How to Deal with Your Home's Ceiling Popcorn

Popcorn ceilings are textured, acoustic ceilings that are sprayed on and that resemble popcorn or cottage cheese when they dry. Homebuilders put in popcorn ceilings because theyr’e fast and inexpensive to create.

The additive that gives the sprayed paint its texture is fragile; it melts when it gets wet, and it can wipe off onto the roller. Even sweeping a popcorn ceiling can loosen the additive.

If you paint a popcorn ceiling, be sure to use the fewest paint strokes possible and paint in only one direction to minimize the amount of stuff raining down on your head. Alternately, you can spray on the paint.

If you’re thinking about removing ceiling popcorn, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Painting over popcorn makes the water-soluble stuff hard to remove later on. So, if you’re going to remove the popcorn, do it before you paint your room.

  • Knowing how to remove popcorn ceilings takes time and attention to detail. You have to scrape, sand, apply Skim Coat (a smooth-finish base coat), and then apply the finish paint. The cost itself can be prohibitive.

  • If an acoustic spray was used in a home built before 1980, the popcorn ceilings contain asbestos. Before you begin, check to see whether the ceiling contains asbestos. If it does, cover it with a new coat of acoustic spray instead of removing it, which potentially can make the asbestos airborne.

Removing asbestos, a hazardous material when tiny particles become airborne and are inhaled, is a costly procedure that local governments tightly control. Licensed technicians wearing “space suits and masks” have to remove the asbestos and it can only be dumped at approved disposal sites. Generally, you can surround the asbestos without disturbing it and without it becoming a health hazard. But to be safe, wear your breathing mask, goggles, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants, and cover your hair.

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