Can Popcorn Ceilings be Sanded Down?

guy sanding a popcorn ceiling
Sanding Down a Popcorn Ceiling

Are you sick of the popcorn ceiling in your old house? If you want to freshen up your home by removing popcorn ceiling without actually having to scrape it off, you might want to consider sanding the popcorn ceiling instead.

Believe it or not, you can sand down a popcorn ceiling. Instead of using a scraper to remove the entire texture, simply use a handheld sander to smooth the ceiling and brighten up your room.

By using a sander instead of a scraper, you save a ton of time and effort and can easily paint over the new surface in just a few minutes. The rough popcorn (or cottage cheese) texture will be gone. You’ll be left with a softer, more modern texture on your ceiling that you can paint any color.

How to Sand Down a Popcorn Ceiling

Sanding down a popcorn ceiling can be done in about thirty minutes. All you’ll need is a 3” putty knife and a drywall sander, preferably with 120-grit screens. Of course, you’ll also need a breathing mask. You don’t want to be breathing in any dust!

Before you start scraping and sanding, make sure there’s no asbestos in your popcorn ceiling. If your ceiling was made between the 1960s and 1980s, chances are it could be filled with asbestos.

To test your ceiling for asbestos, you’ll need to send a sample to your local lab or hire a professional to come in and test it for you. If your ceiling is found to contain asbestos, we don’t recommend sanding or removing the texture yourself. The harmful asbestos dust could get in your lungs and cause medical issues.

To sand down your popcorn ceiling, follow these easy steps.

Step 1: Start by scraping off the spiky parts of the ceiling using a putty knife. You don’t need to wet the ceiling at all. Scrape it dry. Go along the entire ceiling with your 3” putty knife (larger putty knives work well too) and try to remove all the spikiest parts.

Your ceiling doesn’t need to be smooth. You just want to get rid of the sharpest and most jagged bits. Be sure to turn on a fan and open a window. You also want to keep the floors covered in plastic. There is going to be a ton of dust!

Step 2: Once you’ve scraped the entire ceiling with your putty knife, it’s time to start sanding. Take your drywall sander and lightly sand the entire ceiling. This will get rid of the cottage cheese look and give you a smooth textured ceiling that’s more attractive and that better reflects light.

Step 3: Now you can paint your ceiling with two coats of primer and paint. Even if you just use a new coat of white paint, your room is going to look larger, it’s going to be brighter, and people won’t immediately notice the ugly popcorn texture. You’ve gotten rid of it!

When all is said and done, the sanding should have taken about thirty minutes, then another half a day between primer and paint.

How Do You Remove and Refinish a Popcorn Ceiling?

Removing and refinishing the popcorn ceiling is not as hard as you may think. The first step is to scrape off the popcorn texture, which you can easily do yourself in about an hour. The next step is sanding and refinishing the ceiling, which sometimes involves repairing the drywall.

Finally, painting the ceiling will give new life to your home. You can paint the ceiling any color and never need to worry about the toxic, outdated, and ugly texture darkening your home ever again!

How Do You Scrape Off Popcorn Ceiling?

Step 1: The first thing to do is cover up your room. You need to prepare your workspace for a huge mess. This means taking all the furniture out of the room, removing any kinds of hanging light fixtures or ceiling fans, and covering all electrical outlets.

You also want to cover the floor and the walls in plastic. When removing the popcorn texture, you’re going to be spraying water. This is why plastic is better than cloth for covering the walls and floor.

It’s also a good idea to prevent dust from escaping the room by covering the doorway with plastic as well.

Step 2: Fill a garden pump sprayer with ordinary water. You then want to moisten the popcorn texture to not only minimize dust, but to also make the texture become loose from the drywall. If you don’t have a garden sprayer, just use a mist bottle to spray the ceiling.

When spraying, be sure not to soak the ceiling. You only want to spray a small section at a time. Try squirting water onto a 5-foot section, just enough to moisten the texture and not enough to damage the drywall underneath. Scrape off one section at a time and don’t over-saturate your ceiling.

You also need to allow the popcorn ceiling texture to soak up the water for about 10 minutes before you start scraping.

Step 3: The next step is to scrape the texture off. Make sure that you wear gloves, a face mask, and safety goggles to prevent dust from getting into your eyes and throat. You’re then going to scrape each moistened 5-foot section using a putty knife. Anything from a 3” to a 6” putty knife is going to work great. You can even use a utility knife if that’s all you have handy.

When you have finally finished scraping every last bit of popcorn texture off the ceiling, be sure that you use a wet paper towel to gently wash down the ceiling and remove any leftover dust residue.

It’s also easier if you catch the scraped off texture using something like a mud bucket.

How Do You Refinish a Ceiling After Removing Popcorn Texture?

Refinishing your ceiling means getting it ready to be painted and perfect. After you’ve scraped off all the popcorn texture, you need to inspect the drywall. The drywall could be damaged, which means you’ll need to do repairs before finally painting.

If the drywall is damaged, make sure you have some drywall compound handy. Using the same putty knife that you used to scrape off the texture, you want to fill the blemishes and gouges in the drywall. Make sure that you always leave the ceiling smooth and that all the holes are filled.

How Do You Sand a Ceiling After Removing Popcorn Texture?

To sand your ceiling after removing the popcorn texture, simply use an ordinary drywall sander or a drywall sponge to get rid of any rough edges that were made while applying drywall compound to the damaged areas of the ceiling. Be sure that you wait at least an hour for the drywall compound to dry before you begin sanding.

This is easily done by lightly sanding the ceiling in areas that aren’t smooth, particularly where you had to use drywall compound. However, it is a good idea to sand the entire ceiling gently to get rid of any stubborn texture still stuck to the drywall. The point of sanding is to get the drywall as smooth and uniform as possible before painting.

How Do You Paint a Ceiling After Removing Popcorn Texture?

Be sure that you allow your sanded drywall to sit for at least 24 hours before you start painting your new ceiling. After that, all the normal rules apply to the painting. Be sure to protect your walls and floors. Use either a sprayer or a paint brush or paint roller. Pick out your color and paint the ceiling normally, without worrying about the ugly popcorn texture.

How Much Does It Cost to Smooth Popcorn Ceilings?

It costs absolutely nothing to smooth a popcorn ceiling. If you choose to sand the ceiling using a drywall sander, the only cost is going to be the drywall sander and the sandpaper. This is a 30-minute job that doesn’t require fancy tools or equipment.

Smoothing your popcorn ceiling is arguably the most affordable way to improve your house. The smoother texture is infinitely better than the rough popcorn texture and can bring much-needed life into an old home.

Is It Worth It to Remove Popcorn Ceiling?

It is absolutely worth it to remove your popcorn ceiling. This type of textured ceiling is not designed to last. Over 20 or 30 years, the texture is bound to crack and begin to peel. The best thing you can do is remove the popcorn ceiling before this happens.

Also, we all know by now that popcorn ceilings often contain asbestos. To never have to deal with the dangers this poses to you and your family, removing the ceiling and painting over it is really the best option.

Of course, you can always cover the popcorn ceiling with decorative ceiling tiles, wooden planks, or even just new sheets of drywall. Either way you look at it, it is always worth it to remove your popcorn ceiling – especially with so many DIY options to choose from.

Final Thoughts

The traditional way to remove popcorn ceiling is by scraping the texture off. However, today we’ve learned that sanding can be a quicker and more affordable option if you don’t mind having a smooth textured ceiling.

By sanding your popcorn ceiling, you get rid of the spikiest parts of the ceiling and totally change the way a room looks. It takes less than 30 minutes and can be done with absolutely no specialty equipment other than a drywall sander.


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  • 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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