you’ll really want your goggles and respirator. Using a medium-grit sanding sponge (I used 120 grit), I lightly sanded the areas that I patched. Because I had left that rough texture on the ceiling, I didn’t want to sand anything down too much and make it too smooth. I also sanded down some areas that I hadn't patched but were a bit rougher than I would have liked.
STEP 8: CAULK
Using a white, paintable all-purpose caulk, I caulked all the edges where the ceiling met the walls. I didn’t worry about making it look perfect as I eventually plan to add crown moulding.
STEP 9: PAINT
Next up was painting. The drywall on my ceiling is almost 70 years old and is yellowed and brown. So to avoid having to apply 4+ coats of paint to the ceiling I used a stain-blocking primer from Sherwin-Williams. You can find it here. I applied it with a wide brush to make sure I was able to get into every bump and groove. Then I applied two coats of untinted Dunn-Edwards Spartazero.
I let that dry overnight and checked it in the natural light to make sure I didn’t need to do any touch ups. And then I was done! Now for a little before and after action.
It was a grueling few weekend days and late evenings after work but it truly has made all the difference in the world. It makes the space look so much cleaner, and I just can’t wait to jump into the rest of the renovation.
If you’re ready to jump in, here’s the how-to guide to keep handy. Happy scraping!