There are many words that can be used to describe acoustic popcorn ceiling (popcorn, stucco, swiss cheese, etc.); however, stylish, modern, and tasteful aren’t among them.
This texture exploded in popularity toward the end of the 50s, due mainly to its ability to conceal imperfections: mudding a ceiling is not extremely difficult, but doing the job even half-decently sure is—not everyone (and not even every contractor) is up to the task.
The flaws of this finish are not only limited to the aesthetic. The bumpy texture is properly referred to as acoustic, but it traps one thing a great deal more efficiently than it does sound: dust. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that it’s as easy to replace such a ceiling as it is to clean the thing properly.
Many popcorn ceilings contain white asbestos. The presence of a popcorn ceiling dates your home to c. 1960–1990; if however, you want to be more specific, you can check your ceiling for asbestos: formulations containing the material were unsettlingly prevalent before the Clean Air Act of 1978. Although, it should be noted that there was an exemption in the Act for preexisting stocks of the material so some ceilings from the 1980s will also contain asbestos.
Methods for removing popcorn ceiling
1. The literally-removing-it method.
If your ceiling has tested positive for asbestos, we highly recommend that you do not attempt this yourself. If you do we implore you to use a respiratory mask—a HEPA (High‐Efficiency Particulate Air) mask, to wear clothing that will cover the entire body and may be discarded afterward, and to remove all dust from the room before anyone ventures back in. Airborne asbestos fibers are deadly.
You will need A utility or drywall knife, a ladder (or a push pole that a blade can be used with), dust sheets, plenty of time, optional—a hosepipe with a ‘mist’ setting, or an alternative method of applying small amounts of water.
You will be scraping away the texture from the ceiling. Using a push pole can make this less tedious than climbing up and down a ladder and you can avoid standing directly in the path of the falling plaster. Make sure to focus on small patches as you work.
Another way of minimizing the time required would be to apply a small amount of water to the ceiling. The material used in acoustic ceilings is quite highly absorbent, and this will make the process of skimming it off less painful. We would, however, recommend against this: as plaster absorbs water it expands, as plaster expands, it cracks; therefore, you may find that you have simply changed the look of your ceiling from looking outdated to looking as if it’s only going to stay up a little longer.
Regardless, after you’ve removed the material designed to cover imperfections, some imperfections will be visible. You’ll want to apply a thin layer of compound, which you’ll then smooth over before painting.
2. The stick-something-over-it method
Actually leaving material containing asbestos in your house can be quite safe so long as it’s sealed away and will never be inhaled.
You can screw in sheets of gypsum board (make sure to use lightweight boards designed for use on ceilings). From here it’s a job of taping and mudding. If done well this will lead to a real nice smooth finish.
If it’s not a smooth finish you’re after, consider skimming coating your ceiling. This should be done after method one or two, and you can find out how here