Popcorn texture on the ceiling makes a definite style statement, and it tends to make a room feel smaller both visually and acoustically, because it absorbs sound. All these attributes were probably more attractive 40 years ago than they are today, and many opt to remove the popcorn texture from the ceiling in favor of a smooth or knockdown texture. Removing popcorn texture is messy work, and it's essential to test for asbestos before you start.

Abstract texture of a cement surface
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One problem with popcorn texture is that it collects dirt.

Play It Safe

The heyday of popcorn textures occurred in an era when the dangers of asbestos hadn't yet been discovered, and many textures on older ceilings contain it as a binder. In some places, asbestos was added to texturing materials as recently as 1980. Before potentially exposing yourself to this dangerous substance, scrape a very small amount of the texture into a plastic bag and submit the material to a testing agency. The Environmental Protection Agency has local testing services nationwide, which you can find by consulting its website. You can also obtain a home testing kit from hardware and building supply outlets.

Preparing for the Job

Once you've determined that it's safe to proceed, remove all the furniture from the room and lay plastic dropcloths on the floor, taping the edges to the baseboards to keep all the dust and powder confined to the plastic. Cover this sheet of plastic with a second one that stretches from wall to wall. As you scrape the ceiling, the falling material can be as sticky as paint, so tape off all the woodwork and electrical plates. Get a step ladder that's tall enough for you to work comfortably from the second-highest rung, and make sure you have goggles and a respirator. You'll also need: a drywall blade a paint scraper a spray gun or garden sprayer a pole sander *120-grit sandpaper.

Wet the Texture

Texture comes off more easily if you wet it down first. This is easy to do with a handheld airless sprayer -- simply fill the cup with plain water, and stand under the ceiling and spray. You can also use a garden sprayer. If the texture is painted, it won't absorb water, so before spraying, sand lightly with a pole sander and 120-grit sandpaper to remove the paint from the outermost surfaces of the texture before spraying. If that doesn't work, you may have to strip the paint with chemicals. If you have to strip paint, you may want to consider installing new drywall over the texture as an alternative to removing it.

Scrape, Sand, Retexture and Repaint

After letting the texture soak up water for 10 to 15 minutes, scrape it off with a drywall blade or metal paint scraper, keeping the handle of the blade at a low angle to avoid digging into the ceiling drywall underneath. Let the texture fall onto the top sheet of plastic, and when the scraping is finished, roll up the top sheet and throw it and all the scrapings away. Let the ceiling dry, and then make any needed repairs to the drywall. Sand the ceiling smooth with 120-grit sandpaper and apply a coat of PVA primer. The ceiling is now ready to be retextured and/or repainted.