Popcorn ceilings were a popular design trend during the 1960s and 70s but look dated compared to today’s clean, modern décor. Removing the textured Stucco material is a fairly straightforward job, but it can be messy and requires a bit of time. Proper preparation will make the job go smoother.
Sometimes, due to the era many of them were applied, cottage cheese ceilings contain asbestos. A lab can test a sample to determine if that’s the case. If your ceiling does contain asbestos, you might opt to cover it with sheetrock or, more likely, have a professional remove it, as asbestos is a known carcinogen. Check local regulations for guidelines on removal.
Step 1 - Check for Asbestos
Using a spray bottle with water, lightly moisten about four small areas in different parts of your ceiling. Scrape a 1-square-inch patch from each area into individual plastic bags with a small putty knife. Take these samples to a lab that can determine if the ceiling contains asbestos. Alternatively, you can purchase a home testing kit. If there is no asbestos in your ceiling, move on to the following step.
Step 2 – Clear the Room
Once you've been assured your ceiling doesn't have any asbestos, removing the stucco ceiling becomes essentially a larger-scale version of the sample-taking process. Remove all the furniture in the room if possible, or cover it with waterproof plastic sheets. Spread plastic sheets or tarpaulins on the floor to protect it. For added protection against messes or damage, put a piece of plastic over any windows that are in the line of fire from the cottage cheese ceiling removal.
Step 3 – Wet the Ceiling
Put on a long-sleeved shirt, a hat, and safety goggles. Safety goggles with sides are best. Wear a face mask to avoid breathing in any dust and debris. Use a spray bottle or a clean garden sprayer to moisten an area of aproximately 3-square-feet with water. Alternatively, use a long nap ceiling paint roller dipped in water. The objective is to wet the popcorn enough to soften it, making it easy to scrape off without soaking the sheetrock behind it.
If you do over-saturate the stucco and end up with a water spot or two, use an oil primer in a spray can to block the stain. The cans come with tops especially designed to spray ceilings.
Step 4 – Scrape the Popcorn
Wait a moment for the water to soak in. Then once a section has softened, use an 8 to 10-inch putty knife to carefully scrape the popcorn off the ceiling. Move across the ceiling, section by section, moistening and scraping until all the stucco has separated.
TIP: Try not to catch the corners of the putty knife. This can create gouges in the ceiling that will then need to be repaired.
Step 5 – Sand the Ceiling
Once the cottage cheese material has been removed, lightly sand the ceiling and paint it as you normally would. If there are tears in the sheetrock or other damage, you may have to spackle some sections of the ceiling to get it as smooth as you would like.
Rather than going to the trouble of wetting and scraping, an alternative is to simply install a new drywall ceiling over the popcorn. You would lose about 1 inch of ceiling height, but this might be the most hassle-free way of getting rid of that popcorn.
Painting expert Pam Estabrookse of ProTect Painters suggests, “To compensate for the difference in height where the new drywall ceiling meets the wall, consider installing crown molding to finish off the new look.”