Are Popcorn Ceilings Dangerous?


There’s a lot of talk about the dangers of popcorn ceilings. If you have them in your home, you might be wondering if it’s time to get rid of them.

You may also wonder if it’s a project you can safely take on yourself. Or if it always needs to be done professionally.

Worrying about the right thing to do can add a lot of unnecessary stress to your life. We’re going to discuss all the potential dangers of popcorn ceilings so you can be confident in your decision-making.

Let’s jump into it.

The good news is that you can test your popcorn ceiling for the presence of asbestos. Learn how to test popcorn ceiling for asbestos in our detailed guide.

Are All Popcorn Ceilings Dangerous Or Toxic?

Fortunately, not all popcorn ceilings are toxic and a danger to your health. That will mostly depend on when the ceiling was made.

Popcorn ceilings made before the mid-1980s have the potential to contain asbestos. Generally, it will be between 1% and 10% but can be a serious health risk regardless of the percentage. In these cases its always best to cover the ceiling (if possible) than remove it.

The asbestos won’t cause any issues unless the texture is disturbed or damaged. If you’ve ever been up close to a popcorn ceiling, you know it doesn’t take much for this to happen. Routine cleaning, moving furniture or even a heavy foot on the floor above can be enough to cause the texture to fall. Deterioration over time is another culprit that can release toxins and dust from the plaster board under your popcorn ceiling.

Many homeowners decide to prime and paint their popcorn ceilings so it seals in the texture. Once dried, it’s much harder to agitate the texture. A fresh coat of paint will also fight against deterioration, another culprit that can release toxins and dust over time.

If your ceiling was made after the mid-1980s, you should be in the clear. Builders switched to using safer materials to create the popcorn texture after then.

Also see: Does Removing Popcorn Ceiling Increase Home Value?

Are Popcorn Ceilings Bad For Your Health?

Popcorn ceilings aren’t the ideal choice when it comes to your health. Beyond the risk of asbestos, they can be agitating if you have allergies, asthma or a respiratory illness.

Because there are so many edges and grooves in the ceiling, it’s the perfect place for dust and other allergens to hide. Unfortunately, it also makes it difficult to clean without knocking off the texture, creating more dust.

Can Popcorn Ceilings Cause Cancer?

Popcorn ceilings containing asbestos can cause cancer if you’re exposed to the fibres. These fibres are released into the air with dust when the texture is damaged or disturbed.

Once inhaled or ingested, the fibres cause irritation and scarring on the lungs, heart or abdomen, leading to more severe health problems such as lung cancer and asbestosis.

Can Popcorn Ceilings Cause Mesothelioma?

The most serious condition caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma cancer. The irritation caused by inhaling or ingesting the fibres can result in the development of tumors.

Symptoms can take 10-50 years to develop after the initial exposure and can be mistaken for less severe illnesses. These symptoms include:

  • Chest or lower back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Fever and night sweats

The people who had direct contact with asbestos aren’t the only ones at risk. Friends and family can suffer from second-hand exposure from fibres that stick to hair, skin and clothing.

What Year Did They Stop Using Asbestos In Popcorn Ceilings?

Builders used materials containing asbestos for decades before fully understanding the risks involved. While there was evidence of disease among workers who handled it, it wasn’t until the Clean Air Act of 1970 that regulated it as a harmful air pollutant.

The Clean Air Act was amended in 1978, officially banning all spray products that contained asbestos due to the safety of those who applied them.

The catch is, businesses were still allowed to use their existing inventory. Therefore popcorn ceilings made well into the mid-1980s could still contain asbestos.

Is A Hole Or Crack In A Popcorn Ceiling Dangerous?

A hole or crack in your popcorn ceiling isn’t always dangerous, but you need to be cautious. Even small amounts of damage can release toxic fibres if it contains asbestos.

While a hole or crack is less likely to release toxins than physically disturbing the ceiling, even a tiny amount of asbestos fibres can lead to illnesses.

You should have your popcorn ceiling tested if you notice any damage. Prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres will only increase the chance of developing a disease.

The Dangers Of Removing Popcorn Ceiling

I’m sure by now you know the biggest danger of removing your popcorn ceiling—the risk of asbestos exposure. You must have it tested by professionals or send a sample to a certified lab before doing any work.

If your ceiling tests positive for any amount of asbestos, you’ll need to hire an asbestos abatement company to remove it for you.

If it doesn’t, then you’re in the clear to take on the job yourself. With that being said, there are still risks involved with removing the texture.

Let’s go into detail:

Is Scraping Popcorn Ceilings Dangerous?

The biggest concern when scraping popcorn ceilings is the dust it creates. The texture is a magnet for dust and other allergens, and when scraped, it releases those particles back into the air.

You can dampen the surface before scraping to cut back on the dust created, but you’ll never be able to eliminate all of it.

Is Popcorn Ceiling Dust Dangerous?

Dust from popcorn ceilings containing asbestos is dangerous to inhale or ingest. Even dust left behind from improper removal can remain airborne and lead to exposure after the fact.

Asbestos-free dust is still unhealthy to inhale. Breathing in the dust can trigger allergies, asthma flare-ups and potential respiratory problems after extended exposure. Always wear a respirator or dust mask when removing any textured ceiling.

Final Thoughts

Not all popcorn ceilings are dangerous, and there are safe ways to handle the ones that are. Even though asbestos is something to be cautious about, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in immediate danger if your ceiling contains traces of it.

Most often, the safest choice is to have your popcorn ceilings removed. Doing so will help avoid toxins, dust and allergen build-up in your home.

Our final recommendation will be to talk to a reputable asbestos abatement company if you’re considering popcorn ceiling removal. They can answer questions related to your project and discuss your options with you.

  • 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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    There’s a lot of talk about the dangers of popcorn ceilings. If you have them…
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