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The Best Way to Paint Popcorn Ceiling

painting over a popcorn ceiling

Popcorn ceilings can be a real eyesore, especially once they start to yellow over time. 

Removing them is costly, and you’d rather not go through the hassle of renovations. You’ve decided the next best thing would be to paint them. 

After all, a fresh coat of paint can do wonders to make a room feel new. 

But a few questions or concerns may have come up:

  • Can you paint something as textured as a popcorn ceiling?
  • It seems like it would be very messy
  • What about asbestos?

We’re going to answer these questions and more, covering everything you need to know if you’re thinking about painting your popcorn ceiling. 

Can You Prime or Paint Over a Popcorn Ceiling?

Let’s begin by answering the first questions most homeowners have. Yes, you can prime and paint over your popcorn ceiling. It’s a great alternative if removing it doesn’t fit within your budget or if you want to keep the textured look.

It’s a similar process to painting a flat ceiling, but there are a few extra precautions you’ll have to take.

Can You Paint Over Asbestos Popcorn Ceilings Safely?

The first of those precautions is determining if your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos. Safety is the top priority here, so having them tested is a must before taking any further steps.

While it’s possible to paint over ceilings containing asbestos safely, there’s a correct way to do it. A sprayer should be used over a brush and roller, as you don’t want the texture breaking apart and falling.

If your ceilings contain asbestos, we highly recommend having a professional come in for the required work. 

Will Popcorn Ceiling Coming Off While Painting?

How textured your ceiling is and what method you use to paint will determine how much will crumble off. In most cases, at least some of the texture will fall. 

Because the texture is stuck onto the surface underneath, any pressure will easily knock it off. Make sure to move everything you can out of the room and cover what’s left with plastic to make cleanup a lot easier. 

Cost to Paint Popcorn Ceiling

DIY Costs

The cost to paint your popcorn yourself will be less expensive than hiring a professional. It can be somewhat challenging but completely doable, especially if you have prior painting experience. 

The cost will depend on whether you use a paint sprayer or paint by hand using a brush and roller. Here’s a rough guide:

Paint Sprayer Kits

Buy: $100 – $400

Rent: $60 – $100 per day

Paint By Hand 

Tools (tray, roller cage, extension pole etc.): $30-$60

Consumables (liners, sleeves, brushes etc.): $15-$30

Paint & Primer

Paint: $30-$60 per gallon, covers approx. 300-400 sq.ft

Primer: $20-$80 per gallon, cover approx. 200-300 sq.ft

Once you determine how many sq. ft you’re going to paint, you’ll have a good idea of how much paint you’ll need and roughly how much it will cost.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Popcorn ceilings need more paint than flat ceilings because the bumps and ridges create a larger surface area. 
  • Paint sprayers use roughly 33% more paint than rolling because of the amount that ends up in the air and settles. 

Hire a Contractor Cost

Having a professional paint your popcorn ceiling is a great idea if you’re short on time, don’t want the hassle, or your ceiling contains asbestos. It will cost you more than doing it yourself but is the best option in many scenarios. 

Average cost: $1-$3.50 per square foot 

Expect the price to be on the more expensive side compared to a flat ceiling. Popcorn ceilings have a larger surface area because of the texture, which means you’ll need more paint. 

Best Touch Up Paint for Popcorn Ceiling

Sometimes you need to touch up parts of your popcorn ceiling because it was scuffed or stained. The best product for the job will depend if your ceiling has been painted and what you’re trying to cover up.

Painted With A Few Scuffs

If your ceiling has been painted and you’re not trying to cover up a stain, then using latex paint will work. If you aren’t sure of the colour, using untinted white colour in a flat or matte finish is a good place to start. 

Unpainted Or Stained

If your ceiling hasn’t been primed or painted, or you’re trying to cover water or smoke stains, you’ll need something a little stronger than latex paint. Use an oil-based spray primer or any strong stain-blocking spray primer, so you don’t disturb the texture. 

If you’re just covering a stain, but your ceiling has been painted, you can then use latex paint afterwards to blend the area into the rest of the ceiling. 

Texture Spray

If some of the texture has been bumped and fallen off, you can use a ceiling texture spray. 

What Kind of Paint to Use on Popcorn Ceiling?

If you’re ready to paint your popcorn ceiling, then a water-based latex paint in a flat or matte sheen is the best choice. Flat or matte finishes don’t reflect any light and consequently helps hide any imperfections in your ceiling.  

Do You Need to Prime Popcorn Ceilings Before Painting?

You’ll want to make sure you prime your ceiling before you paint it. The primer coat seals the texture so water from the latex paint doesn’t soak in and potentially causes it to fall from the extra weight. 

Best Primer for Popcorn Ceiling

Always use an oil-based primer (KILZ is a great brand and produces a variety of quality primers). It’s stronger than your average latex primer (water-based) and will also cover up any old stains from cigarettes, water damage etc. 

Be sure to wear your respirator while using oil primer and keep as many windows open as possible to keep the room aired out. It’s good to wear gloves to keep it off your hands because it doesn’t like to come off skin easily. 

Planning on using a sprayer to prime and paint your ceilings? You’ll also need to thin the oil-based primer, so it works properly in your machine. 

What Color to Paint Popcorn Ceiling?

paint for popcorn ceilings

The most common colour to paint a ceiling is white; it makes the room feel bright and large. I know there are hundreds of shades of white, so we’re going to suggest two that are extremely simple and always look great:

Untinted

The industry standard, just plain white. While it may seem boring to some, the contrast it creates with most wall colours looks fantastic. It also gives your home a crisp, clean look. 

1 Drop of Black

The second option is close to the first; the difference is you add one drop of black paint per gallon. 

It may not seem like much, but it will help with coverage if you’re trying to paint over a ceiling that’s darkened or yellowed over the years. While it may look grayish when you’re putting it on, it still looks crispy and white when it’s dried.

How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling Before Painting

You want to make sure your popcorn ceiling is as clean as possible before you prime or paint. Grease, oils, dirt and dust are all sure-fire causes of paint failure and a massive mess on your hands.

Webs, Dirt and Dust

If you need to clean away webs, dirt and dust particles, it can be a tedious job, depending on how much your ceiling has collected. The most important thing to remember is to be patient. You can’t be rough with a textured ceiling; otherwise, you’ll risk the texture crumbling off.

Use a vacuum with a brush attachment to gently suck up surface dust and cobwebs. Use can also use a lint brush or feather duster to get the dust that’s trapped in the texture. 

Grease and Smoke Stains

Using a liquid solution of water and bleach or water and dish soap can help get rid of stubborn stains. Test a small area of your ceiling first, popcorn ceilings and moisture don’t mix well, and too much can cause damage.

Alternatively, if you’re planning on painting (which is probably the case since you’re reading this article), then using an oil-based primer will do the trick. 

How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling

Now it’s the fun part, getting paint on the ceiling. 

There are a few different approaches you can take to painting your popcorn ceiling:

  • Brush and roll
  • Spraying
  • Sponge

Your decision will depend on your personal preferences, experience, budget and your ceiling.  

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options to figure out what’s best for you.

Brush and Roll

Brushing and rolling your popcorn ceiling is a good option if you don’t have access to a paint sprayer, the budget to rent one or if you plan on painting a small area. 

The biggest downfall is it can leave quite a mess if your popcorn ceiling is very crumbly. The pressure from the brush and roller can easily knock off the texture onto your walls and floor. 

Paint Sprayer

The quickest option would be using an airless paint sprayer. Sprayers are great if you have many ceilings to paint, are in an empty house or room, or your ceilings are extremely textured and crumbly. 

On the other side of things, they require a lot of time prepping the area to protect the floors, walls and your belongings from overspray. It gets everywhere, so you must be extra diligent. 

Paint sprayers also take longer to set up and clean up, so if you’re only planning on doing a single room, you may be better off just brushing and rolling. Still, that choice is entirely up to you. 

Sponge

Sponges are sometimes used to paint popcorn ceilings on touch-up jobs. When the texture has fallen off, you can cover the damaged area with ceiling texture, then use the sponge to blend it into the old ceiling. 

How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling Without Making a Mess

There’s no doubt that painting a popcorn ceiling is a messy job, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a painful experience.

There are a few tricks of the trade that will save you a lot of frustration when it’s time to clean up:

Plastic. Plastic. Plastic

We can’t stress this enough when painting a popcorn ceiling, or any ceiling at all for that matter. 

Cover all furniture that can’t be removed from the space with plastic; this includes your walls and floors. Once you’re finished painting, you can fold the plastic from the corners and discard it.

You can use drop cloths for the floors and furniture, but the texture will stick to them. Once you move or fold them, the pieces will fall off onto the floor and add to the time it takes to clean up.

Whether you’re spraying or cutting and rolling, gravity is against you here. Any disturbed texture or rogue paint drops will come tumbling down, and it’s much better if it hits plastic instead of your floors or furniture. 

Use a Sprayer

Spraying on the paint means you won’t physically have to touch the ceiling, so the texture is much less likely to fall off. 

With that being said, if the room isn’t masked properly, the sprayer itself can cause a mess. While the texture won’t be crumbling off, spraying causes a lot of paint particles in the air that will eventually fall. 

How to Tape Off a Popcorn Ceiling for Painting

Taping off a popcorn ceiling is a crucial step that’s often overlooked. Many people underestimate how easy it is to drip paint on the wall accidentally. The truth is it doesn’t matter how careful of a painter you are; paint will splutter off rollers, and overspray is just a byproduct of spraying. 

Here are the steps to properly tape off your popcorn ceiling:

Step 1:

Tack a line of painter’s tape along the top of the wall, making sure it’s not sitting on any of the texture. Make sure the top is firmly sealed while the bottom remains loose.

Step 2:

Grab your plastic, find the top edge and attach it along the bottom of the tape. Press the tape into the plastic to secure it over the wall.

Step 3:

Make your way around the entire room, unfolding the rest of your plastic, so it drapes down the wall. If you’re spraying, it’s a good idea also to tape the plastic to your floor so there are no gaps that paint particles can get into. 

Step 4:

Do the same for any furniture in the room, covering them with plastic and taping it to the floor.

Step 5:

Lastly, wrap plastic and tape the top edge of any lights, fans or other fixtures on the ceiling.

How to Spray Paint Popcorn Ceiling

Here’s what you’re going to need:

  • Paint sprayer, tip extension and tips
  • Brush
  • Respirator
  • Safety glasses
  • Ceiling paint
  • Primer
  • Masking supplies (tape, plastic, drop cloth)

Note: The steps for priming and painting will be the same

Step 1:

Start prepping by moving everything out of the room and masking off the walls, floors, leftover furniture, lights and other fixtures. 

Step 2:

Set up your paint sprayer; here’s a video showing you how to step by step: 

show video

Step 3:

Choose the correct tip size; you’ll want a wide fan, so we’d recommend using a 517 or 617 tip.

For more information on choosing and understanding tips, check out this video:

show video

Step 4: 

Practice spraying on cardboard to get a feel for the sprayer and the motion used to create even coverage. 

Step 5:

Start on one end of the room, spraying along the wall in one direction in a smooth, even motion. Spray back in the direction you came, overlapping the stoke by about 50%. 

A quick tip: Start moving your hand before pressing the trigger, and let go of the trigger before you stop moving your hand. This will help prevent runs or too much paint building up in one area.

Depending on how textured your ceiling is, you may have to spray over certain areas at an angle to get into all the grooves. Being careful not to flood the spaces with too much paint.

Step 6:

Continue with the same spray pattern across the entire room, using a smooth, sweeping motion for a consistent finish. 

Step 7:

Wait 2 or 3 hours for your paint to dry. If a second coat is needed, repeat steps 5-6, except spray in the opposite direction. If you sprayed north to south on the first coat, spray east to west on the second.

When spraying a popcorn ceiling, it generally will take 1-2 coats.

Step 8:

Once you’re all finished, you can start the cleanup process and cleaning your sprayer. Here’s a video on how to do that:

show video

How to Paint Popcorn Ceiling With Roller

Here’s what you’re going to need:

  • Roller and sleeve
  • Paint tray and liner
  • Brush
  • Ceiling paint
  • Primer
  • Long extension pole
  • Masking supplies (tape, plastic, drop cloth)
  • Step ladder
  • Safety glasses

Best Paint Roller For Popcorn Ceiling

Before we jump into the actual painting, let’s talk about roller sleeves. 

Considering popcorn ceilings are so textured, you’re going to need a roller with at least a 3/4″ nap. They hold more paint than your average wall roller. This is extremely helpful for getting into all of the grooves of your ceiling, especially if the texture is very thick.

Note: The steps for priming and painting will be the same

Step 1: 

Begin the same by moving all furniture and mask the walls, floors and any other furniture left in the room.

Step 2: 

Takedown, tape, or mask off any lights, fans or ceiling fixtures

Step 3: 

Start in one corner, using your brush to paint along the edge of your ceiling and around lights and fixtures. Be sure to paint out about 2″-2 1/2″ so there’s plenty of space for your roller to reach your brush line.  

Step 4:

Beginning in a corner, start rolling in one direction and when rolling back, overlap it by about 50%. You’ll want to roll in sections of about 5 or 6 square feet, keeping a “wet edge” to avoid lapping marks. 

Step 5:

Make your way across the entire ceiling, working from north to south or east to west. 

Step 6:

Let the ceiling dry for a couple of hours and repeat steps 3-5, rolling in the opposite direction as the first coat. 

When you’re cutting and rolling a popcorn ceiling, it generally will take 2-3 coats.

Step 7:

You’re ready to clean up

How to Paint Popcorn Ceiling Edge

Painting the ceiling edges is simple, but we have a few tips to help create a clean, even edge that’ll look like it was painted by a professional. Let’s break it down:

Step 1:

Mask off the walls, making sure the tape is pressed down completely along the ceiling. 

Step 2:

Load your brush with paint and start by sweeping in towards the tape line, keeping back from it by about a quarter to half an inch. Without loading your brush gain, go back over it and push the excess paint closer into the tape line. Be careful not to flood the tapeline with paint if possible. 

Step 3:  

Smooth out any heavy paint lines, but don’t worry about eliminating the brush lines. Most paints are self-levelling.

Step 4:

This is optional, but you can then take a mini roller and roll as close as you can get to the ceiling to smooth out the lines. Doing so can help keep the transition between your cut lines and roller smooth.

Step 5:

Alternatively, you can skip cutting with a brush and roll around the entire room. Only do this is you aren’t worried about paint getting on the walls. 

Conclusion

There’s a lot of planning and preparation involved if you decide to paint your popcorn ceilings. 

For the DIYer, it can be challenging and a lot of work, but very rewarding when you see it finished. If you decide to hire professional painters, it’s still a cheaper option than having them removed. 

Regardless of which route you take, painting your popcorn ceilings will breathe some new life into your home. 

Resources

How to Paint Popcorn & Textured Ceilings – Home Advisor

How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Ceiling? – Fixr

  • 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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