No more popcorn!

By | November 28, 2012

My close friends and family know I really don’t like popcorn.

Occasionally, I’ll eat the intensely flavored stuff you see around the holidays because it’s salty or sweet and I can manage to distract myself from the texture, etc. with the yumminess of whatever topping has been added to it.

Overall, though, popcorn just isn’t my thing. (I even get a little nauseous in movie theaters because the smell reminds me of sweaty socks for some reason…I can’t explain it, that’s just how my nose works, people)

So when we walked into our house for the first time and fell in love pretty much instantly, I wasn’t thrilled when I looked up at the ceiling to see this:

Yup. Popcorn on the ceiling is just as bad as popcorn on my plate. Or in my bowl, however you people eat it these days.

There was even popcorn on the little lip above our kitchen cabinets! Really? WHY?

So, we decided, perhaps stupidly, that we could take it down ourselves. Maybe we were such DIY newbies that we didn’t know any other way, but we didn’t have it in the remodel budget to pay for someone to do it for us and we typically like taking things into our own hands anyway. That’s the whole point of DIY, right?

Project recap? It’s possible. It’s worth it. It’s a pain in the neck and a HUGE mess.

Since we had NO IDEA how this would work–internet searches led to mixed results and a whole bunch of options for how to do this. I’m sharing our story because I think it was a big success and I’d recommend you try it this way.

Here’s what we did:

1. Give yourself a big pep talk. Perhaps bribe your honey with whatever treats he likes. I got Hubs a Mountain Dew and some Oatmeal Creme Pies. This worked, but only temporarily. I had to restock said items fairly often.

2. Clear out your valuables and such. We did this before we moved in and before we had the carpets professionally cleaned. I would HIGHLY recommend that! If that’s not possible and you already have furniture, move everything to the middle and cover it with plastic and tarps to protect it from the water and the messy drippings from the ceiling.

3. Prep the space. You’ll be working with water and you’ll want to protect your walls and carpets and such. We used plastic drop clothes taped to the walls near the ceiling and a giant tarp on the floor.

(This photo was taken after the clean-up started, notice, there is no popcorn and no tarp…)

If you are doing this room by room, I’d tackle a room at a time. Even though the prep work takes a long time, you’ll go crazy if you do it all at once and it’s a nice break for your arms and shoulders in between scraping.

4. Get started. It’s time.

We used a small sprayer (and a couple hand sprayers) to wet the ceiling. You don’t need vinegar or anything, just warm water (cold will also work okay I’d guess). Don’t spray too much at one time because it will just soak in and dry up, making you have to spray again. It’s going to be a little trial and error for how much water to use. I’d start with a conservative amount and go from there, but it does need to be almost drippy.

It will scrape off easily if you get the right amount of water. Too little and you’ll have to really use your arm to scrape hard. Too much and the dry wall will get soaked and could get damaged.

Here’s a video on this step:

(If you listen closely, you’ll hear a Grease soundtrack song playing in the background. The iTunes was on shuffle and this was an unfortunately timed video, at least in Hubs’ case, I guess I can admit I sometimes listen to show tunes when the mood strikes me.)

We used hand scrapers (putty knives) and ladders, but you could use something on an extension rod if you have it.

Once you get an an area cleared, just work out from there, spraying and scraping as you go.

Here’s a video of Hubs doing the ceiling in the living room, because that helps show how easy it will fall off if the water is right. Again, please don’t judge Hubs for listening to “You’re The One That I Want.” It was from my iTunes, I swear!

Keep in mind that the specifics of your popcorn ceiling will affect this. Some is simply more “stuck on” than others. And if it has been painted, it will be MUCH harder to scrape off. We had that in a few areas, and we were so thankful the entire house wasn’t that way!

When you are done scraping, it should look like this. Don’t be scared of the big white patches. That’s just drywall mud. And the little white dots are just residue from the popcorn. It’ll get removed later.

5. Clean up. Clean up each room as you go! So important! If you don’t, you’ll just track it all over the house and make more mess to clean up later.

This doesn’t mean you have to TOTALLY clean up, just make sure you are mindful of the mess. For instance, we didn’t dump our tarp each time because some of the rooms/areas were smaller and our tarp could hold more mess than that. We did roll up the drop cloths and wipe down any wet spots on the walls to avoid any damage.

We also used plastic bags on our feet to avoid caking it into the carpet and tracking it everywhere. (Working barefoot was a big help, too. Shoes would have just been filthy and harder to clean!)

6. Disposal. We have a huge, private backyard. So we just dumped our tarp out there into a big pile. (If you have nosy neighbors, you might want to consider a different option.) Then when we were finished, we raked and shoveled all that up into trash bags for proper disposal.

7. Patching the drywall. The water eats away a little of the drywall mud. In order to end up with a smooth look on your ceiling, you may need to fix this. It’s not hard, but it can be difficult to tell where this is needed and how much to use. Rest assured that the drywall is securely screwed in though, so it’s purely cosmetic. Running your hand over the surface to check for smoothness is a good way to start.

Still, I’d suggest you have a professional (or a dad with experience, in our case) show you how. Luckily, both of us already knew how to do this, thanks to DIY fathers.

8. Sanding. This is the worst step, so brace yourself. In order to paint the ceilings again, you’ll have to get rid of all the residue that’s left after the scraping. There will also be bumpy drywall mud where you patched it. You could use sandpaper and do it by hand, but I don’t recommend it.

We used a shop vac attachment specifically for sanding drywall. It sucks up the dust and sands it down gently all at the same time. It does KILL your arms and shoulders to do this for hours above your head though, because of the pressure it creates by sucking up to the ceiling, so be warned that it’s NOT FUN. I’m super lucky Hubs did most of this or else we’d probably still be working on it, and we did this project over the 4th of July! It will all be worth it though, I promise. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it later.

Here’s what it will end up looking like once all these steps are complete.

9. Painting. This also kills your arms and shoulders, but alas, it must be done. We had help for this step in a couple rooms. Hubs’ brother happens to have some painting experience and he helped us out so I didn’t have to do anything except the cutting in with the brush while the boys did the rolling.

Now, since we were painting all the walls, we were a little messy with the cutting in. (Why waste time being neat if it simply isn’t going to show?)

But look how smooth those ceilings are! Success!

You’re done! Hooray! (Almost.)

painted ceiling

10. Touch-ups and clean-ups. Wipe down walls, surfaces, vacuum everything five times, check inside cabinet doors and window ledges. Even if you tarped those off, they’ll be dusty, trust me.

Then, you’re really done. Sit down with a cold drink and relax while staring up happily at your ceiling in disbelief that something you did could be this successful and pretty.


Yes, we have a few areas where we uncovered a little bump in the drywall and our patch efforts didn’t totally smooth it up. Yes, we have a few spots where there was some sort of seam visible under the paint, but overall, no one, not even the most critical of mother-in-laws (not that mine is critical, she’s lovely–it was just an example!) will notice, I promise.

Have faith that you can go from the icky, dated before to the wonderful after at a totally doable price range. The only supplies we used were as follows:

sprayer (borrowed and free)

water (free*)

scrapers/putty knives (borrowed and free)

drop cloths (some borrowed, some from walmart $10-15 total)

tarp (we got a big one for around $20)

paint (we got 3 gallons I think, about $60)

paint supplies (already on hand, free)

*except for the water bill, which probably won’t show a difference unless you do the entire house in one day

The results:

Totally worth it, right?

Now, I’m sure if you did this one room at a time and were a little less rushed or more professional than Hubs and I, you might have a less-messy experience, but I can tell you that our mess was certainly a big one. I still feel like there is dust that settles out from somewhere on the hardwood in our kitchen.

But, all that mess aside, it was the biggest improvement we’ve made to our house so far, especially when we consider the reselling value, which we don’t usually do, but in this case, it’s a big plus.

Keep in mind that the type of popcorn ceiling you have is important. If you have an older house, check for asbestos first! (They stopped using it in the early 1980s so if your home was built after that, you should be good. Still, if you are at all concerned, you can get it tested. Our house wasn’t built until much later than that, so we were confident we were fine.)

Questions? Comments! Let me hear ya!

And for more home projects like this one, take our Home Tour, here.

13 thoughts on “No more popcorn!

  1. Donita

    We are very impressed with your results. You both worked very hard and you should be proud of the results. I am proud that you are not scared to jump in and DIY, even the big projects. And I would never take offense at the mother-in-law comments.

    1. Melissa Post author

      Thank you! We were so happy with how it turned out! (And thanks for being a good sport on the MIL joke. I really do promise it wasn’t at all about you!)

  2. Laura

    That looks great! I also hate the popcorn ceilings, unfortunately that is what I have in my townhome. Since hubby and I plan to sell this summer though to purchase an actual house, this much work is not on my list to do! But great job in buckling down and tackling this kind of project!!

    1. Melissa Post author

      Thank you! I can totally tell you that it is worth the hard work, so even if you don’t do it in the townhome, keep it in mind if you fall in love with a house that has popcorn—you never know what kind of projects you’ll get into!

    1. Melissa Post author

      I know…it was hard work, but I’m SO GLAD we did it. You can do it, too…if the house you fall in love with needs it. Don’t be scared off from a great house because of it, for sure! Thanks for the comment!

  3. Lacy

    Thanks for your post! I am glad you were so honest about this! Everyone makes this seem so EASY, but I haven’t found another post that talks about covering the walls and patching the ceiling after you remove the popcorn.
    My husband and I are purchasing a home that has big, beautiful vaulted ceilings in the living room, but sadly it’s covered in popcorn. Now to talk the hubby into helping with this huge project! 🙂

    1. Melissa Post author

      You’re welcome! I’m glad it was helpful for you. It was a lot of work…but I’m thankful everyday that we tackled it! It looks amazing now! It’s worth it. Good luck! (I would definitely try to do it before you move it, though!)

  4. katelyn

    After sanding, did you put anything else on the ceiling for protection of the drywall? Or just paint it? I’ve scraped all the popcorn off, sanding currently, and stuck on my next step. Great post!

    1. Melissa Post author

      We did a little re-mudding of the drywall where needed. For example, if the water had messed up any seams or other areas, we re-taped and re-mudded those as needed. Since we were careful to not over-wet anything, we only had a few places where this was needed. Then, we just repainted the ceiling with regular ceiling paint from Wal-Mart, which worked great. It’s a tiring process on your arms and shoulders but the fresh coat of white paint looks so good! Good luck! Glad you’ve found our tips helpful!

    1. Melissa Post author

      We did the necessary research and were confident our ceilings were okay because our house is new enough there was no way they were still using that product. If there is any question, be sure to test!


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