Popcorn ceilings can bring a bit of extra life and texture to a room, but they certainly aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking to get rid of yours, you might be hesitant if you’ve heard that popcorn ceilings can be dangerous.
Popcorn ceilings earned this bad reputation because they used to be made from asbestos, a harmful material linked to lung disease and cancer. However, asbestos or not, you can actually cover up your popcorn ceiling if you’re safe about how it’s done. Let’s get into your options.
Some popcorn ceilings contain asbestos. These can be safely covered or encapsulated with spray-on vinyl paint or sealed drywall boards. It is safe to cover popcorn ceiling in different ways if positive it does not contain asbestos.
Modern Popcorn Ceiling
Popcorn ceilings remain common when it comes to home interiors. This is possible because they are no longer made from the toxic material asbestos. Instead, they are made from plaster.
Unfortunately, this is not to say it’s a guarantee that your popcorn ceiling does not contain asbestos, especially if you live in an older home built in the 1900s.
Although new popcorn ceilings are made from plaster, there may be some old ceilings that were never replaced.
How to Tell if Your Popcorn Ceiling Has Asbestos
If your home was built before the 2000s, it might be a good idea to check if your ceiling is made from harmful materials before covering it up.
To be more specific, I would recommend being cautious if your home was built at any point before 2005. After that, you are more than likely in the clear.
This is the quickest way to tell if your home’s popcorn ceiling could contain asbestos—checking its age. There are almost no visible signs that would indicate asbestos in a popcorn ceiling.
If your home was built or renovated before 2005, then actually getting your ceiling tested is the only reliable way to know for sure.
The cheapest way to have your ceiling tested is to collect the sample yourself and have it sent to a lab that can analyze it for you.
While this is a common method, it’s one that I personally would avoid. I would rather pay a little extra for a professional to come and collect the sample than risk messing with asbestos.
Even tiny amounts of improperly handled asbestos can be hazardous to your health.
Safe Ways to Encapsulate Popcorn Ceiling
Covering popcorn ceiling is safe. However, only two of the methods can be used safely for asbestos popcorn ceiling.
These are also the two techniques that I would recommend if you are unsure if your ceiling contains asbestos but you do not want to or cannot have it tested.
Covering popcorn ceiling that does or may contain asbestos is actually called “encapsulation,” since you are literally covering and containing the asbestos to prevent it from flaking off and causing harm.
Coat the Popcorn Ceiling in Specialized Paint
The first method of encapsulation is simply to paint over your popcorn ceiling. However, normal house paint will not be able to effectively encapsulate the asbestos. In fact, it may cause more problems.
Be sure to use a spray-on vinyl paint instead of typical house paint. By using a spray, you won’t disturb the asbestos as much as you would with a brush or roller.
Before painting, tape off your walls and use newspaper to prevent any misting from the spray from making its way to where it isn’t supposed to.
Make sure to wear proper protective gear while you are doing this!
You should also test your paint on a scrap piece of newspaper before beginning to paint your ceiling. You will do this to get an idea of how far to hold the can. You don’t want to hold the can so close that the force of the spray disturbs the asbestos, but you also want to ensure full coverage.
You can begin the actual painting process after this testing and prep work.
The popcorn may soak up a fair amount of paint, so I would recommend using a primer and two or three coats in total to ensure that the asbestos is fully encapsulated.
Pros and Cons
- Painting is the quickest and easiest way to encapsulate a ceiling containing or possibly containing asbestos.
- Painting is also the cheapest encapsulation option.
- This method is simple enough to be done without professional help.
- Painting does not remove texture. If you choose to paint over your asbestos, you will still be stuck with the popcorn texture.
- This is a thin encapsulation method, and alterations or damage to the ceiling (like drilling) may allow for some asbestos to be released.
- This is not a good option if your ceiling is already damaged or heavily crumbling, as paint may not be enough to properly seal and stabilize the asbestos.
Drywall Over the Popcorn Ceiling
The second option for encapsulating asbestos popcorn ceiling is to drywall over it.
This method not only covers the asbestos so that it cannot be physically disturbed, but it provides an airtight layer over the popcorn layer that catches any dust that does fall. The cracks between the drywall boards are sealed up.
It should be noted that drywalling does run a good chance of disturbing the asbestos during the process of encapsulation, releasing fibers into the air. However, if done safely and correctly, it provides a very safe and solid barrier, and gets rid of the popcorn texture.
You need to be wearing proper PPE for this task. A respirator designed to stop fibers, goggles that seal to your face, a full-body disposable suit, and good disposable gloves.
Installing drywall requires carefully locating, marking, and drilling into ceiling joists. This can be a bit of a difficult task for someone unfamiliar with the process, and it becomes even more difficult when you must also avoid disturbing the asbestos as much as possible.
For these reasons, I highly recommend that you avoid installing drywall over an asbestos ceiling on your own unless you are familiar with and confident with the process.
You should also understand the risks of working with asbestos, even when taking precautions.
Again, this is a task where I would suggest hiring a professional instead. While more expensive, it’s still not as expensive as a professional asbestos removal.
Pros and Cons
- This method of encapsulation allows you to get rid of your ceiling’s popcorn texture for a smooth finish (or a different ceiling texture).
- Thicker, slightly safer long-term solution for preventing asbestos exposure when compared to just painting.
- After installation, it may be safely painted with a roller if desired.
- Installing drywall without disturbing any asbestos is very difficult to do safely and may require professional help.
- More expensive method of encapsulation than just painting the ceiling.
- Adding drywall will increase your ceiling weight (this may or may not be an issue depending on your home).
In my opinion, if you are going to address your asbestos-containing popcorn ceiling, go for removal. It eliminates the dangers once and for all.