Covering Popcorn ceiling with plaster

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update May 2011–I’ve had thousands of hits on this blog post.  In fact, it is #1 on Google searches on this topic.  So I felt guilty I had not put more information to show people how to do this.  I’ve now done all but two rooms of our house and it has made a dramatic improvement throughout.  I’ve put more detailed instructions of how to do this technique, along with more pictures on:

Full Instructions and Pictures for Covering Popcorn Ceiling with Plaster

 

Original post:

Ok–I’m posting this hoping it helps other people.  Popcorn ceilings are ugly–or at least unfashionable.  They make a house dated.  We’ve wanted to get rid of ours ever since we moved in.  How to do it?  Scraping is the usual way, but ours is painted and may have asbestos (1972) so we were searching for a different solution.  I’ve been thinking about trying to plaster over it ever since I re-plastered our bathrooms after remodeling/re-tiling four years ago.  Most internet sites I visited suggested it would not work, but I decided to try a small bathroom area.  Our popcorn is probably plaster rather than the softer kind which you can wet and scrape.  I tried wetting and scraping and it didn’t work.  Well, the plastering over did work.  I used lightweight joint compound.  It took about 4 hours for the bathroom.  It would probably take a full 8 hours to do a bedroom ceiling.

I’ve done all of our house now except for two bedrooms which I plan to finish this summer.  They all look great.  Here is the before:

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Here is the after (a different room–I forgot to take the before photo ahead of time):

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How?  I took the joint compound on my scraping tool and pressed it against the wall then kept on pressing down as I pulled the compound across the popcorn.  Then I’d go back and keep on pressing and pulling away in different directions.  On one ceiling I did it very fast and used a lot of compound.  On another ceiling, I worked more slowly and tried to put just enough compound to cover the popcorn and look all right.  The ceiling with a lot of compound did have some small cracks–the paint filled these in somewhat and it does add to the “old plaster” look of our house.  The thin compound ceiling sort of has ridges a bit more.  I did find that you can go over the plaster and touch up if you want.  On my laundry ceiling, I worked harder to press into the corners to make the plaster of the ceiling match better with the wall.  It was sometimes hard to make it look good around the air conditioning ducts and lights.  The best thing might be to remove these and replace them over the new plaster.   After letting the plaster dry for a few days, I painted.  One of the paints was a primer/paint, the other one was just a good white.  Both look good, but a primer paint probably covers better.   This technique wouldn’t work for everyone, but it has definitely been great for us.

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15 responses »

  1. This method is working for us as well! Our popcorn ceiling has asbestos so we thought we would just have to live with the ugly ceilings since we couldn’t afford abatement. We’re so glad we found a solution that works! Popcorn ceilings begone!

  2. I am so glad! You made my day. I really was hoping someone else could be helped by this method. As a matter of fact, I spent the last two weeks working on five more ceilings in my house. I’m actually getting faster as I keep going. I have four bedrooms to go and I’ll be done. It has been tedious work, but the ceilings look great and it has added a lot to the look of the house. It is very inexpensive if you do it yourself. each medium-sized room costs about $40 and after fiddling with some different tools, I’ve finally settled on just three: a 4 inch long metal plaster tool (under $10), a plastic rectangular tray for the plaster (about $5) and a nice stepstool with three steps and a tray. I have used paint drop cloths on the floor and furniture, but as I got better, I even stopped using those if there was just tile floor below (easier to just wipe the plaster off). If anyone else tries this method, I’d love to hear your tips.

  3. I was also considering covering my popcorn ceiling which possibly has asbestos (1975) and had a question.

    Because I live in earthquake country I was wondering if it would be best to nail a wire mesh to the ceiling prior to plastering?

  4. Hi Chris–we don’t live in earthquake country anymore, but we both grew up in CA. Our house is about the same age as yours. We don’t think we have asbestos but we are not sure (our neighbor did have his tested and found it did not, and we did talk with some contractors who were willing to scrape ours down–I don’t think they realized it was painted, which makes this hard to do). I sat on a court case for asbestos in CA and so I learned a lot about the dangers. You might want to consider having your home tested. My method won’t work if your ceiling is the kind that sort of melts away when you put water on it (scraping works for that and Home Depot can tell you about it). My method worked for us because our popcorn was not possible to scrape off–so the new plaster just coated it. I’ve done almost the whole house now (just two bedrooms to go) and had no problems. I’ve learned to do some different techniques so some of the ceilings look more sculpted and others are flatter. It would not have worked to nail wire mesh and then put on the plaster on my ceiling. The hard part of the technique is putting on enough plaster to cover the popcorn, but trying not to have too big a gob of plaster on the ceiling–I aimed for just a 1/4 inch coat or less. I’m not sure mesh wire would help in an earthquake. If there was enough of a quake, I think the ceiling plaster might still come off, but then again there may be more than ceiling you’d be dealing with at that point. One other technique we did in our living room, which has a very high vaulted ceiling with beams was to cover over the popcorn with another sheet of drywall and then plaster that flat and paint (we hired someone to do that job). That might work better for you but does require at least two or three strong people to hold up the sheets of drywall while it is being nailed in. You’d also need to know where the beams are to nail into. Hope you come up with a good solution! Let me know. Virginia

  5. I did not know that popcorn finish contains asbestos (our house is from 1982). Yechh. However, I did not like the rough look of the plastered ceilings and find it sloppy looking, not pleasantly adobe. I remember from childhood seeing a professional plasterer use a finishing tool that he swirled to create an interesting finish, or in some cases, more flat and smooth, which is what I am aiming for. I will look for tools like this at the paint store and create an as smooth as possible finish. Also, no mention has been made of powdered pigments to add to dry plaster, another method I am investigating.

  6. Hi Mary–You can have the ceiling checked for asbestos–if it is 1982 you may be safe. I definitely know that my rough ceilings don’t work on every house type. It happens to match our house type. We had pretty thick popcorn also, which made it harder to cover. I didn’t actually do the same technique in all the rooms. You can put a smoother coat on if you want. You probably could even go over the finished coat with sandpaper, or a second thin coat to make it smoother. I’m interested in your powdered pigment idea. I think that would look very nice. Here is another idea–in our high ceilinged living room, we had a contractor put up new drywall and then plaster it smooth. It looks terrific. That is not necessarily a DYI project though unless you have at least 2 or 3 people helping. Good luck!

  7. I would love to try this technique in my bedroom, but it is a very large room. I’m concerned it would take an inordinately long time to get the job done with a small scraping tool. Do you think it would work to use a paint roller instead if I diluted the joint compound with paint?

    Thanks!

  8. Hi Sharon! This joint compound is very thick and wouldn’t work for rolling on. However, I do know there are some textured paints. I’m not sure how that would work over your popcorn. It would depend on how thick it is, I suppose. However, This technique is really not that long of a process. I did all my ceilings myself and could do an 8×8 room in one day. A larger room is not a one day project, but if you had help you could probably do it in a weekend. Then you’d have to let it dry a week or so before painting (however I still haven’t painted two of my ceilings–if the room is white, it looks ok)

  9. Great job!!! I have horrible popcorn ceilings that have patched spots without popcorn…disgusting. I have a baby and I didn’t want to scrape so the first thing I thought of was plaster. Glad someone else had the same idea! Love it!!!

  10. Hi, it’s been several years since you posted on this project and I was wondering how the plaster ceiling has held up. I am buying a house with a popcorn ceiling and this seems like the best option. thanks.

  11. Hi Chris–Thanks for asking. I started this project in 2009 and the ceilings continue to look terrific with no problems at all. I’ve not done our whole house this way and discovered a number of different textures you can do. Check out my site at HubPages for full directions and pictures. I actually took a video of myself doing this on my last bedroom but never did get around to putting it on YouTube. You are reminding me that I need to do that! We bought a condo that has popcorn, so maybe I’ll be working on it again!

  12. This is just what I’ve been looking for! We just bought a house and I was so excited to remove the popcorn, and am so disappointed.. They are not going anywhere!! Did you clean the ceiling prior to applying the plaster? Thanks!! I just hope it will stick and last for a while. 🙂

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