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What is a Popcorn Ceiling?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

A popcorn ceiling is a textured indoor ceiling treatment used in residential homes mainly before 1979. The look is considered quite dated now and some earlier popcorn ceilings contain harmful asbestos. A popcorn ceiling is usually white and is either painted or sprayed on. The consistency of popcorn ceilings is actually more like cottage cheese than popcorn.

A texturing gun may be used to apply a popcorn ceiling. The mixture cannot be too runny or the new ceiling will crack, yet it must also be thick enough to contain all of the lumps. It's a good idea to practice on a large piece of cardboard or scrap drywall before actually applying the popcorn treatment to the ceiling. The center part of the ceiling is sprayed with the popcorn texture first and a trowel can be used to spread the ceiling mixture along the edges and in the corners. Although most popcorn ceilings are plain white, some have gold glitter added.

Trowels are often used to plaster ceilings.
Trowels are often used to plaster ceilings.

Because a popcorn ceiling is basically just a lumpy coating, it can cover up imperfections in drywall. However, the tiny bumps also tend to trap in dirt and this can make popcorn ceilings difficult to keep clean. Using Styrofoam ceiling tiles to cover up a popcorn ceiling is one way to keep it out of sight, but removing the popcorn texture may be another option.

It is extremely important to note that a popcorn ceiling should not be removed until it is tested to see if it contains asbestos. A small piece of the ceiling should be taken out and tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After the popcorn ceiling is approved by the EPA for removal, the walls and floors should first be protected with plastic.

Although popcorn ceilings are mostly considered dated and undesirable today, they do have acoustic qualities that help muffle sound and echoes. For this reason, popcorn ceilings were once very popular in apartments. The main downfall of the popcorn ceiling occurred in the late 1970s when many of these textured treatments were found to contain asbestos.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- you'll have a mess with a popcorn ceiling regardless of what you do. If you paint it, you'll have a mess and the same is true if you decide to take the necessary step of removing the popcorn coating because that is a time consuming and somewhat difficult process. When you do remove the coating, you've got another problem -- do you want to have a plain ceiling that looks very much like a wall or one that has some texture to it (aesthetically, people generally like a textured ceiling)?

Here's another problem -- if a section of popcorn ceiling gets damaged and must be replaced, it is almost impossible to match that section with the rest of the ceiling.

It's little wonder popcorn ceilings are no longer popular. Painting or repairing them causes a lot of headaches.


A major problem with popcorn ceilings is that they are well nigh impossible to paint. That only makes sense -- you can't run your hand across the "bumps" on one of those ceilings without removing a few of them. Just imagine what a paintbrush would do to one of those ceilings -- you'd have a mess.

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    • Trowels are often used to plaster ceilings.
      By: yunava1
      Trowels are often used to plaster ceilings.