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How Are Popcorn Ceilings Made & What’s It Made Of?

spraying on popcorn ceilings made

Popcorn ceilings were very trendy half a century ago. Today, they are much less popular but are still widespread throughout older homes and apartments.

It leads most of us to wonder at some point how popcorn ceilings are made and what it’s made of? And what about all the talk concerning asbestos?

We’ll dive into the questions and give you a walk-through on how you can add or patch a popcorn ceiling in your home.

Are Popcorn Ceilings Made Of Asbestos?

Builders used materials containing asbestos in spray-on popcorn textures before the 1980s. It wasn’t until 1978 when The Clean Air Act banned spray products containing the substance due to the health risks for those who applied them.

Despite the ban, businesses were allowed to use their existing inventory that contained asbestos well into the 1980s.

Always have your popcorn ceiling tested for asbestos before doing any work on it.

What Is Popcorn Ceiling Made Of?

The materials used to make popcorn ceilings have changed over the years. More knowledge about hazardous substances and their health risks led to a shift away from the dangerous materials that contained asbestos.

The 1930s-1980s
A mineral called vermiculite was mainly used for spray-on textures in the past. While vermiculite is a harmless, naturally occurring substance, it was often contaminated with asbestos.

The 1980s – Present
After the ban on spray-on products containing asbestos, builders switched to using polystyrene (styrofoam) and cardboard/ paper-based materials.

Today, most spray textures combine calcium carbonate (ground limestone) and polystyrene for the “popcorn” chips. Drywall or joint compound is also sometimes used to create a variety of other textured ceilings.

How Are Popcorn Ceilings Made?

Let’s start with drywall or plaster, which is the base surface for any popcorn ceiling. While plaster used to be the method of choice, once drywall came onto the scene in the 50s, it quickly replaced the old ways of using lath and plaster.

First, the surface needs to be taped and mudded (drywall), or the laths must be coated with plaster. The surface should be even but doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth; the texture will cover any imperfections in the surface.

Next is priming; this helps the texture dry evenly because the tape joints absorb more than the drywall board. The texture will dry faster over tape, potentially causing a noticeable difference in texture between the two areas.

Once it’s time to apply the texture, there are a few different methods that we’ll cover next. These methods are also good for any repairs and patching that need doing for existing popcorn ceilings.

Note: Make sure you properly prep and mask off your space before doing any work. Move all furniture out of the room, drape plastic over the walls and lay drop cloths on the floor.

Also see: How to find studs under a popcorn ceiling

Traditional Gun & Hopper

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Step 1:
Mix your texture and water in a large bucket using a drill and mixing paddle. (Follow the recommended ratio on the bag of texture for your desired consistency.)

Step 2:
Set up your texture sprayer and compressor and pour the mixed compound into the hopper. Spray a test patch on a separate surface to see if you need to adjust the psi levels or change nozzle sizes.

Step 3:
Once you’re happy with the texture thickness, hold the sprayer about 12-18 inches away from the ceiling. Spray in a circular motion and keep the gun moving steadily to create an even pattern.

Step 4:
Let the ceiling dry for at least 24 hours before painting or doing any other work.

Step 5:
If you decide to paint, first apply an oil-based primer to your ceiling. We’d recommend using a sprayer and thinning your primer or choose one that’s suitable for sprayers.

Step 6:
Once the primer has dried (4-8 hours), you can get started painting your ceiling. We’d still recommend using a sprayer for a more uniform finish, but a roller will also work fine if you use a heavy nap to get into all the grooves of the texture.

Paint Brush

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Sometimes you only need to touch up a small area. In this case, you’ll only need a small tub of premixed popcorn patch texture.

Step 1:
Using your brush, start applying the texture on the patched area closest to the existing popcorn ceiling. Match the thickness as you go along so the patch will blend better.

Step 2:
Moving towards the middle, continue brushing on the texture while keeping the thickness consistent.

Step 3:
Once the entire patch is covered, let the texture dry for 24-48 hours before painting. You can either paint just the patch or the whole ceiling for a more blended look.

Note: If your popcorn ceiling has not been previously primed or painted, we recommend applying a coat of oil-based primer before painting.

Texture With A Roller

Step 1:
You’ll want to start by thinning the texture with water to make applying it easier. Combine water and the texture you’ll use that day in a large bucket and blend with a paddle mixer. (Check the instructions for the correct water to texture ratio for your product)

Step 2:
Choose a heavy napped roller with a 3/8″ or 1/2″ nap. Start in one corner and apply the texture onto the ceiling in 4×4 sections. The thickness should be between 1/16″ and 1/8″ and consistent across the entire ceiling.

Step 3:
Let the ceiling dry for at least 24 hours if you choose to paint. Some roll-on textures do not require priming before painting; follow the instructions on your product.

Homax Spray-On Texture

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This spray-on texture is fantastic for repairs and saves a lot of time compared to setting up a texture sprayer and hopper.

Step 1:
Scrape away any peeling or water-damaged areas and make any necessary repairs to the ceiling.

Step 2:
Seal the area around the repair with a white primer.

Step 3:
Shake the Homax spray-on texture for one full minute until the ball begins rattling in the can.

Step 4:
Turn the safety lock counterclockwise to unlock the trigger when you’re ready to spray.

Step 5:
Spray in a continuous motion and feather the spray in with the existing texture.

Step 6:
Once you’ve finished, turn the can upside down and clear the nozzle of any remaining texture.

Final Thoughts

Popcorn ceilings are still very common to see in homes across the continent. The materials used have continued to change over the years, always moving towards a safer standard for builders and homeowners.

There are now many different methods of applying popcorn texture, making it easier for the homeowner to do their own repairs or even texture an entire ceiling without hiring a contractor.

With a bit of understanding of how popcorn ceilings are made and what it’s made of, the DIYer can confidently and safely handle work related to their popcorn ceiling.

References

Asbestos Popcorn Ceilings: What Is Considered Safe? – Asbestos.com

Vermiculite Ceiling 101 – Home Reference

  • Gregory A Seely
  • Gregory A Seely

    Greg is a self taught home renovator and writer for RenoViso. His shares his experiences with Southern Living, Traditional Home and other publications.

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  • respirator
    Popcorn ceilings were very trendy half a century ago. Today, they are much less popular…
    person scraping popcorn ceiling
    Popcorn ceilings were very trendy half a century ago. Today, they are much less popular…
    popcorn-ceiling-cleaning-solution
    Popcorn ceilings were very trendy half a century ago. Today, they are much less popular…
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