When it comes to updating the look of your home, addressing your ceilings can dramatically change the feel and appearance of your spaces. Among the most common targets for ceiling updates is the removal of the dated “popcorn ceiling.” This guide provides an in-depth look at why and how to remove popcorn ceilings, the potential presence of asbestos, and considerations for either hiring professionals or undertaking this as a home improvement DIY project.

What is a Popcorn Ceiling?

A popcorn ceiling, also known as an acoustic ceiling, is a textured ceiling finish that was popular from the 1950s to the 1980s. It was favored for its noise-reducing properties and ability to hide imperfections. However, its rough texture can catch dust and diminish natural light reflection, making rooms look darker and less inviting.

Why Remove Popcorn Ceilings?

Removing popcorn ceilings can modernize the look of your home, potentially increase property value, and eliminate the health risks associated with asbestos, which was commonly used in ceiling treatments until the late 1970s.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal

The Importance of Asbestos Testing

Asbestos: A Hidden Hazard

Before you plan your popcorn ceiling removal, it’s critical to address the elephant in the room: asbestos. Asbestos fibers, when inhaled, can cause serious health issues, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. If your home was built before 1980, there’s a good chance your popcorn ceiling could contain asbestos.

Asbestos Testing

To determine if asbestos is present, you can purchase a test kit from hardware stores like Home Depot or hire a professional asbestos abatement team. The process usually involves taking a small sample of the ceiling material and sending it to a lab for analysis.

How to Remove Popcorn

Preparing Your Space

  1. Plastic Sheeting and Drop Cloths: Begin by removing furniture from the room or covering it with plastic sheeting. Floors should be protected with drop cloths to catch falling debris.

  2. Light Fixtures, Crown Molding, and Ceiling Fans: Remove or cover any light fixtures and ceiling fans to prevent damage.

  3. Ventilation: Ensure the room is well-ventilated to avoid inhaling dust.

The Removal Process

  1. Wet or Dry Scraping: If asbestos is not present, you can choose between wet and dry scraping. Wet scraping involves using a sprayer or spray bottle to moisten the popcorn before scraping to reduce dust. Dry scraping is faster but messier and not recommended if asbestos might be present.

  2. Using the Right Tools: Work in small sections (25 square feet), a wide drywall knife, putty knife or scraper is typically used to gently scrape away the texture being careful to avoid gouges. For larger areas, a drywall sander can be employed after scraping to smooth out the entire ceiling.

DIY Popcorn Ceiling Removal

If you decide to go the DIY route, prepare for a labor-intensive and time-consuming task. You’ll need to invest in the right tools and safety gear, including respirators and proper eye protection.

DIY Challenges

While DIY removal can save money, consider the physical effort and risks involved. The height of the ceilings, the room’s size, and potential hazards like asbestos make professional consultation a wise choice for most homeowners.

Professional Drywall Contractor or DIY?

Hiring a professional drywall contractor can provide peace of mind, especially when dealing with hazardous materials like asbestos. Professionals are equipped with the right tools, knowledge, and techniques to ensure safe and efficient popcorn ceiling removal.

Choosing the Right Contractor

When selecting a contractor, look for licensed professionals with experience in popcorn ceiling removal and asbestos abatement if necessary. Check reviews and ask for references to ensure their reliability and quality of work.

Post-Removal Finishing Touches

Once the popcorn ceiling texture is removed, you might find imperfections that need to be addressed before painting.

Skim Coat

Applying a skim coat of joint compound can help achieve a smooth finish. This step is crucial for ensuring that your new ceiling looks flawless under any type of lighting.

Painting Your New Ceiling

After the joint compound dries, sanding the ceiling ensures it is perfectly smooth. Following this, applying a primer and a coat of paint will give your ceiling a fresh, updated look. When you repaint, choose ceiling paint that reflects light to make your room appear larger and brighter.

Clean Up and Final Touches

The clean-up process involves removing all plastic sheeting, painter’s tape, drywall mud, drop cloths, scap pieces of new drywall that may have been used, and any debris. Ensure thorough cleaning to remove all traces of dust and materials from your floors and walls.


Removing a popcorn ceiling can significantly transform your home’s interior aesthetics, improve lighting, and even increase property value. Whether you choose to hire professionals or undertake this as a DIY project, proper planning, safety measures, and execution are crucial to achieving a beautiful, smooth ceiling that complements your home’s overall design.