Why You May Want to Learn to Love Your Popcorn Ceilings (And How to Lessen Their Visual Effect)

created at: 03/26/2012

Recently, I had the opportunity to bend the ears of two professional drywall installers. Our conversation included a discussion about the pitfalls of removing popcorn ceilings, either by a DIYer or a pro. For the sake of this post, I'm not going to go into the whole asbestos discussion. Nope, for this post we're going to talk about paint, because if your popcorn ceilings are painted--according to the pros--you will not be able to remove them. Basically, if it's still the original plaster, it'll come off; if it's been painted, it's pretty much a done deal. 

So how do you handle a painted popcorn ceiling? According to these two guys the thing to do would be to scrape/sand it down a bit and then re-texture it to something more pleasing, because getting it totally smooth would be next to impossible--even for them. They also told stories of clients actually replacing the painted, pop-corned drywall to get the smooth look they desired. Both options made me think people who dislike the lumpy texture might want to learn how to love--or at least not hate--their popcorn ceilings.

So how do you learn to not hate a popcorn ceiling? First is to address your lighting. Flush ceiling lights cast light straight out and over that popcorn and create tremendous shadows making the lumps look even more lumpy. A better option is to switch to more directional alternatives. Namely, fixtures that point down instead of out. 

(Both of the next two images came from blogs owned by people who hate their popcorn.)


Popcorn Ceilings

Also bad:

arts and crafts light


January 121

This next one happens to be my hallway, but as you can see, the popcorn is considerably less in-your-face with my directional light fixture versus the flush mounts in the previous up-close pics.

created at: 03/27/2012

The metal shades (compared to the 'better' picture above) also help keep the light from bouncing off the ceiling.

created at: 03/26/2012

If you can't or don't want to change out your light fixtures, consider using bulbs that cast softer light or, when appropriate, try using silver bottomed bulbs, which work particularly well for keeping light from casting up/out. Experiment with them in things such as wall sconces and even table lamps, if you really want to tone down the up light effect. 

Another thing that will tone down a painted popcorn ceiling is actually more paint. Nothing draws the eye up more than dirt and stains on a ceiling. A cobweb brush and fresh coat of paint will take there of those. (Of course, you'll want to address the cause of the original stain too.)

We've talked about drawing the eye up; now let's talk about drawing the eye down and away from the popcorn. Adding color or other eye catching elements to your decor will do just that. The owners of this next room actually chose to keep their glitter popcorn ceiling when remodeling their home.

created at: 03/26/2012

There is, of course, an absolutely 100% effective way to learn to not hate your popcorn ceilings. Stop looking at them! Seriously though, can you picture the ceilings in all your friends and family member's homes? I know my in-laws have smooth ceilings. One of my sisters has popcorn, but I only know that because we talked about them on the phone the other day and she mentioned it. The rest, I have no idea. The point is, most people probably won't notice what your ceilings look like unless they're dirty or stained. More important are those things that should command attention like your furniture and accessories. 



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David on May 23, 2015:

Painted popcorn comes off pretty easy.  You simply take something that scrapes (I used a floor scraper) and scrape the bumps off.  You can then sand it and texture over it.  You could probably even paint the remaining leftovers from the popcorn after a brief sanding.  It looks like a knockdown orange peel kind of to me though I have never done it. 

After sanding a bit, you can spray some water on it and the rest should scrape off easier.  The cleanup is the big deal with popcorn.

Julie on Feb 06, 2015:

My recent visit to my esthetician had me naturally gazing at the ceiling which happened to be popcorn...what I noticed was that it was perfectly white and looked clean. This was pleasing to the eye and distracted from the negative popcorn image. Now I want to repaint my ceiling at home bc its just plain dirty looking. Think that is the issue here..I also have a flat one but dirty is dirty and it doesn't look better. I know I will love it alot more:)

Bill Worthy on Oct 22, 2014:

I have painted my popcorn ceeling and it looks good only too a couple of days with moving furniture all around. Now the ?, I have to spots about 8X12 that fell off and just left the bare drywall. Cal I just remove the spots and repaint? plaster?

Elialia on Oct 16, 2014:

I liked them at first. But the one problem I have with the popcorn ceiling is all the cobwebs that can build up due to those lil projections on the ceiling. And it is NOT easy to remove the cobwebs.

Rich on Sep 06, 2014:

The only safe way for popcorn ceiling removal is to have samples taken from EACH room and send them for lab testing for absestos content.

Advice posted here saying "a little dust won;t hurt you" or "homes built before/after such and such" should be thoroughly ignored if you value you and your family's health.

Anonymous on Jun 09, 2014:

Kathlee, that is not correct.  Although asbestos was banned in 1978 the government allowed the balance of the asbestos materials to be used well beyond that date.  So a popcorn ceiling put up even from the early to mid 1980's could have asbestos.  DO NOT remove your popcorn ceiling without having it tested first or you could have much more to worry about for yourself and your family than an ugly ceiling. 

Ranchhand on May 29, 2014:

Well, I'm going to paint my popcorn the same light tan that my walls are painted.  It's my house, don't really care if no body else likes it.  I personally fee it's that darn glaring white ceiling that people don't like, and blame the popcorn texture instead.  Think about it....if you have smooth ceilings, do you ever paint them white....ah NO.

anon on Apr 28, 2014:

I live on the 1st floor of a condo. A couple of years back I had scraped the ceilings. The original contractors did a very poor job of installing sheet rock (for the ceiling) and just assumed to cover it up with joint tape, sheet rock mud, and eventually the popcorn. After scraping I had painted the ceiling. I regret it. It looks horrible because I couldn't get it to be perfectly flat.

After owning for 3 years, I am now going to spray popcorn again to cover the blemishes. It's a learning experience, but time wasted.

Ann W. on Apr 02, 2014:

Mixed messages.  Pros say it won't work (removing painted popcorn ceiling); others say it works.  So gave it a try on a 3' X 3' patch.  Sprayed warm water on area, waited 15 minutes, and used a plastic scraper.  Voila!!  It worked.  Popcorn came off just fine onto a sheet I put over the carpet.  So now we will contact a handyman to finish the job I started.  Happy!  These ceilings have been bugging me for the 33 years I've lived here.  Now with the popcorn gone and new wood floors, I'll feel like I'm in a new home.

Bev on Mar 17, 2014:

actually, you can remove the paint just by wetting it.  Then you can remove the popcorn ceiling just as though  it had never been painted.  Mine had been painted with latex paint, and I just sprayed it down, waited a few minutes, and then started pulling the paint off in large pieces.  It is an extra step, but it is worth it to be able to remove the popcorn!!  Try it!!

Kate on Jan 12, 2014:

To Mike, what abut a painted stipple ceiling? Would that be as easy to remove as a sprayed on popcorn ceiling? I would be happy just to remove the points that are hanging down and smoth it somewhat. Is there any easy way to do that without making a huge mess?

Anonymous on Jan 12, 2014:

Fortunately mine are not as heavily textured as some I've seen.  I'm wondering if you can just (lightly) sand them without removing them?

Anonymous on Nov 26, 2013:

I too grew up with popcorn ceilings and ALWAYS hated them, even as a child. No one had to tell me they are ugly and messy. What I don't understand, is why did anyone EVER think they were a good idea?

Becky on Nov 19, 2013:

To the question of whether painting the ceilings a color other than white will draw more attention to the popcorn, I think the answer is yes and no. Yes because any color besides white for a ceiling is instantly noticeable and will draw the eye upwards to examine the novelty. However, once the novelty has worn off, the popcorn will be less noticeable because the shadows created by the texture, will be less stark on a color as compared to a white ceiling (shadows are gray/black, therefore will stand out more against white than say, blue). If you are going to paint and want to minimize the popcorn, whatever color you choose, use flat paint. Any gloss will highlight texture.

My advise is to paint whatever you will like to look at and forget the popcorn. The only reason to hate popcorn ceilings is because other people tell you to. There is nothing wrong with them. I do not have them in my current house, but I grew up with them. When I was searching for a house to buy, I knew that other people did not like popcorn ceilings, but I did not care one bit whether houses I looked at had them or not. You have to be honest with yourself and ask if you hated them before you found out everyone else hated them. Don't be a sheep. Make up your own mind.

Anonymous on May 28, 2013:

I have popcorn ceilings in my house which was built in 2003.  I actually like the textured look and do not find them hard to clean with a long handled duster.  My ceilings are high and I truly believe it give the rooms a nice touch.  There are so many other features in a home to notice that I do not understand what all the fuss is about with popcorn ceilings.  They should be called textured ceilings!

michael on Feb 20, 2013:

Your "experts" are wrong on 2 counts:

1) It's actually easier to remove a painted popcorn ceiling than an unpainted one. The paint holds it together and it comes down in big strips instead of in a very messy powder (I've done this in 2 houses so far). 

2) If the popcorn is actually "plaster" as you say, it may very well be impossible to remove. Most popcorn is just sprayed joint compound, which comes off with ease. I have 1 room, though, of popcorn plaster ceiling (from 1960s) in which the entire ceiling is built of sprayed-in plaster. In this case, since the popcorn is just a side effect of spraying in the plaster ceiling, there's nothing to scrape off. You can either remove the entire ceiling and start over, or learn to love the popcorn. (Trying to smooth it would likely add more weight than the ceiling could handle.)

My advice: get new experts.

Mike on Feb 06, 2013:

I'm not sure who the pro's were you spoke with, but I removed a painted popcorn ceiling with ease.  I know it was painted because I painted it when I first moved in to the home.  I had the ceiling tested for asbestos and it was negative.  Used a simple garden sprayer, worked in about 3'x3' area at one time, sprayed the ceiling and scraped.  Fell right to the floor.  Took me less than 3 hours to clean the ceiling off in a room 10'x13'.  Did some light sanding after everything was dry.  The entire ceiling was done including painting in a weekend. 

MikeL on Feb 01, 2013:

Here's an idea: put up a ceiling medalion where those "bad lights" are. Attention is drawn to the medalion & away from the ceiling. I went the cheap route & put up a panel. Thin 2'x2' plywood board painted (gloss) white.

Frankie on Jan 09, 2013:

Please advise on good ceiling color for popcorn. Also. Is one dining fixture better than another to tone down look

Frankie on Jan 09, 2013:

Trying to see if there is another color option rather than white to tone it down. Do not aantxa color to draw eye up. Changing hall fixtures. What about dining room what is good to use

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