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How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn Wall/Ceiling

Table of Contents

Popcorn ceilings, frequently referred to as stucco ceilings or cottage cheese ceilings, were a common style to help reduce a slight bit of noise, offer some fire protection, and cover any imperfections in your ceilings and was most popular from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

This unique design uses loose materials mixed into paint and then added to a surface like your ceiling and is usually applied using a paint sprayer.

It lost its popularity in the late 20th century, mainly due to the aggregates used sometimes containing asbestos, which, when inhaled, can lead to cancer leading to the treatment being banned.

Furthermore, the ceiling style was a dust catcher, and getting between the groves was challenging to clean and repair.

However, removing popcorn ceilings produces a lot of mess, and the dollars can rack up if asbestos is involved. And it’s generally not the safest task, and the fumes released can be toxic.

So, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of removal, adding a clear coat of paint can spruce up your ceiling, giving it a lighter and brighter look, but you may be trying to figure out How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling.

Although it’s not deemed an arduous task for a home improver or DIYer, professionally painting a popcorn ceiling requires specific tools and practices.

This article will provide you with the details you need to figure out How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling to give your outdated textured ceiling a new breath of life.

What to Check for Before Starting

It’s important to note that not all popcorn ceilings can be painted over or be part of your next DIY project.

It’s detrimental that before you begin any paintwork, you get your ceiling tested to see if asbestos is present- mainly if your home was built before 1977. You need to ensure your ceiling is tested by a certified professional.

If the professional discovers that asbestos is present, it’s best to hire a trained professional to complete the job to reduce the chance of any health implications.

Type of Paint and Finish

As with most ceiling types, buying an odorless primer with a high-quality, acrylic latex water-based paint in a flat finish is the most suitable choice for your popcorn textured ceiling.

Using paint with a flat finish will help to hide any imperfections, flaws, or uneven textures. The flat finish also helps the popcorn texture to merge with the rest of the room.

Top Tip: You can purchase a paint that is precisely designed for ceilings. It’s recommended that you buy around 15 to 20 percent more paint than you need; this allows you to account for the extra surface area from the texture.

Rolling vs Spraying

Using a roller to paint a cieiling for article how to paint a popcorn ceiling

Ultimately, whether you choose to spray or roll paint, your popcorn ceiling boils down to preference and how comfortable you in your painting ability.

However, if you already have a sprayer or know someone who has one, then the simple answer is, yes, use your sprayer. Using a sprayer lowers the difficulty level and offers a wide range of benefits in comparison to rolling.

Spraying is less time-consuming and will help to leave a better finish. Also, because popcorn textured styles are not bonded very well to your drywall ceiling, it can cause the texture to break up or fall off. Sometimes it can be large chunks that fall off, especially when rolling the paint onto your ceiling.

Spraying your paint eliminates these troubles by decreasing the chance of your texture breaking up or falling off. However, applying too much paint too thickly can cause the popcorn style to fall off.

If you choose to spray your ceiling and your walls have just been finished, you should first cover your walls with a plastic sheet.

If you don’t have a sprayer, you can use a roller as well, and it just takes a little more time if you have multiple ceilings to repaint. Purchasing the equipment for rolling a ceiling is also much cheaper than buying a sprayer.

Insight: If your ceiling is already painted, the texture will be less brittle and, therefore, less susceptible to breaking off.

How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling: Step-by-Step

Tools and Materials List: Using a Roller

  • Dust masks
  • Painter’s tape
  • Plastic sheet x4
  • Ladder
  • Dropcloth x4
  • Protective equipment
  • Vacuum
  • Angled paintbrush
  • Feather duster
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Roller cover with ¾-inch nap
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Paint
  • Paint roller with extensions handle

Step One: Preparation

Just as with any paint job, preparation is a step that must be completed thoroughly, especially when it comes to popcorn ceilings. As the texture of a popcorn ceiling is rigid, the paint will inevitably splatter and get everywhere, creating a lot of mess.

Using your painter’s tape, you’ll want to plastic sheets over the walls and cover your flooring with your drop cloths. You can also mask off any ceiling fixtures like lightbulb covers with plastic sheets and painter’s tape.

Furniture:

Make sure your room is clean and tidy, removing all furniture that can be moved out of the room you plan to paint.

If you cannot move the furniture, lay out a drop cloth in the room and place any furniture on the drop cloths.

Using your plastic sheets, cover your furniture and secure with your painter’s tape.

Remember: Tape the edges of the plastic sheet down to the drop cloth, this will make the sheet extra secure, so it won’t come up while you are painting.

Walls

There are two preparation methods to follow depending on if you want to repaint your walls after you’ve finished your ceiling or if your walls are already painted before your ceiling.

 So, if you plan on repainting your walls afterward, you’ll need to place some plastic over your windows and door.

You’ll want to take your plastic sheets and cut out a square shape that can be stretched over your windows and doors. Now add some painter’s tape along the top of the plastic covering your door or window.

Once it’s secure, continue to tape the sides and bottom of the plastic, make sure it’s as tight as possible so paint drips cannot slip through any gaps.

If you want to keep your walls paint-free, you’ll want to apply painter’s tape along the walls where the wall meets the ceiling; press firmly, making sure the tape is secured.

Using your plastic sheet, run it adjacent to the tape, and place a small piece of tape every 2 feet to keep the plastic in place.

Hot Tip: For extra security, you can go back other your small pieces of tape with a long piece to completely secure your plastic sheet.

Floors:

You can prepare your walls for paint in a few different ways. If you have purchased enough drop cloths, then you can use these to cover your floor.

You must ensure all your floor is covered and there are no gaps. As mentioned before, painting your ceiling will create quite a lot of mess!

If you don’t have plenty of drop cloths, you can always use your plastic sheets. Lay them on the floor, tape the plastic ends to the trim or baseboards around your room, and ensure it’s secure.  

Step Two: Prep your Ceiling

Now that you have finished phase one of the preparation process, it’s time to analyze your ceiling to see if any repairs need attending.

Water and Nicotine Stains

You may notice some yellow stains which occur due to water damage. To repair this damage, you need to prime the area with a spray can oil-based primer, not latex; this is usually found at most home improvement stores.

Similarly, nicotine stains found on your ceiling can bleed through your topcoat of paint if your surface has not been correctly primed. Repeat the primer process with water stains.

Note: If big patches of the ceiling are discolored or stained from nicotine or water, then you should prime the entire area using a sprayer or a roller.

Popcorn Ceiling Repair

Damage to your ceiling can be patched up using a joint compound and a taping knife. However, it’s important to note that patching the damaged areas will flatten the surface and remove the popcorn texture.

Therefore, the bare stops will be noticeable and need to be filled with new popcorn. You can purchase an aerosol can of popcorn texture which can be found at most home improvement stores.

Cracks in your popcorn or stucco ceilings are vital indicators that your ceiling, as well as your home, needs a fresh coat of paint.

Bear in Mind: The aerosol is suitable for small areas, but if you have a more extensive area to cover, you may need to purchase a container of the texture and either spray or roll it onto your ceiling. Take your time to make sure the new popcorn blends in with the rest of the ceiling.

Step Three: Prep the Edges

Painter cutting in before he begins to paint the ceilings

As your roller won’t be able to cover the small edges, it’s recommended that you use a paintbrush to create a neat edge around your room.

Using your ceiling paint, paint the edges between the wall and ceiling. If you leave around 2-inches from the wall, it will leave you with some space for when you begin to roll.

You can also go around any light fittings using the same brush and paint, keeping the same 2-inch gap from the wall.

Extra Information: Some people scrape around a ¼ inch of the popcorn surface, with a flathead screwdriver, before painting around their edges. If you adopt this method, be sure to put on your protective gear, dust masks, and eyewear.

Step Four: Dust or Vacuum

Using either your vacuum’s soft bristle attachment or a feather duster- go around your ceiling, getting into all the nooks and crannies to clear away any dust or debris, so it does not affect how well the paints adhere.

Step Five: Paint

Load your roller with a decent amount of paint but apply it with a gentle and light touch. Once your ceiling gets wet, you may notice so peeling, so try not to overwork or go over one area several times.

Keep your strokes going in one direction, particularly with your first coat, and remember the slower you roll, the fewer splatters of paint.

Persevere through this stage. It may take a while and will be a little tiring so take breaks accordingly.

Keep in Mind: Textured surfaces require more paint to be applied for full coverage, plan to use twice as much paint as you would on an untextured ceiling.

If your ceiling is in good shape, one coat may be enough. If not, applying a second coat is fine.

Experts Tip: As painting your ceiling is strenuous, you won’t want to bend or come down your ladder to reload your brush.  If you use a long-napped roller cover, you can load on a decent amount of paint in one dip. Furthermore, using a 5-gallon bucket with a screen will ensure the roller is sufficiently loaded.

Step Six: Second Coat

Make sure you allow time for your first coat to dry. If you are entirely sure it’s dry, go back in a cut around the edges and any light fixtures with your paintbrush. Once you have finished cutting in, you can begin to roll on your second coat.

Make sure you change your direction from your first coat, so if you went back and forth, you’d want to go side to side now. By doing this, it will decrease the chances of any streaky lines on your finished ceiling.

You must check your manufacturer’s guidelines to determine how long your paint takes to dry, but in the meantime, check out our guide on dry times for different types of paint, i.e., latex-based and oil-based.

Step Seven: Analyze and Touch-up

Now your ceiling is completed after applying your two coats, and you’ll want to analyze your work carefully and closely. Take a step back and look for any imperfections that you want to touch up. It’s best to do this while your paint is still wet.

Step Eight: Tidy up

Your ceiling should be looking perfect after completing any touch-ups. Before you remove any of your plastic sheets or drop cloths, leave your paint to dry for at least one hour. This is because there may be wet paint on your plastic, and you don’t want to risk any spillages on your floor or your furniture.

To preserve your roller and paintbrush, wash them out in warm soapy water before they dry out.

Top Three Tips for How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling Without Mess

Man hanging up a plastic sheet to cut down on mess for article how to paint a popcorn ceiling
  1. Gentleness: Be gentle when you are cleaning the ceiling. If you are going to use a vacuum, ensure that you only use the soft brush attachment. If you opt to use a feather duster, again use gentle strokes, pressing too hard will cause the ceiling to crumble.  
  2. Amount of Paint: Try to keep a consistent amount of paint on the roller. To obtain full coverage on a popcorn ceiling, the coats need to be fairly thick. Be cautious though as too much paint can saturate the texture and weaken it and cause it to break up.
  3. Preparation: Thorough preparation is key. As you are using more paint and applying paint over a rougher surface than a flat ceiling, naturally there is going to be more paint. Make sure all your items are covered before you begin.

Summary: How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling

Following the steps in this How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling Guide will equip you with the skills and tools needed to complete the job effectively.

Before starting any painting work, you must get a certified professional to check your ceiling to see if asbestos is present, mainly if your home was built before 1977.

Of course, once you are given the ok, preparation is the next task to focus on entirely, from moving furniture to prepping walls and floors, as well as dusting your ceiling and repairing any imperfections.

Gentleness is a key feature you need to hone for this DIY project. When rolling your paint onto your ceiling, if you are not careful, you can cause the ceiling to flake and fall to the ground in large chunks.

When painting your ceilings between coats, it’s important to change the direction you are applying the paint. If you go side to side for your first coat, you must go back and forth for your second coat. This will help to reduce streaky marks and lines on your finished project.

How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling is a lengthy task, but closely following our guide and devoting enough time, preparation and determination will see your ‘outdated’ ceiling revitalized.

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