3 Ways To Clean A Popcorn Ceiling Without Making A Mess

Dirty Popcorn Ceiling Lg

Popcorn ceilings are common in homes built between the 1930s and 1990s. Builders used popcorn texture ceilings for their inexpensive application and ability to hide drywall flaws. People loved them for their sound-deadening effects and their ability to hide imperfections.

Would you like to know how to clean popcorn ceilings? While it may seem impossible, the reality is that you have some options to make your popcorn ceilings clean again.

For general dusting and cobweb removal, you can use a duster with a painter’s pole if needed for tall ceilings. Cleaning large areas of a popcorn ceiling can be challenging. You’ll need to clean the area, prime it, and apply a spray texture coating to blend the ceiling for small water stains. For large areas, badly stained ceilings, or if your popcorn ceiling texture dissolves with water, you should:

  • Scraping to remove the popcorn ceiling
  • Painting over the popcorn ceiling
  • Covering the popcorn ceiling with a different material

This article discusses determining if popcorn ceilings have asbestos and ways to clean them without making a mess. It also includes cleaning gear that will help you clean without making a mess.

How Do I Know If My Popcorn Ceiling Has Asbestos?

Identifying whether your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos is the first step you need to take before cleaning it. The reality is that if your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, not all cleaning methods will work. The best way to know whether your ceiling contains asbestos is by hiring a professional to examine the material and analyze what kind of ceiling you have.

Some popcorn ceilings contain asbestos. The naturally occurring mineral is toxic. That is because its fibers can cause respiratory health problems such as asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma. The latter is a type of cancer.

Before you clean up your popcorn ceiling, you need to find out if it contains asbestos. The presence of asbestos will determine how you approach the cleaning process so that you don’t loosen the microscopic toxic fibers. 

Bear in mind that the older your home is, the more brittle your popcorn ceilings are likely to be. And the more likely the asbestos fibers are to loosen and get released into the air.

Should you choose to gather popcorn ceiling samples on your own, you need to safeguard yourself, your loved ones, and your home from asbestos contamination. So, ensure you have the right equipment and disposable clothing to carry out this process.

Before you go any work, for $30, you can have the popcorn ceiling tested for asbestos at Western Analytical Lab.

What Is The Best Way To Clean Popcorn Ceiling?

The best way to clean the popcorn ceiling is to clean it as soon as you notice any damage. If your ceiling is beginning to crumble, falling, or revealing blisters, then you will be better off calling a professional to remove the popcorn ceiling and install a new one.

Here are steps to clean your popcorn ceiling without making a mess.

Washing A Popcorn Ceiling

If your ceiling doesn’t have asbestos, you can wash it. But before you do that, you need to prepare the room, collect all the necessary equipment, and wear protective clothing.

Prepare For Cleanup

Some parts of your popcorn ceiling will loosen, and debris will fall. For this reason, you need to protect your floor and furniture. Start by moving your furniture pieces out of the room if you can. If that’s not possible, then buy and use a plastic tarp or drop cloths to cover everything underneath the popcorn ceiling you will be using. Next, do the same for the floor.

The next order of business is to collect all the cleaning equipment and tools you will need to clean your popcorn ceilings. These include a ladder, spray bottles with suitable cleaning fluids, lint roller, broom, feather duster, fans, sponges, a vacuum cleaner, etc.

Before you start cleaning the ceiling, you should wear protective clothing. These include goggles, disposable face masks, gloves, coveralls, etc.

Also, ensure that neither children nor pets are within the room you intend to clean.

Wash The Ceiling

Once you have readied yourself and the room you will be working in, it’s time to start the cleaning process.

  • If your popcorn ceilings have water damage, first find and fix the cause of the leak. Otherwise, the cleaning won’t work for long because new water stains will form.
  • Using a feather duster or vacuum, remove the spider webs and dust accumulated on your popcorn ceiling. Direct them toward the covered floor. When using the vacuum, opt for the widest brush attachment and be as gentle as possible. However, the feather duster is a much better option for the corners of the room. You can also use an extendable microfiber duster with a rotating duster head.
  • Using a sticky lint roller, remove any stubborn dirt particles stuck on the pockmarked ceiling surfaces. If you don’t have a lint roller, apply duct tape (with its sticky side out) onto a soft paint roller and use that. When the dust no longer sticks to the roller, remove and replace the duct tape or lint paper.
  • If your ceiling contains smoke, mildew, or water, spray a little cleaning solution consisting of bleach and water in the ratio 1:4. You can also use vinegar and water mixed in equal parts. Then moisten a section of the dirty ceiling surface, and use a sponge to try and remove the dirt. Ensure that you only lightly mist the surfaces. Otherwise, the popcorn ceiling will disintegrate. Always start with a small section to see how it reacts first before proceeding with the entire area.
  • If you are dealing with grease, instead of bleach, mix liquid dish soap and warm water, and spray it on the dirty surface. Then use a sponge to try and remove the grease. Also, ensure you don’t use too much water to prevent the disintegration of the ceiling surface.
  • Move on to the next dirty surface section and do the same. You can move your stepladder from one place to another until you cover the entire ceiling within the room you are in.
  • Switch on the fans and direct them upward and let the ceiling dry overnight. Ensure that there is proper ventilation to facilitate quick drying.
  • Take a look at the ceiling to see whether the surface is clean. If not, mix more cleaning solution and, using a sponge, try to clean the surfaces again.
  • If you clean up for the second time, you should once again switch on the fans and give the ceiling time to dry out.

Post Cleanup

The post-cleanup process is just as crucial if you want to reduce the amount of mess you make while cleaning your popcorn ceilings. So, ensure you do the following:

  • Remove the plastic tarps on the floor while being careful not to drop any debris and take out the trash.
  • Vacuum away any dirt left behind.
  • Collect the additional garbage and throw it out.
  • Uncover your furniture, and voila! No mess.

Painting Over The Popcorn Ceiling

When learning how to clean popcorn ceilings, you need to remember that you can only do so much with cleaning liquids and a sponge. Some stains are stubborn. So, if you use too much water, a significant chunk of your popcorn ceiling may disintegrate. Therefore, you may need to consider painting over the ceiling to clean it up. 

Painting is also a great idea if you have a limited budget and need to clean up popcorn ceilings containing asbestos. In such cases, you should opt for vinyl paint

If you intend to paint over some parts of your ceiling, don’t remove the drop cloths or plastic tarps covering your furniture and floors.

What You Need

To paint over a popcorn ceiling, you will need several more equipment and tools in addition to the ones you used for cleaning. These include:

  • A segmented foam paint roller or paint sprayer
  • A paint tray
  • A stain-blocking primer
  • Acrylic paint
  • An angled painting brush
  • Painters tape
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Additional plastic sheeting

A segmented foam roller is suited for this job because it adheres to the highly textured surface of popcorn ceilings. On the other hand, a paint sprayer makes painting more manageable because it can cover all the raised and depressed parts of the ceiling. 

Paint sprayers may also be the best option for covering up popcorn ceilings containing asbestos because they are less likely to disturb the ceiling surface.

Also, ensure you estimate more paint than you would need on a flat surface. That’s because popcorn ceilings have a larger surface area and, thus, require more paint.

The Painting Process

Here’s how to paint over a popcorn ceiling without making a mess:

  • If you haven’t cleaned up the ceiling surface, do so. You don’t have to wash the popcorn ceiling, but ensure you dust or vacuum it and remove all the cobwebs, dust, and grime.
  • If some parts of the ceiling are damaged, you can buy acoustic texture products. These come in aerosol cans and can be applied directly to the damaged sections.
  • Using the additional plastic sheeting, cover the walls of the room you intend to paint.
  • Use painter’s tape to cover any fixtures on the ceiling.
  • Prepare the ceiling edges by gently scraping off about ¼ inches off the popcorn ceiling surface using a flathead screwdriver. You should ignore this step if your ceiling has asbestos. Hire qualified professionals to handle the painting work instead.
  • Use an angled brush to paint about three inches along the edge’s perimeter after priming the area.
  • Load your brush with a stain-blocking primer and apply it to the ceiling surface. The primer increases paint adhesion and hides any stubborn stains. And opt for an oil-based primer because it’s best suited for the job. It repels water and makes the textured surface less likely to disintegrate. 
  • Apply the first coat of latex or acrylic paint and wait for it to dry. Opt for vinyl paint if the ceiling has asbestos. Then take a look at the ceiling and determine if it needs a second coat of paint. If this is the case, paint the second coat and let it dry completely. Each coat will take about four hours if you use a roller or two hours if you opt for a sprayer. A Matte or flat finish is usually best for popcorn ceilings. But ensure you thin the paint first to reduce its weight on the ceiling surface, which in turn would cause it to peel.
  • You can also use a paint airless sprayer to cover the popcorn ceilings. It helps the paint adhere better to the surface. However, the equipment uses more paint, and you must apply two coats.
  • Collect and clean your paint equipment. Then label your paints with the name of the room in which you used it. Seal the container and store it in a cool, dry place.
  • Remove the tape from the ceiling fixtures and the plastic sheeting from the walls. Also, remove the plastic tarps or drop cloths from the floor and off the furniture.  
  • Throw the unusable items into the trash.

Covering The Popcorn Ceiling With A Different Material

It would be tempting to want to scrape off your popcorn ceiling if it is dirty and you don’t want to paint it over, but that would be a very messy affair. So, what should you do?

Well, you can cover the popcorn ceiling with a different material as a way to clean it up. However, you will lose the 3D effect that this type of ceiling brings into the room when you do this. But the acoustic effects of the ceiling will remain.

Using a different material to cover up the popcorn ceiling is usually the best option if it contains asbestos. That way, it will ensure you reduce the chances of some parts of the ceiling disintegrating, thus endangering your life. The process is known as encapsulation

The material should be light and easy to install. That will ensure you make very little mess when installing it. That also enables you to install the popcorn ceiling with minimal parts falling off due to the weight.

Some of the materials you can use to cover a dirty popcorn ceiling include:

  • Gypsum board ceiling panels
  • Metal tiles
  • Wood planks

 Metal Tiles

Metal tiles, such as tin tiles, are a great option to introduce a vintage vibe into your space. They are durable, resistant to stains, low maintenance, and less likely to crack. In addition, they are non-porous and, thus, resistant to moisture.

As a result, metal tiles can safeguard the popcorn ceiling and prevent it from getting more dirt or water damage. You also can use them to minimize the disintegration of asbestos within the ceiling until you are in a position to remove them.

Gypsum Board Ceiling Panels

Gypsum board ceiling panels are preferable for covering popcorn ceilings compared to drywall because they are lighter. They are also heat-resistant and sturdy. In addition, they help improve thermal and sound insulation. Therefore, they are worth considering when you need to clean up popcorn ceilings by covering them up without messing up.

Wood Planks Or Panels

You have the option of covering up your popcorn ceilings using wood planks. The lighter the wood panels or planks are, the better off your ceiling will be. Wood is excellent because it enhances the coziness of a room while increasing thermal insulation. Also, you can paint these planks whichever color you like, thus matching the existing color theme in the room. 

It’s also worth noting that wood is a biodegradable material, which makes it eco-friendly. In addition, it is easy to install, which makes it an excellent option if you have no choice but to cover up your popcorn ceilings on your own. And if it is sealed, it is more resistant to moisture, thus protecting the popcorn ceiling underneath. 

Final Thoughts

Popcorn ceilings are challenging to clean. That’s because they have raised and depressed areas that create the 3D effect they are known for. To make matters worse, the obstacles to keeping these ceilings clean are much higher if your ceiling has asbestos. 

Sometimes, all you need is the correct cleaning fluid and a little bit of force to brighten your ceilings. If that fails, you can try to paint the popcorn ceiling surfaces. However, if your popcorn ceilings have asbestos or stubborn stains that defy your standard cleaning attempts, you may have to hide them. And the best way to do that is by installing a different material over your popcorn ceiling. It’s not ideal, but it may be the only option you have. So, explore your cleanup options and choose what works for your needs best.


Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.