Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The truth about removing a popcorn ceiling...

Everyone has something that makes their skin crawl.  Maybe yours is rats...or maybe cottage cheese...or even politics.  Mine is popcorn ceilings...they are the bane of my existence.  Last year, we had a leak in our master bathroom which led us to cutting a hole in the ceiling downstairs ...which in turn led us to have the popcorn ceilings scraped away and replaced with lovely, smooth, beautiful, snow white ceilings (you can see it here).  At that time I told myself I would never undertake removing popcorn ceilings myself.

A lot can happen in a year. 

After I finished the design for Isabella's "big girl" room, I was ready to start painting when I realized that no matter what I did in that room, I would not be happy with the end result, if the popcorn was still there.  I called the same company who scraped the ceilings downstairs, to see how much it would be to scrape that one room...11 sq ft of flat space...and was told it was going to be $350 dollars.  I couldn't do it.  Not for one room. So, I resigned myself to the fact I was gonna have to suck it up and deal with it.

So, once again, I pulled out the paint, laid down the plastic drop-cloths, and was about to begin, when I acknowledged what I knew all along.  I was going to have to do it myself.  Crap.

I headed to the hardware store at 7:30 pm and was scraping by 9:00pm.  I do not mean this to be a DIY or a "this is how you do it post".  I am not going to tell you how simple this procedure is, or how you can do it in a day.  I am going to to tell you what I experienced.

This is what I started with:

I bought 3 packs of 3 drop-colths, a spray bottle, a 10" scraping blade, a large plastic bin and a roll of painter's tape.

 Usually, people will drape every surface with plastic.  I knew I was going to paint the walls, so I concentrated on making sure the carpet, the doors and windows were sealed with plastic, and I left the walls bare.

I started by spraying the popcorn with warm water and then began to scrape.  The popcorn literally peels off and falls heavily to the ground.  It is a very messy job, but surprisingly, it went very quickly.  You have to wear a mask during this part.  Not only is the popcorn being scraped, but some of the joint compound underneath is being scraped away as well, so there is a massive amount of dust falling down on you.

I could not take pictures while I was doing it, but the scraping looks like this-


The floor looked like this after all the popcorn had been scraped.

 ...and the ceiling looked like this

There were no surprises during this part of the process.  I was actually very encouraged, and maybe a little over-confident at this point.  The next thing I did was the clean-up.  This part I know I did right, even if I made several other mistakes along the way.

I placed the plastic bin in the center of the room, and rolled the plastic towards the bin, until it was a big ball full of popcorn.  I put the plastic bundle in the bin, which made the possibility of spilling popcorn throughout the house impossible.

You will have a few places where the plastic does not catch all the popcorn, but those spots are easily vacuumed up.  Over all, I was very pleased with how clean the room was. 

The next day, I laid down more plastic and taped it off around the room.  I bought another 10" mudding blade and joint compound.

While scraping, you may loosen the tape around the room, which is what happened with me.  You may also scrape down to the drywall screws which also happened with me.  I went around the room and re-mudded all the spots that showed imperfections or needed a little bit of smoothing out.  This process was tedious, because in several spots, the mud will be thicker and you will have to wait for it to fully dry and then sand it, and then realize you will need to apply more compound and then sand again. 

Expect to look like the guy from "Powder"- you remember that movie right?  Let me remind you...just in case.  


I could not take pictures during any of this, because of the amount of dust.  Every part of me was bright white.

I had been told to use my hand to feel whether I was done sanding instead of looking.  I did this, and what I learned was that my hand thought the ceiling was smooth when it actually wasn't.  When you are done sanding, you will need to prime the ceiling.  But once you do this, you can not go back and add more mud, or smooth out any imperfections, so be happy with it before you go to the next step.  I mudded and sanded three times, and I don't know if I really thought I was done, or if I was just tired of sanding. This was my first mistake.

Lesson learned: Don't rush.  Realize it will take longer than you think it will, and your arm will be exhausted by all the sanding, but you can do it.  The pain will go away. 

Next time, I will apply a skim coat to the ceiling before I prime.  I totally forgot that this is what the professionals did downstairs.  Jason kindly reminded me of this...after I had primed the ceiling.

Before I primed, I wiped down the walls and the ceiling with a lightly dampened cloth.  I used an oil-based primer, so that all the dust and joint compound would be sealed before painting with the flat ceiling paint. 

Here's another mistake I made.  I think the oil-based primer did a great job, but it smelled soooooo bad.

Lesson learned:  I had opened the window, and closed the door to the room, before I started painting.  This was not enough to keep the whole house from stinking.  Not until I put two fans in front of the open window, blowing outside, did the smell begin to dissipate.  I am still debating whether the benefits of the oil primer were worth it. 

This is what the ceiling looked like after the primer and 3 coats of flat ceiling paint. 

I have my smooth white ceiling now, but it is not perfect by any means.  In the daylight, the ceiling looks amazing, but at night, when you flip the switch on, all of the imperfections are highlighted.  

Here are a couple examples-

Lines around the room are not as sharp as I would have liked

The tape is visible in a couple of places.

I am usually bothered by "not perfect", but in this instance I am at peace with it.  I do have a plan to correct my mistakes next time.  And I do know there will be a next time- we still have five more rooms upstairs that we will eventually have to de-popcorn.  It will be a while before I tackle this particular project again, but I do think it was worth it.

What would have cost me $350, cost me a little over $100 including all of the paint and supplies. 

Another lesson I learned through this whole experience: all it takes for my mind to be made up about tackling a project is someone telling me how messy and difficult it is.  I don't know why, but I consider it another challenge in this ongoing adventure of home ownership.

The take-way: You can do this. It will be messy, tiring, and not perfect, but there is always something to be said about doing it yourself.  I love every project we have tackled in this home...whether it be laying down hardwoods, knocking down a wall, or rebuilding the front porch columns...with each new project, I gain more confidence.  And with all the imperfections come wonderful stories : )

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  1. Angie, Susan Shenk here....Rebecca's mom...your neighbor on Old Bridge. Courtney told me about your blog. I think she knew I would love it, and she was right. I' m hooked. I really, really detest popcorn ceilings, which we have too, although people not returning shopping carts bugs me equally. You did a bang up, great job tackling this. We had a water leak in our master bath too that required a hole in the ceiling and we, much less courageously, had it re-popcorned. We are now getting ready to repair a ceiling hole in the kitchen from another leak. I am getting "de-popcorning" quotes this time. Way to go!

    1. Hi Susan!

      I can pass on the info of the company we used. We were crazy pleased with the job they did. I would totally go with the professionals if you have the entire downstairs to do. Good luck with it : )

    2. And thank you for reading the blog : )

  2. I can't work out if you're totally insane or not, either way you are my hero for taking on that popcorn and winning :D

    1. Thank you so much...the sanity thing is still open for changes from day to day : )

  3. Blog Post is very helpful to do popcorn ceilings removal, thanks to share this valuable information.

  4. Amazing post, really very helpful about popcorn ceiling removal