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What is a Popcorn Ceiling? The Full Breakdown

A Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceiling made its appearance in the 20th century. Whether you have it in your house or not, you’ve definitely seen it before. Popcorn ceiling is also known as stucco ceiling, acoustic ceiling, or vermiculite ceiling, and it looks more like cottage cheese than popcorn.

If you’ve ever wondered what popcorn ceiling is, why it always seems to be crumbling on your head, and what this weird stuff is made of, you’ve come to the right place. Today we’re going to talk about popcorn ceiling basics, its texture, what exactly it’s doing in your house, and why it was once so popular.

What is Popcorn Ceiling?

Popcorn ceilings were used between the 1930s and 1990s throughout North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia – just to name a few regions. You can tell popcorn ceiling right away because of its stippled texture. It also has a very specific feel to it. Popcorn ceiling feels like running your hands across dry or cracked stone.

Popcorn ceiling is generally found inside of entrance hallways, inside bedrooms, and almost always in the basements of homes up until the late 1990s. Popcorn ceiling is extremely outdated. Most people don’t want it in their homes anymore. In fact, you can date a house simply by walking in and seeing popcorn ceiling. If you see this white, crumbly stuff above your head, you’re in an old house. This stuff is not used anymore!

What is Popcorn Ceiling Made of?

Popcorn ceiling is actually really simple. The bumpy texture is created by using materials like Styrofoam or stucco to give the ceiling its white and pimply appearance. This was almost always done using a sponge or a special hopper gun that would spray the texture all over the ceiling.

Popcorn ceiling can also be made out of a naturally occurring mineral called vermiculite. Even though popcorn ceiling always looks the same, it’s often made out of a mixture of different materials. These materials are almost always cardboard-based, except of course for vermiculite. These materials are cheap and easy to blend together.

How Do You Apply Popcorn Ceiling?

Popcorn ceiling is usually sprayed onto the ceiling using a specialized hopper gun or an electric textile sprayer, with help from an air compressor. Imagine a pressure washer except it’s firing out white chunky goo all over a ceiling.

Of course, it is a bit more complicated than that. The popcorn ceiling mixture must first be combined and then mixed with water. While wet, the mixture is sprayed all over the ceiling. But before even that can happen, the ceiling must be prepared using a special primer or white paint. It also takes several different coats of popcorn ceiling mix to get the best results.

After a couple of coats, the popcorn ceiling dries, stays hard, and clings to your ceiling until it starts to crumble.

What is the Popcorn Ceiling Texture?

Popcorn ceilings are all about aesthetics. The texture of a popcorn ceiling is irregular, resembling the texture of popcorn. This is obviously where it gets its name. A simpler way to say it is that popcorn ceiling is bumpy. In fact, its texture was one of the original reasons why it became so popular, especially in the 1970s.

Because popcorn ceiling does have such a bumpy appearance, it’s a great way to hide imperfections. If there are cracks, defects, or just shoddy drywall workmanship, a popcorn ceiling can hide all of that. An ordinary coat of paint simply can’t hide things like popcorn ceiling can.

Is Popcorn Ceiling Still a Thing?

Yes, popcorn ceiling a thing! You still have the option of using popcorn ceiling in your home. In fact, there are new popcorn ceiling mixtures available that use chunks of polystyrene or Styrofoam. This stuff is easy to make yourself, it’s affordable to have somebody do it for you, and it’s a great alternative to a smooth ceiling. And like we already mentioned, if you have a pretty ugly ceiling to begin with, the popcorn effect might be the way to go.

Is There Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings?

If you’re dealing with a house that was built before 1977 and it has a popcorn ceiling, you may be dealing with asbestos. A little-known fact is that asbestos was actually used as a binder in mixtures for popcorn ceilings before it was eventually banned. But even after the ban, it took a while to completely get rid of all traces of asbestos. That means that even if your house was built in the 80s, asbestos still could have been used in the building materials.

Unfortunately, there is always a chance of finding asbestos in a popcorn ceiling. If you do happen to spot asbestos while removing a popcorn ceiling, you really shouldn’t touch it yourself. Asbestos is incredibly toxic and very damaging to your lungs, and the only way it should be removed is by a professional contractor with a license for removing asbestos.

Are Popcorn Ceilings Really Dusty?

Popcorn ceilings are indeed dusty. Not only are popcorn ceilings dusty, but they can collect dirt, bugs, and cobwebs. Spiders are particularly fond of popcorn ceilings and will almost always make webs in the corners or even in the middle of the room.

The reason popcorn ceilings are so dusty is the rough texture. Popcorn ceilings are bumpy, they have peaks and valleys, and there are literally thousands and thousands of cracks and crevices where dust and debris can hide. Even if you’re not intentionally throwing dust up at your ceiling, it will find a way up there on its own.

Unfortunately, the dust from popcorn ceilings can make them pretty dirty. This means you always need to be on top of cleaning and regular maintenance. You must clean your popcorn ceiling frequently unless you feel like walking through a constant shower of dust while moving through your house.

How Do You Clean a Popcorn Ceiling?

The best way to clean a popcorn ceiling is by using something like a dust brush. You probably haven’t seen a feather duster since 1986, but these are actually the best way to get dirt and grime and loose dust off your popcorn ceiling.

Alternatively, you can always try to use a vacuum. We suggest the brush attachment. Just be sure that you don’t accidentally poke at the ceiling with your vacuum, otherwise you could chip the textured surface and cause pieces of the popcorn ceiling to fall off.

Can You Use Popcorn Ceiling in the Bathroom?

Popcorn ceiling should never be put inside of a bathroom or a kitchen. This is because both rooms collect a lot of moisture. When you have a hot shower, all of that steam and moisture rises to your ceiling. If you have a popcorn ceiling in your bathroom, the texture can get soggy and fall right off. The same can be said about the kitchen.

In fact, even if you have popcorn ceiling in the hallway outside your bathroom, you might notice that its edges become loose over time. This might be because of the moisture slipping through the top of the door and brushing against the popcorn ceiling in your hallway. Moisture is absolutely terrible for this type of ceiling.

If you’re putting new ceilings into bathrooms and kitchens, you should definitely use a smooth ceiling with proper primer and paint. In fact, this really is your only option.

How Much Does a Popcorn Ceiling Cost?

Costs are definitely something to consider when looking at popcorn ceilings. Let’s say you want to cover a 250-square-foot ceiling. You could be looking at up to $260 for around 4 hours of work in labor. You also may need to rent specialty equipment, which can set you back between $50 and $100. Extra supplies can be in the range of $30 to $90. When all is said and done, you’re looking at around $400 to create the textured ceiling.

Now let’s compare that to a smooth ceiling. Between the latex paint and your primer, you’re going to pay at least $200. This is still for 250 square feet. The labor charge on top of this can range anywhere from $150 to $350 depending on who you hire. Of course, you can negate this cost by doing it yourself. But then you still have ceiling painting supplies, masking tape, clean up, and paper. At the end of the day, the total cost of your project will be between $250 and $550.

Basically, the popcorn ceiling is going to be significantly cheaper.

Is a Popcorn Ceiling Better for Noise?

One of the reasons that popcorn ceilings became so popular in the first place is that they are excellent at dampening noise. When compared to a smooth ceiling that’s been painted, having a popcorn ceiling is like living inside of a noiseless chamber.

One of the reasons popcorn ceilings dampen noise so well is that they have an increased surface area. Popcorn ceilings work as natural noise insulators and can be hugely beneficial in a room where noise has become an issue.

For example, if you’re tired of listening to someone stomp around on the floor above you, a popcorn ceiling can dramatically improve your quality of life by suffocating the sound!

Final Thoughts

Popcorn ceiling was a great idea in the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, we weren’t very aware of the dangers of asbestos and so popcorn ceiling became known as toxic and dangerous and fell out of favor. Because of this, it’s generally advised that if an old house has popcorn ceilings, they should be removed.

That said, popcorn ceiling can still be beneficial for cancelling noise, for making a room cozier, and as an inexpensive way to remodel your ceilings. New popcorn ceiling mixtures absolutely do not contain asbestos and are 100% safe.

Resources:

What Is The Point Of Popcorn Ceiling? (homestars.com)

Vermiculite ceiling (popcorn ceiling) | BUILD

Popcorn vs Smooth Ceiling – Pros, Cons, Comparisons and Costs (fixr.com)

Popcorn ceiling – Wikipedia

  • 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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