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How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Though popcorn or acoustic ceilings were once popular in homes and apartments, the bumpy look of popcorn ceilings quickly dates a home today. A very common home improvement is to remove a popcorn ceiling.[GARD align=”left”]

Before you jump into this project, however, it’s important to consider whether the ceiling texture might contain asbestos. Popcorn ceilings applied before the 1980s may contain asbestos, a fiber that is harmful when airborne. If you ceiling contains asbestos, you should leave removal to a professional asbestos abatement contractor.

If you’re unsure whether your ceiling may contain asbestos, you can buy a mail-in asbestos test kit for about $35. With this, you carefully scrape a small piece into a plastic bag that seals and send it to a mail-order certified testing lab.


How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling, Step by Step

Begin by preparing the room for the mess, then move on to the removal process.

repair a ceiling fan breaker

Turn off the circuits that supply electricity to the room.

1Because you need to spray water onto the ceiling to remove the texture, begin by turning off the power to the receptacles and light fixtures at the circuit breaker panel.

Tape protective drop cloths to the floor, and then the walls.

Tape protective drop cloths to the floor, and then the walls.

2Protect the floor, baseboards, and lower parts of the wall by spreading heavy-duty plastic sheeting or water-resistant drop cloths across the floor and extending it about 18 inches up the wall. Tape the edges of the sheeting to the wall with blue painters’ tape.


3Run 1 1/2-inch painters’ tape along the top of the wall, about 1/4-inch down from the ceiling. Drape the walls with plastic sheeting, taping the top edge to the painters’ tape along the top of the walls. Then unroll rosin paper on the floor to keep the floor from getting too slippery and make cleanup easier.


Use a garden sprayer to wet the ceiling with water. Photo: Chapin

Use a garden sprayer to wet the popcorn ceiling with water. Photo: Chapin

4Working in 2-by-2-foot sections,  use a garden sprayer to apply water to the ceiling, and then scrape the texture off with an 8-inch-wide drywall taping knife. Wear safety glasses and a dust mask.

8-inch Drywall taping knife is handy for scraping the ceiling. Photo: Marshalltown

8-inch Drywall taping knife is handy for scraping the ceiling. Photo: Marshalltown


5Once you’ve finished scraping the entire ceiling, remove the plastic from the walls.

Leave the plastic sheeting on the floor until you gather and dispose of all of the rosin paper and wall sheeting.

Repair a Water Damaged Ceiling

If rain penetrates your home’s roof (or if a pipe that passes through the attic or an upper floor leaks), the result is often readily apparent somewhere on the ceiling below the problem spot. Water drips or runs downward and eventually lands on the upper surface of the ceiling material, which is typically drywall or plaster. There it pools and spreads until it finds a place to continue its downward journey. With drywall, that place is often a seam between the ceiling’s panels. If the ceiling is plaster, the water usually just builds up until it saturates the surface enough to leak straight through.

testing mold removal

Chronic water stains on ceiling are tested for mold before repair and painting.

The resulting damage can be pretty ugly. For starters, the dampness discolors the ceiling. And the water degrades the integrity of the ceiling material. If the dampness is allowed to remain for a few days, mold can form. So it pays to take care of the problem quickly. If the problem has been a chronic one, have the stained area tested for mold. See Removing Mold & Toxins.

If you have access into an attic above the drip, go into it and find the roof leak. Catch the leak with a bucket and mop up any standing water with rags.[GARD align=”left”]

If you cannot get into an attic above the leak and water is dripping down from one point in the ceiling, place a bucket on the floor under the drip. Prevent the water from pooling and spreading by punching a small hole through the ceiling’s surface with a nail or an ice pick and allowing the pooled water to drain into the bucket.

If you can repair the roof to stop the leak, do so immediately (if DIY repairs are beyond your realm, call a roof repair contractor. If you can’t fix the roof at once, tarp the roof to prevent more water from penetrating it and then deal with the problem when the weather clears.

Allow the damp spot in the ceiling to dry. Then use a narrow putty knife to remove any flaking paint or drywall. Next, see How to Fix Drywall. After the repaired area dries, apply stain sealer to it and then re-paint.

How to Repair a Ceiling

ceiling repairs

After repairing the ceiling as detailed at left, paint to match.

If you have a fairly large hole in a ceiling-the type that might be left behind when moving a ceiling fixture-you’ll need to give it some backing before filling the hole with patching material. Here’s how to do this:

1Cut a piece of pegboard (hardboard with holes in it) sized to overlap but slip through the hole.

2Loop a 6-inch-long piece of stiff wire through two of the holes in the pegboard. Twist the ends to form a complete loop.

3Coat the pegboard with drywall compound, using a putty knife.


4Slip the coated pegboard piece into the hole, coated side facing down.

5Pull down on the wire loop, insert a pencil, and twist the pencil to pull the pegboard snugly down against the backside of the ceiling.

6Let the compound dry, remove the pencil, and snip off the wires flush with the ceiling.[GARD align=”left”]

7Fill the hole with two coats of drywall compound, allowing the first coat to dry before applying the second.

8Let the second coat dry, and then apply a third coat, flush with the ceiling. Let that dry for 24 hours.

9Lightly sand the patch with fine sandpaper to “feather” (blend) it with the surface. Paint the patch to match the ceiling.

How to Repair Ceiling Texture

After repairing a stain or hole in the ceiling, it may be necessary to repair the texture. Here’s how to do this:

1Using a putty knife, scrape off loose or damaged ceiling texture around the stain or repair.[GARD align=”right”]

2With drywall sanding paper wrapped around a small block, gently sand the edges of the damaged area.

3Using a broad-bladed putty knife, fill the void with a smooth coat of drywall compound and allow it to dry.

4Sand smooth again, and then spray stain sealer over the patched area to prevent the patch from bleeding through later. Allow to dry.

5If you have a cottage-cheese type of texture, buy canned ceiling texture and spray it onto the repaired area. If the ceiling has a splotchy-style texture, you may be able to re-create the look with drywall compound and a special texturing brush. This takes a little practice—just keep scraping the compound off until you achieve the look you want.

6Touch up with paint to match (if necessary, re-paint the entire ceiling for uniformity).

Preventing Dust Streaks on Ceiling

Along ceilings below poorly insulated attic spaces, dust sometimes causes streak marks, caused by temperature differences between insulated spaces and joist locations.

Adding insulation or spreading existing insulation more evenly in the attic are the only solutions for preventing this condition from getting worse.You can attempt to clean the ceiling with a solution of water and detergent, but repainting is usually a better option.

More Ceiling Repairs

For more about specific types of ceiling repairs, please see:

How to Install a Suspended Ceiling

A suspended or “dropped” ceiling, first common in office buildings and commercial spaces, is also popular in homes for certain types of rooms-notably basements, garage conversions, and recreation rooms.

Suspended ceiling mounts around the room's perimeter.

Suspended ceiling mounts around the room’s perimeter.

Made up of a gridwork of metal channels that hold lightweight panels, a suspended ceiling hangs beneath the home’s original ceiling or the underside of the floor above it, often concealing heating ductwork, pipes, other mechanical equipment, or a badly damaged ceiling.

In a residence, the panels that fit into the grid are typically made from lightweight, sound-absorbing mineral fibers and are sized 2-by-2 or 2-by-4 feet. Their sound-deadening qualities, especially when paired with sound-attenuation batts of insulation placed above them, can do a great job of controlling noise.[GARD align=”left”]

Because the panels simply drop into the upside-down T-shaped channels of the grid work, they are easily removed for replacement or to access mechanical equipment in the area above. Specialty panels and equipment such as fluorescent light fixtures and sound speakers are also designed to fit into the grid.

A disadvantage of a suspended ceiling is loss of headroom. This type of ceiling literally “drops” the ceiling. So that panels can be pushed up through the grid and then set into place, a minimum clearance beneath the lowest objects (such as floor joists) is required-typically from 3 to 8 inches.

In addition to the panels on display at most home improvement centers (and available by special order), look at some of the commercial offerings in manufacturers’ catalogs and on their websites. Leading manufacturers of suspended ceiling systems are Armstrong, Certainteed, and USG. Each make the panels in patterned, textured, and smooth designs. Some also produce metal tile-like panels and wood-like panels.

Panels are usually sold in packages containing a certain number of square feet of material. To estimate the quantity you need, measure the length and width of the room, eliminating areas that will not be covered with panels (a skylight or a ceiling fan, for example). Multiply these figures for the square footage and add 10 percent for waste.[GARD align=”left”]

For a professional-looking job, plan to create equal-size borders on opposite sides of the room. To determine the nonstandard width of panels needed for perimeter rows, measure the extra space from the last full row of pieces to one wall and divide by two. This final figure will be the width of border pieces against that wall and the opposite wall. To complete your calculations, repeat this procedure for the other room dimensions.

If this project looks like more than you want to try to handle yourself, this free service that will help you find a local pro: Suspended Ceiling Installation Pros.

Attach L-shaped support tracks along level line on the walls.

Attach L-shaped support tracks along level line on the walls.

Step-by-Step Installation

Installing a suspended ceiling is a fairly easy do-it-yourself project. Here’s how:

1Start by calculating the height the ceiling will be. The minimum should be 7 feet, 6 inches, and it should also be 3 inches below any plumbing and 5 inches below any lighting. Once you have figured out the ceiling level, snap a chalk line to mark it. Then install the track supports on the walls, around the perimeter of the room, so that they just cover the line.

Hang central support tracks from the joists above.

Hang central support tracks from the joists above.



2Using tin snips or a hacksaw, cut the main tees to length. Place them on the track supports and hang them from the joists with #12 wire attached to eye screws inserted every 4 feet.



Interlock perpendicular supports in the tracks.

Interlock the 4-foot cross tees (perpendicular supports) in the tracks.


3Insert the tabs of the 4-foot cross tees into the slots of the main tees and then snap them into place.


Drop the ceiling panels into the finished ceiling grid.

Drop the ceiling panels into the finished ceiling grid.





4Gently lower into place the solid panels and any fluorescent lighting panels you are installing. Use a utility knife to cut border panels to fit. Before handling the panels, wash your hands well because smudges cannot be easily removed.


Ceiling Materials Buying Guide

Conventional Ceiling Construction

A variety of materials is used for constructing ceilings in a home. By far the most common today is the same as that used for walls-drywall (also known as gypsum wallboard or by the trade name Sheetrock), attached to a structure of ceiling joists with drywall screws or nails. Joints between the drywall panels are taped and finished with drywall compound using the same techniques as those used for walls and detailed in How to Attach & Fasten Drywall (Sheetrock).

Ceilings can also be made of lath and plaster, using the same construction methods detailed in Plaster Walls.

Several different materials may be fastened to existing drywall or plaster ceilings or directly to ceiling joists. These include wood planks and paneling and classic pressed-metal panels.

A suspended or “dropped” ceiling, as discussed in How to Install a Suspended Ceiling, consists of a metal grid suspended from joists or the old ceiling and attached at the walls, supporting lightweight ceiling panels. These panels may be made of mineral fiber or fiberglass acoustical board in plain or decorative patterns, or they may be any of several types of translucent plastic panels for above-the-ceiling lighting.

Although the conventional ceiling is flat and 8 feet high, a norm that corresponds to standard construction practices and material sizes, many ceilings depart from these norms for either structural, spatial, or decorative reasons.

Perhaps the most familiar departure is the cathedral ceiling, which angles upward from walls to peak, following the roof’s pitch. Such a ceiling adds drama and a sense of spaciousness to a room. On the downside, a room with cathedral or higher-than-normal ceilings is more expensive to heat because warm air rises.

Other types of ceilings include the coved ceiling, which is rounded at the corners; the tray ceiling, which has a vertical or angled soffit around the perimeter; and the vaulted ceiling, which rolls up into a half-barrel shape.

Types of Ceiling Shapes


Most–but not all–ceilings are essentially horizontal walls, built using the same materials and methods as their vertical counterparts.ceiling repairs

The main difference between a ceiling and a wall is that the wood framing members behind the surfaces of ceilings are joists or rafters rather than wall studs.

As with walls, by far the most common surface materials for ceilings are drywall and plaster. The conventional ceiling is 8 feet high and flat, but, when it comes to departing from this norm, the sky is the limit.[GARD align=”left”]

In this section of HomeTips, you will find information about the various types of ceilings installed in houses and the materials and do-it-yourself techniques used to build and repair them.


Ceiling Materials Buying Guide

How to Repair a Ceiling

How to Install a Suspended Ceiling