Popcorn Ceilings: Tips and Tricks for Removing


Is there anything more unsightly than a popcorn ceiling?

I have spent more time than I care to mention removing awful popcorn ceilings from houses in the GTA. And there are few interior design choices that are more undesirable than this particular feature. 

One of the frequently asked questions I get most from friends and family is how to remove popcorn ceilings. Also known as stucco, or “Cottage Cheese” ceilings, they are an almost universally hated feature and one of the first things we discuss with our clients when completing a walkthrough.

Originally developed to help obscure sound travelling from upper floors, it also helped obscure less-than-perfect workmanship on behalf of the builders creating the ceiling. Unfortunately, the feature caught on with builders in the mid-20th century. Trends come and go, and with the improvement of technology and a discerning clientele, this ugly interior design choice has thankfully fallen out of favour. 

But what can those homeowners who own homes with popcorn ceilings do? Is there hope? 

Yes, there is. 

Removing popcorn ceilings, while a messy job, is a relatively simple process. There are obvious solutions, like covering it up with panelling. While this might work for some homes, the vast majority of people just want the feature gone. 

Done. Stucco removed. Literally dusted. 

So, if you would like to renovate your popcorn ceiling, we’ve created this walkthrough on what you should do to remove it, and do so safely.

Popcorn Ceilings Risks – Asbestos

As with any renovations in the Greater Toronto Area, it is important to be clear if your home was built using asbestos. Popular prior to the 90s, asbestos was used to insulate buildings against noise, to trap heat, and for fireproofing. While the manufacturing of products containing asbestos was originally banned in Canada in 1979, stockpiles of materials already produced were used up until the 1990s. Asbestos can be found in cement and plaster, which is basically what your popcorn ceiling is made from. As a result, it’s important to consult an expert if you are unsure if your home contains toxic material.

What You’ll Need – Tools

Should the popcorn ceiling be free of asbestos, then it is time to gather the tools necessary to remove the popcorn ceiling. For a contractor, these tools are fairly standard, but you may have to pop out to a hardware store to pick them up if you haven’t completed this work before.

The tools you will need are:

  1. Spray bottle
  2. Putty knife or drywall taping knife
  3. Drop cloths or sheeting
  4. Painter’s tape
  5. Goggles
  6. Ladder
  7. Dust mask (thankfully there are more masks around these days)

Popcorn Ceilings – A Messy Business

Removing popcorn ceilings is a messy business, which is often why clients want professionals to come in and take over the task for them. If you do decide to press on and remove the awful feature yourself, you need to ensure you have a lot of drop cloths and tarps handy to catch the resulting mess. It is also best to remove any light furniture from the room and to cover any heavier furniture. Use the painter’s tape to cover any electrical outlets.

IMPORTANT: Turn off your HVAC system and ensure the vents are covered.

Removing popcorn ceilings is a dusty business, so you will want to limit the amount of dust that is circulating in the HVAC system after the job is done. If you are worried about airflow, open any adjacent windows to let in air, and wear your goggles and dust mask. Scraping a ceiling can take up to 20 hours for experienced labourers, so take plenty of breaks. Plaster dust is also one of those materials that you can feel sticking to you at the end of the day, which is not pleasant.

Popcorn Ceilings – Spray and Scrap Away

Take your spray bottle and fill it with water. You will want to spray a small area on the ceiling around five feet squared, but don’t soak the area to avoid damaging the drywall underneath. Then begin scraping. Wet scraping is better than dry scraping because fewer particulates will stay in the air. To ensure the popcorn ceiling has absorbed the water, wait 10 to 20 minutes after spraying the area before beginning scraping.

To begin scraping, take your drywall knife and gently run it over the wet area. Do this gently since it is easy to chip away at the drywall underneath, which will require patching if damaged. Continue with this process until the entire ceiling has been worked on. Repeat until the stucco texture is completely removed. Repeat in areas where needed.

Popcorn Ceilings – Sand and Paint

Now that your popcorn texture has been removed, sand the ceiling to even out the area. The ceiling should now be ready for priming and painting. If there is any damage to the drywall, sanding will better uncover it. You can then patch those areas before you paint. If the popcorn ceiling was added to cover up imperfections, then repair these or cover them with the compound before sanding them.

Once you are happy with the sanding, prime and paint. When the paint has dried, you are ready to clean up and put your furniture back in its rightful place.

Pay A Professional

If all of that sounds like your idea of hell, then you can always pay a professional. Contractors are happy to remove your 70s style Stucco ceiling.

Focus Construction has helped hundreds of homeowners update and renovate their homes. We provide complete breakdowns to our clients on materials, labour, and miscellaneous costs from a home renovation. If your contractor is not willing to provide you with a similar arrangement, please call us. We have pre-reno planning material which will help you to understand what you need to complete your project.