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What is the best solution for removing popcorn from the ceiling if I want to get it to look smooth afterwards?

Edit: thanks for your answers! Would you estimate that replacing the drywall on the ceiling would be less work/mess and result in a better finish?

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This kind of makes me wonder - what do we do that they'll look back on in 20 years and think, "This is so hideous, why on earth did anyone want their house to look like this??" –  Wayne Werner Jul 23 '10 at 21:15
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I don't think anyone actually likes popcorn ceilings. It's just cheaper for the builders. –  Doresoom Jul 23 '10 at 21:20
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A cautionary note: older popcorn can contain asbestos. Depending on how old your house is, you might want to have some tested. –  Niall C. Jul 23 '10 at 21:49
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Popcorn ceilings were invented by people who hate balloons, and love watching children cry when they slip from their hands and burst. –  Tester101 Jul 23 '10 at 22:53
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The popcorn ceiling crapola has 2 positive attributes .. it reduces echoes and cuts down on noise, and it doesn't reflect or create glare. –  tomjedrz Aug 12 '10 at 14:59
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4 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

My wife and I just finished doing this last month. Here's the process we took:

Before you start, check to make sure you don't have asbestos in the popcorn. If your house is newer construction, you don't have to worry about this, but if it's older, you may want to scrape a bit off the ceiling and send it to a lab for testing. If it comes back positive, I would have professionals handle it. Otherwise:

  1. Cover everything you don't want to get gross and disgusting.
  2. Turn off breaker for the lights and remove fixtures.
  3. Use a spray bottle or a garden sprayer to wet 5' by 5' sections of ceiling with water. Be careful not to oversaturate it and damage the drywall.
  4. Scrape off popcorn with a 6" or 12" taping knife, whichever you find easier to handle.
  5. Sand any spots you missed that are still rough. (For the most part, everything comes off smooth.)
  6. Apply mud liberally to any gouges you made. Most spots I had to go over were at the seams of the drywall.
  7. Sand again.
  8. Repeat 6 and 7 if you're OCD like me. If you want to get everything super smooth, shine a flashlight or work light parallel with the ceiling to find raised/gouged areas.
  9. Wipe down the ceiling to get rid of any sanding dust.
  10. Prime
  11. Paint with 2 coats of ceiling paint.
  12. Throw away drop cloths
  13. Lie on the floor and stare at your new smooth ceilings :)

One bit of advice: You're going to make A LOT of dust, and it will get all over everything in your house that isn't covered. We did the whole process before we moved in, so we only had to wipe down the walls and floors.

After you're all done, you'll probably want to change your air filter as well.

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This just might work, but probably not if it's ever been primed/painted. –  Eric Petroelje Jul 23 '10 at 21:09
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Oh, it worked. I'm just not sure I'd do it again if I had the choice. It was more work than I thought it would be. Our ceiling hadn't been painted over though, it was just popcorn. –  Doresoom Jul 23 '10 at 21:16
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To keep the dust in the rest of the house down, I've taped plastic sheeting over the entry way(s) to the room I'm working on, one on either side of the wall to create a kind of airlock. It makes the difference between being the house being livable or not. –  Niall C. Jul 23 '10 at 21:38
    
I have never seen anyone spray the popcorn with water before, but it may help reduce the dust. I doubt you will ever see a professional do that, since it is one more ( time consuming ) step, that they don't have to do. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 24 '10 at 1:18
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@Brad we used water to wet down popcorn we had to remove for some ceiling drywall repair - it pretty much just peels off. I used a scraper and held a bucket underneath to catch the popcorn. Your arms will be tired, though. –  Jared Harley Aug 12 '10 at 3:44
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I had a co-worker who removed his popcorn ceilings by sanding them down (I'm not sure if it was a drywall sander or just a big sander) and then repainting them. He didn't get them entirely smooth, so it looks like they were retextured.

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We just put some new drywall directly over (under?) the existing ceiling. It was a lot easier and cleaner than trying to take it off. This was in a bathroom, though, so the area wasn't too big.

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You definitely don't want to do this if your ceiling is drooping. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 24 '10 at 1:13
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Unfortunately, you're going to have a really hard time removing it. The usual solution is to make a couple passes over it with a drywall knife to scrape off the highest spots, then skim coat the whole ceiling to make it flat again.

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Totally agree. Getting rid of popcorn / (Artex, UK) is one of those jobs that you /can/ do yourself but it's so much easier to get a tradesman in to skim. And skimming ceilings looks easy, but isn't. –  Jeremy McGee Jul 24 '10 at 6:22
    
I had 4 people come to give me an estimate for re-doing my ceilings. Not one of them called back. –  chris Sep 8 '10 at 23:18
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