How to Remove Popcorn Ceilings

We’ve teamed up with Lydia (aka Drywall Shorty) to teach you everything you need to know about preparing your workspace, choosing the right drywall tools, and removing popcorn texture from ceilings (plus some best practices for skim coating drywall for that professional look)! Read on to learn more.

Tools for Removing Popcorn Ceiling

Some Basic Drywall Tools

  1. Mud Pan
  2. Putty Knife (any size from 6” to 12” will do)
  3. Pressure Garden Sprayer
  4. Plastic Drop Cloths

Tools for Skim Coating Drywall:

  1. Drywall Skimming Blade
  2. 10” or 12” Taping Knife
  3. Drywall Mud
  4. Mud Mixer
  5. 320 or 220 Grit Sandpaper

Pro Tip: A 32-Inch Drywall Skimming Blade is the best size to go with as it covers more surface area than a 24-Inch but is also a lot more manageable than using a 40-Inch!

Drywall Shorty’s Tips on Mud

Here are some recommendations that Drywall Shorty has when it comes to choosing the right mud for skimming your ceiling:

  1. Use an all-purpose mud, such as USG All-purpose Mud, for fixing holes and cracks in the ceiling. The all-purpose mud is great for fixing up smaller patches because it dries fast, won’t shrink as much, and leaves a harder finish. You will only want to use this for the fixing stage because it is a lot harder to sand down.
  2. Plus 3 Mud for the skim coating stage. This mud is soft and light, which makes it great for floating out and finishing. Since this compound also dries with a softer finish, it also makes it easy to sand out. This will give you that smooth look you are going for!
  3. USG Easy Sand - this is a powdered mud that can be mixed with water. This compound dries hard like plaster, making it great for patching up big holes or anything that’s really major.
A LEVEL5 Tools drywall taping knife and mud pan for removing popcorn ceilings.

Preparing the Workspace

Step 1: Test for Asbestos

The first thing you should do before starting this project is to determine whether your ceiling contains asbestos. Your home may very likely contain asbestos if it was built between the 1950s and 1980s. This step is important because attempting to scrape away popcorn texture that contains asbestos can cause the particles to escape into the air, making it easy for you and your family to breathe in the carcinogens.

To find out if your popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, you will want to hire an abatement professional. You can purchase a test kit from the hardware store to test it yourself.

Step 2: Determine if the Ceiling is Painted

Aside from testing for asbestos, there is one other detail you will want to consider before attempting the next steps in the popcorn removal process - that is whether or not your ceiling has been painted over.

Ceilings that are not painted are a lot easier to manage because the drywall can take up moisture and soften up during the misting process. This makes the scraping process much easier!

However, if your popcorn ceiling has been painted, this layer of paint on top of the drywall makes it impossible for the water to penetrate through and soften up the popcorn. You can test this out by spraying a small area with water and waiting 15 minutes or so before attempting to scrape the area. If the popcorn ceiling is still hard after those 15 minutes, this indicates the ceiling was painted and will require sanding

Step 3: Cover Up!

Popcorn ceiling removal is a messy job and a simple solution to keeping the cleanup easy is by using plastic drop cloths to cover your floors. It’s also a good idea to move all furniture out of the room for protection and so it’s easier to maneuver around with your ladder. However, if space is an issue you can always pile your furniture into one corner and cover it up with a drop cloth.

Be sure to also turn off your air ducts before any sanding is done. This will prevent fine dust from building up in the air ducts which can damage your furnace.

Pro Tip: Drywall Shorty also recommends having a fan on hand and keeping the windows open to allow airflow.

A team applying plastic cloths to furniture to protect it from dust and debris when prepping to remove popcorn ceiling texture.

Removing Popcorn Ceilings

This process is going to look different depending on whether your ceiling was painted or not. If your ceiling is not painted, the removal process is easy!

Step 1: Wet/Mist Your Popcorn Ceiling

This is where your pressurized garden sprayer will come in handy. After ensuring your workspace is covered and all electrical fixtures are protected, begin by misting the area you want to start with. Let the water soak in for about 15 minutes to allow the drywall to soften up.

Step 2: Knock Down the Drywall Texture

Now comes the fun part - finally peeling away that eye-sore! Go in with your joint/putty knife and start scraping away at the popcorn ceiling. At this point, the drywall should be soft enough to come loose. If not, go ahead and spray the area down again and wait about 5 minutes to make the scraping easier.

What if my Ceiling is Painted?

If your ceiling is painted, the best way to get around this is to go in with a sander. An alternative method would be to dry scrape first to knock off the texture with paint and then repeat the process as provided for non-painted drywall in steps 1 and 2. However, using a sander will take less time and be easier on your body!

Pro Tip: Drywall shorty recommends going with an orbital power sander which will work a lot faster to sand down the paint and drywall layers.

Do you need to scrape your popcorn ceiling or can you just skim over it?

Depending on the style of popcorn ceiling, you may not need to scrape the texture away at all. If you are working with something similar to orange peel or knockdown texture, you can get away with doing a few skim coats to achieve a smooth ceiling. However, if you have an intense popcorn texture, unfortunately, the skim coating won’t cover enough and you will need to scrape the texture away first.

Pro Tip: LEVEL5 Drywall Skimming Blades are the best tool available for skim coating popcorn ceilings!

An image showing three different popcorn ceiling textures - Knockdown, Orange Peel and Popcorn from left to right.

Finish the Popcorn Ceiling Removal Process

Once you have removed all of the popcorn texture, you can now you can go in with your drywall skim coat tools to fix any imperfections, then finish off the ceiling with a few layers of skim coating.

Step 1: Fix the Imperfections

First thing's first - you’re going to want to start with mixing up your all-purpose mud. Then, go through and fix up any major imperfections that you see. This could be anything from water damage, big holes, or popped screws. This is also a good time to smooth and float out any lifted corners you may find as well.

The goal of this step is to ensure everything is looking all smooth and tidy before going in for the final skim. This is important because any of these imperfections are going to show through on your final skim coat if you don't fix them now!

Step 2: Skim Coat Your Ceiling

Now is the time to mix up your Plus 3 drywall mud. You will want to start by using a 10-Inch or 12-Inch taping knife to apply a good amount of mud to the ceiling. Remember, applying the mud with your taping knife doesn’t have to be perfect- the point of this is just to get the mud onto the ceiling before smoothing it out with your skimming blade!

Once enough mud has been applied to the area you are starting with, go ahead and float out the area with your skimming blade.

How long does it take for the skim coat to dry?

This is all dependent on the environment you are working in and what season you are in. Working during a dry summer season will cause the mud to within a few hours. Whereas working throughout a humid, cold winter could take up to 2 days to dry. The best practice is to use a de-humidifier to help draw out the moisture if you are working in a humid environment and want to speed up the job.

Step 3: Sand Down

To go that extra step and achieve a truly professional smooth finish on your ceiling, you will want to sand away any lap lines. Ideally, 320 or 220 grit sandpaper is what you will want to use as the grit is fine enough to smooth out lap lines, but won’t leave marks in your freshly skimmed drywall.

How do you know if you're done removing your popcorn ceiling?

Ultimately, that is up to you! Are all the lap marks sanded? Can you identify any imperfections that need to be fixed? Have you achieved the look you want? If yes, then congratulations! You've successfully removed and retextured your popcorn ceiling.

For those of you who want to go that extra mile to achieve a level 5 finish, here are some tips:

  1. Use a halogen light to reveal any imperfections that aren't visible to the naked eye. If you see any imperfections you can go in and sand that area, apply your mud, and float out the uneven surface.
  2. Applying a primer will also make any imperfections appear. If it is not finished to your standards, you can always sand down the primer, re-apply the mud, and float out the area again.
A LEVEL5 32-Inch Drywall Skimming Blade applying a skim coat to a ceiling.


Removing your popcorn ceiling may seem like a big undertaking, but now you can rest assured knowing a little work will make all the difference to your home. You'll also save money by doing it yourself! If you are tackling this project, be sure to share your progress with us on social media!