By far, my most hated projects have been scraping popcorn ceilings. It is messy, tedious and leaves you a wet, sticky mess. However, getting that shit off the ceiling is worth the tedious effort. Once the popcorn has been removed the rooms feel higher, cleaner, and brighter.
I have tried every gadget, and product I could get my hands on to make the process easier. The best and easiest method for my painted over popcorn ceilings was just to spray the ceiling with a water solution and use a 6″ drywall knife to scrape.
I have been through several pump-style garden sprayers through my projects. The last one I picked up was great, as it came with a strap you could wear on your shoulder. It really helped to take the pressure off my hands. My hands were always incredibly sore by the time a room was finished, and even though this was the largest area I had done at one time, my hands were no where near as sore and stiff after.
The first step is to make a murder room. This is a tedious step, but having done it both ways, I would never do the ceiling without it again. I picked up a few boxes of the large headed pushpins. I got thin .5ml plastic disposable dropcloths. This is NOT something you would want to ever use again, so don’t waste money on heavier weighted cloths.
I used the pushpins to attach the sheets of plastic about 1″ from the ceiling. I pulled the sheets tight enough that there were no gaping voids on the wall. I overlapped each sheet by about 8″ to insure good coverage. The sheets were 9’×12′. I found it worked better to pin them with the shorter side running top to bottom, then after all the walls were covered I used heavier weight 2ml disposable plastic drop cloths to cover the floor and shove the edges under the overhang from the wall plastic. For doorways I overlapped the plastic by 24″ to give myself a way out of the room without compromising the murder room.
Any light fixtures were wrapped with a large trash bag and then sealed with painter’s tape. On fans, I removed the blades first to give access to larger sections of the ceiling. I also found that paper grocery bags fit perfectly into the air registers. I didn’t want a lot of stuff getting into the vents, so I opened up the bags and just shoved them into the register, taking a moment to straighten them out.
If you can’t remove large items from the room, Cover them with 2ml or higher plastic sheeting. I can’t stress enough how important it is to protect your home and goods from this goop. It is well worth a $20 or so investment to make a murder room before removing popcorn ceilings.
I had a very large area to work with and broke it into 3 days of work. I sectioned off each area at a time and pinned the plastic into the ceiling a couple of feet further than I intended to go each day. Pinning into the ceiling in the hallway leading to the living room, for example, was necessary to keep the mess contained despite having no wall to pin into. The kitchen, dining, and hall went very quickly, at around an hour each. The living room took about 4 hours. Add extra time for clearing out, setting up the murder rooms, and cleanup.
I tackled the kitchen first, as it was easiest to get a handle on with one of the soffits removed. The easiest way I have found is to fill a pump-style garden sprayer with one cup of white vinegar, and fill to the line with warm water. Once it is full, I put a few squirts of dishsoap into it. Screw the top in place and pump it until you can’t easily pump anymore. Mine have always had a pressure release valve on the side that I use to release a very small amount of pressure before I start spraying. It seems to give a better stream of water when the pressure is regulated. It takes a little practice to find the correct pressure, but it is easy to do.
Be aware that my ceilings had been painted, you would follow the same steps, but probably not need near the amount of water if your ceilings have never been painted. Take your 6″ drywall knife and lightly scrape a small section of the ceiling, holding the knife at an angle that is almost flat with the ceiling. Push gently away from yourself in a straight motion with medium pressure. If the knife just bounces and you get just a tiny amount of texture off the ceiling, it has been painted. If large chunks of the “popcorn” fall off, no paint was applied and your job just got a whole lot easier. Know that I totally hate you at this point if your ceilings haven’t been painted.
**** Be aware that asbestos was widely used for many decades, do your research and plan accordingly before renovating an older home. Lead paint is also a possibility in older homes.
****Be very careful when using the drywall knife not to use too much pressure or concentrate it on the edges, as the pointed edges will gouge the drywall. You will get some gouges regardless, but keeping it to a minimum makes it easier to refinish the ceiling.
I work in sections of about 5 feet squared. I wave the wand back and forth until the entire area is saturated and *almost* to the point of dripping. Wait 5 minutes, repeat the process.
At this point you should be ready to test your area. The new sprayer that I have has a strap that hangs comfortably from the shoulder making it much easier to just keep the sprayer on me, rather than climbing down constantly. It was less than $15. Using the same medium pressured, angled stokes away from yourself. Work in about 2 foot sections if the popcorn comes away in ‘sheets’ leaving smooth drywall underneath, you are good to go. After doing the first test strip of each area, I move to the next 5 foot section and give it its first spray to soak while I am working on the previous one. You will have to keep spraying as you work. You want the area you are stripping to always be damp as you scrape, as this cuts down on the amount of dust in the air.
I have done all the rooms of my house, some took a couple of hours, some took 2 days to complete. Everything hinges on the amount of paint, or lack thereof covering the popcorn. I always budget an entire day for an average sized room.
The air quality in the murder room is terrible. It is hot and humid and it is hard to breath for all the lung murdering shit that is floating around. I highly recommend an ultra fine mask. I was able to breath comfortably with this type of mask, where even the higher quality surgical style dust masks just didn’t cut it and always left my throat and lungs feeling a little abused.
The first thing I always did when the ceiling was finished, was to take my ladder and tools outside and hose them down thoroughly. You NEVER want to let the removed popcorn dry on your tools. It takes a lot of scrubbing to get it off. I have disposable plastic booties that I put over my shoes when I have to walk through the house to keep the clumps off the floor.
Once the room I was working in was completed, I pulled all the bags down and tossed them in the center of the floor sheeting. I removed all the pins and carefully pulled the plastic sheeting down. As the sheeting came down, I laid it on the thicker plastic sheet on the floor. When everything was down, I rolled the bottom sheeting into a tight ball and put it in a trash bag. Expect the very upper part of the walls to need a scrubbing. I made the mistake of waiting until the next day to do this and it took a lot more effort to do it than it should have. I have always done the ceiling first, then painted the walls after the ceiling has been re-textured and painted. If you were just stripping the ceiling and not painting the walls, you would need to very carefully tape up the top of the sheeting on the walls all the way to the ceiling line, to protect your wall. This would be far from ideal, and would be a lot of extra work.
Once everything has been removed from the house, off comes the hoodie and head wrap. I usually drape my clothes over my fence and either hose them down after a good shake or just leave them there if rain is expected within the day. I don’t want to ruin my lovely washer and dryer with gobs of ceiling.
I always have done the ceilings when it is cold outside. I prefer to work when it is about 50 outside and I can open at least some windows in the house. It gets very warm enclosed in a room with plastic and exertion.
Be aware that you will get gouges in your ceiling. Try to keep it to a minimum but don’t freak out when it happens. Be sure to patch these areas before painting your ceiling, they will show. Trim any excess paper from around the gouge and use your drywall knife to smooth joint compound over the gouge. If the area is ridged after it dries, hit it with a light sanding. If your plan to have a smooth ceiling, you are ready for paint at this point.
Be aware that the ceilings won’t be perfect. The whole reason for popcorn ceilings in the first place was to get away with shoddy drywall work. The seams will probably be wavy and there may be lots of areas that needs floating. We love texture on walls and ceilings, but not the popcorn. It gives the area a bit of interest and helps to hide some flaws. Shining a light at an angle against the ceiling will show you a lot of flaws. I will detail how we used a hopper to texture the ceiling after removing the popcorn, in a later post.
I am sure that I don’t need to point this out, but I always confine the pets to their room or outside when I am doing projects of this nature. I would imagine the same precautions should be taken with children.