How To Remove Popcorn Ceilings in 30 MInutes Plus Super Easy Clean-up


It all started with a great big hole in the ceiling caused by a drain line back up in the central air conditioning system.

How to remove popcorn ceilings

Not a pretty sight.

Luckily, the damage was covered by the AC warranty. So I didn’t have to roll up my sleeves for that one. But I still did write up a step by step tutorial on how to repair a hole in your ceiling drywall.

I did hate the existing popcorn ceiling. So it seemed kind of silly to cover the repaired drywall with more popcorn. The repair guy was only going to charge me about $100 over what the warranty was paying for the repair to remove the popcorn, so I figured why not have him do it. Then I could learn from the professional what the best way is to remove the popcorn ceiling before I take on any of the other rooms.

I’m really glad I did that. Removing the popcorn surprisingly brightens up the room. All those little popcorn nodules create little shadows on the ceiling, making the ceiling and the room look darker than it really is. Now the room has a much cleaner, brighter look to it.

I do recommend that if your home was build before the 80’s, have the popcorn checked for asbestos before tackling the job. You can actually purchase an asbestos testing kit right HERE on Amazon. If your ceiling contains asbestos, it’s best to have a professional asbestos removal service handle the job. Better safe than sorry.

Anyway, there are three things you’ll need to make this job quick and easy:

  1. Pre-taped Plastic Sheeting – This stuff is AWESOME! Basically, one edge of the plastic sheeting already has tape attached. All you have to do is peel and stick the plastic right along the top of your walls. The sheeting drapes down your walls, right over your furniture and over the floor. That means that you don’t have to move any furniture out of the room. And when you’re done, you just roll up the plastic and your room is perfectly clean. No debris left on the floor boards, walls, or anything!
  2. Backpack Style Sprayer to moisten the popcorn.
  3. Flexible Putty Knife to remove the popcorn.

So, let’s get on with the tutorial…

Removing popcorn ceilings can make a heck of a mess! But my repair guy had that totally covered to where there wasn’t a spec of dust left when he was done. And I didn’t even have to remove any furniture from the room!

Step 1 ) My repair guy started by covering all the walls and the floor with the pre-taped plastic sheeting. I had never heard of the stuff, but I was completely blown away by it. Perhaps I’m a little slow, but I never would have thought to cover the walls with plastic.  But it was brilliant because it took him all of five minutes to put the plastic up and less than that to roll it up at the end of the job, leaving behind a perfectly clean room. Even the window ledges were clean.


How to remove popcorn ceilings


You can see where the taped edge is along the ceiling. Then you just drape the stuff down and all your furniture is covered. This is soooo much easier than taking apart a bed and moving all the furniture out.

Step 2) Once you get your plastic up, you need to wet the ceiling. To do this, my repair guy actually used a bug sprayer filled with water. His sprayer was backpack-style, but you can use any kind of sprayer. And it’s way easier than trying to sponge down your ceiling. Plus, since your entire room is already covered in plastic, there’s no need to worry about getting anything else wet with the sprayer.


How to remove popcorn ceilings


Spray the entire ceiling then go back to your starting place and you can start removing the popcorn.

Step 3) My repair guy used a 6″ putty knife to remove the popcorn. Here’s his fast-motion picture…

How to remove popcorn ceilings


To remove the popcorn, glide your putty knife across the surface moving slowly with long strokes in one direction. This will help prevent the corners of the knife from digging in and gouging the drywall. So let me emphasize: If you want to avoid gouging the drywall, use LONG, SLOW, EVEN STROKES. No short back and forth strokes. The popcorn easily peels right off. No need to power into it.


How to remove popcorn ceilings


With these long and even strokes my guy removed all the popcorn in less than 30 minutes with zero gouges in the drywall.

If you do get any gouges, just use your putty knife to apply a little spackle or joint compound and smooth it out.

Step 4: At this point if you want to put a light texture on your ceiling you can.

Step 5: Then use a quality primer to prime the ceiling before painting. You’ll get the best coverage with an oil-based primer, which is what my repair guy used.

The downside though of oil-based paints is that they stink. I mean really stink. I literally had to keep the room’s windows open and door closed with a towel stuff under it for several days so that the smell didn’t fill the rest of the house.

Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to clear that entire ceiling in 30 minutes.

how to remove popcorn ceilings


I am pretty happy with the final result! No more popcorn ceilings thank you very much!

So remember, to make this project as easy as possible:

1) Use plastic sheeting not just on the floor, but on the walls too.

2) Use a sprayer to wet the ceiling.

3) Long, slow, even strokes with your putty knife.

And a few other tips… Consider wearing a dust mask. Dust will be minimal since the material you’re peeling off is wet, but a dust mask couldn’t hurt. Also, before taking on your popcorn ceilings, make sure your ceilings do not contain asbestos. Most homes built after 1978 do not contain asbestos. But if yours does, I do recommend having a professional remove it.

There you have it. You’re now on your way to beautiful ceilings.

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  1. Wow, the transformation is amazing! We have popcorn ceilings and I would LOVE to get rid of them! :-) Checking this out from best recipes & DIY projects!

    • Cathy, I say definitely give it a try! I’m planning on doing more ceilings on my own after the holidays. It’ll be a huge improvement!

    • Be careful what you wish for, 15 years ago I did a lot of popcorn ceilings, in old crooked houses… They cover a lot of sins, the shadows make a wavy ceiling look good

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I too have popcorn ceilings and HATE them. Now I can fix that without spending a fortune:) Found you at DIY Sunday Showcase.

    • You are welcome Adrian! I’m so glad I can help. After the holidays I’ll start working on the ceilings in the rest of the house myself. :-)

  3. It’s good to mention also to make sure that the popcorn ceiling does not contain asbestos, usually in homes built prior to 1978, and a mask is a good idea to wear. Just took out the awful ceiling in my family room a few months ago. It loos SO much better. Great article.

    • Thanks so much Laticia, you’re absolutely right! I’ll add that right in! And I’m sure your family room looks awesome!

    • in keeping with that theme, any home built prior to 1978 should also be tested for Lead Based Paint prior to doing ANY kind of demo, especially something as under-cared-for as a ceiling, which is almost guaranteed to have lead present. Asbestos and lead is such an ugly combination!

  4. Wow!!! I am so impressed and jealous right now. You clearly did yours the right way and they turned out great! Something went very very wrong when we attempted to remove our popcorn ceiling and it took us weeks of scraping and sanding. Yuck! good to know there is a way to do it that isn’t excruciatingly painful ;)

    • Ugh, that must have been miserable Naomi! And working overhead must have made it so much harder. But at least you have beautiful ceilings now. :-)

    • Your ceilings were probably painted at some point. I removed the popcorn from my parent’s ceilings and that was the problem. In this case, you have to do kind of a preliminary scraping with a heavy duty metal scraper, just removing the tips of tbe popcorn (so that the water can soak under the paint). THEN spray with water and give it a couple minutes to soak in before scraping.
      I feel your pain!

      • Actually, Alanna, believe it or not these were the original ceilings from when my parents had the house built many years ago. But that’s actually a really great tip! It will definitely help the water soak in for easier scraping.

    • Thank you Michael. I did not know that. Is there a good way to find out if your ceiling texture does contain asbestos?

      • You should always have items tested before doing work on your house. To test a popcorn ceiling for asbestos you need to wet a small space and scrape it off into a plastic zip lock baggie. That can be sent to a lab to be tested. Most areas have labs close by for this type of thing.

    • Is the asbestos in the popcorn or actually up in the attic part? If you do have asbestos is there a way to get rid of all of it? Kinda scarey!

      • Hi Tracy, If you’re going to be removing popcorn, it is always a good idea to have the popcorn tested just in case and if there is asbestos then you can have a professional remove it safely.

      • The asbestos was used as an ingredient in the joint compounds that were used back then, that would have been soaked into any porous surface nearby, the best advice is to test first, and keep it covered. Asbestos (and lead too) cannot harm anyone if it simply has a solid coat of paint on it.

        • Thank you Ryan for sharing that advice. Asbestos and lead are always a concern and should be dealt with carefully.

  5. Okay…the husband and I removed popcorn ceilings in 2 bathrooms together…but have a kitchen and living room…admittedly, we didn’t prepare with as much plastic…but I want to know where I get a repair guy who obviously does this professionally and with such intent??…wow, he got the job done…I would gladly pay to avoid the labor of being unprofessional…it seems it would certainly be worth it.

    • Rebecca, I was so impressed with them too! And here’s something that I left out of the post that made me like them even more. After priming the ceiling they actually put a texture on it called knockdown. It was hideous! Almost as bad as the popcorn. When I saw it, I almost had a meltdown. But I kept it together really well and kindly told the guys that I wanted a smooth ceiling. The workers called their boss (the owner) and told them to remove the horrible knockdown and give me what I wanted. He was great! They ended up giving me a skim coat with a tiny bit o texture, which I was very happy with. If you happen to be in the Tampa Bay area, I’d be more than happy to share info on these guys!

      • Hi, so I’m looking to do “something” with my popcorn ceilings in preparation to selling my home in about a year. I did speak with a builder who told me that after removing the popcorn I would have to do a “skim coat” but he did not elaborate as to what that was…what is it? and you say with a “bit o texture”…I looking for a clean, smooth ceiling. Thanks for whatever information anybody can provide :)

        • Hi Lucy, Skim coating is the process of applying a thin layer of joint compound on the drywall to smooth any imperfections. However, if you already have a nicely smoothed surface you don’t have to skim coat. Instead, you can apply a sealer that is specifically made for sealing drywall like this one: http://amzn.to/2dFKN7D

    • Oh you can definitely do this! And I just love that when I start working on the rest of the house after the holidays, I now have an easy clean-up ahead of me. To me the most intimidating part was where to put all the furniture and the huge mess it would make. Now problem solved. :-)

  6. uggghhhh you make this look so easy which means I shouldn’t be saying uggghhh but whenever I hear the work popcorn ceiling it makes me cringe. My first apartment had popcorn ceiling and it just always seemed dusty and gross. I wanted to change it so bad but it wasn’t my property so I just dealt with it.

    • Suzzie, It it ugly and gross! And you’re right, tons of dust accumulates on it. Glad you don’t have to deal with any popcorn ceilings anymore! :-)

    • Thanks Jann. Looking forward to getting the rest of the ceilings done!

      And as always, thank you for hosting each and ever week!

  7. I had a huge house in Florida with popcorn ceilings. I cut out the step of putting up plastic by spraying the ceiling with water, then using the shop vac to scrape the ceiling. Everything went into the vacuum and it didn’t damage the ceiling at all. I had 4100 square feet of ceiling plus a garage, and it took me 2 days to do the whole thing.

    • Wow! That’s a pretty ingenous method. How did you reach your shopvac to the ceiling and also avoid getting the rest of the area wet?

  8. This method works well as long as the ceiling hasn’t been painted. If it has been painted the water will have a hard time softening the “popcorn” acoustic.

  9. Word of caution, if your popcorn ceilings have been painted it will be much much more difficult to remove (not the case for me, but I have heard). Also, be prepared for the ceiling underneath the popcorn to be in very bad shape (not always as in this case). When contractors know they are going to put up popcorn, they don’t finish the ceiling as they would otherwise, meaning they only put up maybe a coat or two of mud and don’t finish the edges where the ceiling meets the wall. We had to do major damage control after seeing the ceiling underneath – uneven, joint tape sticking out…required lots of sanding and it still doesn’t look perfect, we used very flat paint and a super thick primer and a ceiling light that points downwards to disguise. We could have re-mudded the whole ceiling but were exhaused at this point. I would pay someone if I was going to do it again!

    • Thank you April. That’s some really good info to know. I’m sorry you had so much trouble with your ceiling. I guess I lucked out. Perhaps a suggestion for readers is to try a patch test before they go all out to get an idea of what they’ve got ahead of them.

  10. I have done many popcorn ceilings with the wet it down method. I didn’t that the fancy plastic, wish I had. One thing I did notice is that the base coat, really depends on how well they up the ceiling up. In our other house, It came off perfect and when I painted it was completely smooth. However, in our main house, the dry wall tape came off and it was a mess. We had to almost completely redo the ceiling.

    I still have two rooms to go in this house which I dread because I know it will be horrible looking when it is done. I am going to check out the plastic however.

    • That sounds miserable Beverly. When re-taping the drywall, go with a really wide mud knife. It will really make the job easier. Good luck with the rest of the house. And have a wonderful holiday!

      • No one has mentioned dry scraping the popcorn. My house was built in the 60s and has plaster ceilings and popcorn which was spray painted over at least once. It’s work removing popcorn dry, but it can be done with a 12″ joint compound knife. And when primed and painted over it leaves a nice flat texture. So if past experience on newer drywall ceilings has them falling apart after wetting it, you might want to consider a dry scrape. It will be less work in the long run.

        • Thanks Ted. Great advice! Sounds like you’d end up with a lot more dust so a ventilator is really good idea for dry scraping.

  11. Yes, above all, before starting any remodel, please check for asbestos. You can visit our FB page – A WALK TO REMEMBER VICTIMS of ASBESTOS for more information about the diseases asbestos causes. Our dad died of mesothelioma -cancer caused exclusively by asbestos. Thanks!

    • I am terribly sorry to hear about your dad. Thank you for this resource. It will be very informative for my readers to ensure their safety. Blessings.

    • Hi Christiane, I have never tried it on textured walls, but I would imagine that it would. Just remember to check for asbestos before any reno job. :-)

  12. I am so glad I came across this pin. I lie in bed every night staring at my popcorn ceilings. I bought a 2011 Friendship 50×30 manufactured home and a small lot to put it on. Overall, I love my home but when they finished it, I walked through and looked up and went, “what the…?” Apparently I never noticed the ceilings in the models or I would have told them that if my house came with popcorn, I would make them take it right back! So I’m stuck until I do something about it and since I’m a single mom on disability, I have to be the one to do it. So I appreciate all the good advice I’ve found here and may have to start tackling this project one room at a time…starting with my MASTER BEDROOM!!

    • Hi Marcia, I’m so glad I could help! But I feel your pain. I don’t think I said it in post, but after they took off the popcorn, they put up another texture called knockdown. It was horrible! It looks kinda like a stucco finish. When I walk into the room and looked up I could hardly speak. I had to insist that they remove it and give me a smooth ceiling. They tried to convince me that this was “what everyone was doing now.” But there was no way I was having them leave that up. They weren’t too happy, but they removed the ugly knockdown.
      Good luck getting rid of that popcorn and have a wonderful holiday!

  13. Awesome tip! Thankfully we don’t have popcorn, but I would now like to learn what you did to get that effect on your closet doors!! That is really cool.

    • Totally agree Robyn! I’m thinking of taking down a wall to open up the kitchen and I’m planning to use that plastic so no dust gets into the next room.

  14. did you test your ceiling at all for asbestos at all? Also you should really make a correction in your article for people to test for it because if someone who has a child did this and didn’t test, they’re putting their entire family at risk because you didn’t warn them. Just saying, some people are dumb and don’t do research before they do stuff

    • Pretty sure it’s not her responsibility to educate stupid people… nobody would be “putting their entire family at risk” just because SHE didn’t warn them, they’d be doing it because they’re ignorant.

  15. Jenise,
    I’m a little tardy to the party here, but my husband and I are hoping to buy a home right now that has popcorn ceilings, and… ew. I have seen a few other tutorials similar to this, but the one answer I can’t seem to find is: is there a limit to how wet you should get the popcorn? I’m concerned about doing water damage and haven’t seen anything that mentioned whether or not that was possible with this method. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Laura,
      You do want to give the popcorn a good soaking, so I can’t imagine you’d get any water damage since you’re soaking and scraping the popcorn right off within minutes. It’s constant dampness that would cause damage and it’s not something you’ll be having with this process. Hope that helps!

  16. I removed all the popcorn in our 1100 sq foot house, except for the part in our laundry room. A carpenter removed that initial area, and made such a hash of it that I decided to do the rest myself. So glad I did! I started with the tool that holds a bag inside the edges of a scraper with a long handle. Did not work for me. I’m a short woman, and the angle I had to use made gouges as the bag swung back and forth with the weight of the wet, removed popcorn. Got rid of it, got a ladder and a 4″ scraper, then as I got better, a 6″, then a 10″. I started in a closet, then a bedroom, then the other rooms. I, too, wanted a nice, smooth ceiling, so we called a finisher for the living room, who declared that the removal work looked professional! It really is easy. The key is lots of water (I used a garden pump-up sprayer) and keeping your knife level. Also, keep a wet rag with you to smooth the corners and get every last bit of popcorn off without damage. I actually liked the areas that had paint over the popcorn, because once wet, paint and all came off in lacy sheets instead of white cow patties. Our house was built in ’96. I was not concerned about asbestos after researching first, but I did wear a mask and gloves. Wish I had followed your guy’s clean-up prevention tho. Have you finished your ceilings yet? If not, just wade in. It’s fun!

    • Hi Kate!
      Thanks for the info! I have not yet finished all the ceilings yet. I’ve got so many projects in the cue, but it will happen! :-)

  17. Very helpful! Where can I get the pre-taped plastic? Also, a skimcoat on the whole ceiling doesn’t sound fun. Will you have to do all your ceilings with a skimcoat? We have beadboard walls throughout and I have no experience with drywall repair or refinishing. Thx!

  18. I implore you to add a first step: have the ceiling tested for asbestos. If it tests positive have it removed by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. It’s fine to his left alone but disturbing it can release it into the air. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis – which I’m sure you, your family, your friends, or any visitor to your house doesn’t want. I would guess the majority of non-contractors wouldn’t think about asbestos when they see a popcorn ceiling and NEED to be warned before tackling this is a DIY project.

  19. How come no one is talking about what you have to put on the Wallboard (?) after you scrape the popcorn off. Doesn’t that require extraordinary skill?…. and what is the product you use and what kind of tools? I’m trying to see the whole picture because I don’t really like my popcorn ceilings in a house that was built circa 1895.

    • Hello Miss Donna, Well, what you do next after removing the popcorn depends on the look you want. Some people do like having a light texture because it hides any imperfections on the ceiling. In that case you’ll need to apply a layer of joint compound, also known as drywall mud. Here’s a link to some various textures: http://www.drywallschool.com/textures.htm. If you want a perfectly smooth wall, you’ll need to prime the drywall with a drywall primer and then you can paint over that with your preference of paints. As far as special skills, well, years ago I once textured a wall by spreading it with joint compound and then pressing my hands into the wet compound creating a random texture.

    • Hi Sheila, I haven’t had to remove popcorn that has been painted over, but from what I’ve read, you just have to let the water soak in longer.

  20. Keep popcorn damp to prevent dust and wear a respirator. Keep the door closed to isolate any dust. Roll up the plastic and popcorn waste and put into a bag or wrap in more plastic. This should prevent most asbestos exposure. Don’t save the plastic. Wash all clothing. None of this is fun in any way but the cost of asbestos testing and removal is way too much for me.

  21. Hi very interesting and useful. Here is a useful tip for you. My hubby is working a one of South Africa’s leading paint stores for years. And we picked up tons of tips. When painting with enamel or oil based. After painting take an onion cut in half and leave on small plates in painted room overnight. Voila paint stink gone and nope the room does not smell like onion

    • Wow! Who knew? I’m going to be painting the kitchen cabinets in 2016 and I’m wanting to use an enamel, but I’ve been concerned with the stench. I’m going to test this out with a single cabinet door placed in a room that I can close off. I’ll be really excited if it’s as simple as that!!!!

    • Hi Nazrin, So sorry for the delayed response. Sometimes I don’t get the auto notification that there’s a new comment on the blog. But, anyway, it is just water that you spray on the ceiling to soften the popcorn. Nothing else is needed. Hope that helps!

  22. If you want to avoid the possibility of gouging the drywall, use a table vice or good vice grip to bend the tips up slightly and you are good to go but still be careful.

  23. I finally got up the nerve to tackle the bathroom ceiling. Small project for a first timer. I followed your advice and all went well until the tape started loosening and the plastic sheeting fell on the floor. I guess I used too much water. The project ended up taking 3 hours, just to get it scraped and cleaned up. BUT it’s done! Thankyou!

  24. Hello. I’ve removed the popcorn ceiling but still have rough patches. I don’t see any instructions for getting rid of that. Should I spray again and keep scraping, then sand it down? Thank you!

    • Hi Sharon, You can spray again and scrape, but be sure to only spray the areas that need more scraping. You want to avoid getting the actual drywall surface too wet. Alternatively, if the round patches aren’t too thick, you can try just sanding them down. Careful though not to sand into the drywall.

    • Do you mean how to dispose of it? If it doesn’t contain asbestos, then you can just throw it in the garbage. Of course if it does contain asbestos then you should have a professional remove and dispose of it. Hope that helps!

  25. Hi Jenise! I just walked out of Lowe’s home improvement with everything you put on your blog to remove those horrible ceilings! My question is though how much plastic sheeting I should buy. Did he just do the walls and then put regular sheeting on the floor? Ty so much!!

    • Hi Carmen, The plastic sheeting that he used was long enough that it draped from the top of the wall and all the way over the floor. So when he was finished he just rolled it all up and threw it away. But you can put regular sheeting on the floor. Either would work. Good luck girl!

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