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If you live in a relatively old flat or home, you are likely no stranger to dated design choices. A common relic from a bygone era is the popcorn ceiling, and while many people simply have them removed, others have opted to integrate them to avoid unnecessary costs and save themselves some time and effort. That being said, we thought we’d have a look at how to paint popcorn ceiling surfaces, what exactly they are, and what you need to go about painting them. It might seem challenging, but if you check out the tutorial below, you’ll see that even popcorn ceilings are really easy to paint!
Table of Contents
What Is a Popcorn Ceiling?
Popcorn ceilings were once one of the most popular ceiling types in interior design. This is because they were easy to construct, cost-effective, and had the added benefit of dampening noise on one end. What is a popcorn ceiling though? Popcorn ceilings are essentially textured paint filled with certain particulates, and when said paint is applied to a ceiling it largely resembles fluffy white popped corn.
These textured ceilings were super popular throughout the 60s and their popularity seemed to streak all the way through to the early 90s.
This makes sense considering the overall design aesthetics of these periods, not to mention the ease with which popcorn ceilings can be installed, especially when compared to other textured ceiling types. To create a popcorn ceiling a sprayer is filled with particulate-rich paint, the ceiling surface is prepared, and then the paint is applied. The particulates inside the paint are what provide its popcorn texture, and once the paint has been left to dry and cure completely it will also possess sound-dampening abilities.
This was seen as ideal in spaces like apartments where one could have someone living above them, allowing you to deaden noise produced in your apartment and incoming noise from your neighbor’s apartment above you. However, early popcorn ceilings did have some notable drawbacks that would eventually lead to a decline in their popularity. What was this drawback, you ask? The particulates inside some paints used to create popcorn ceilings were discovered to be carcinogenic, leading to some of these ceilings being removed as they contained asbestos.
Aside from possibly getting cancer from your ceiling, textured ceilings like these tend to attract a lot of dust, which can be challenging to clean off and maintain in general.
Thankfully, later popcorn ceilings did not contain any carcinogens and were relatively safe to be around, but the notion did put a lot of people off this ceiling style moving forward. Despite this, popcorn ceilings can still be found not only in the continental US but all over the world too, which is why many people seek to restore and modernize them.
What Do You Need to Paint Popcorn Ceilings?
Popcorn ceilings can be tricky to paint as we mentioned previously, but if you have the right tools for the job it should make things a lot easier. These items are easy to find and should be readily available at virtually any home improvement store and online, and since they’re relatively inexpensive you won’t be breaking the bank to paint your popcorn ceiling either.
It goes without saying that you will need paint to paint your popcorn ceiling, but it can be easy to forget among all the other things you need so we’re putting it on this list. Generally, any ceiling paint will do as long as it gets good coverage and has enough adhesive strength to ensure it doesn’t immediately leak onto your flooring.
Be sure to buy enough paint for your entire ceiling.
To ensure your paint sticks to the ceiling and doesn’t look all blotchy once it’s up there you’ll need a good primer. Always ensure that you have the right primer for the type of paint you have chosen. Your primer type should correspond to your paint type, for example, water-based paints should only be used with water-based primers. This applies to all paint and primer combinations.
Angled and Soft Bristled Paint Brushes
We mentioned that conventional brushes and rollers would be a bad idea considering how much of a mess they can potentially make. The best way to avoid making a mess while painting your ceiling is to use soft bristled brushes and soft nap rollers, which thanks to their lack of rigidity will allow you to apply pour paint without it splattering it all over your workspace.
Aside from ensuring that your brushes bristles are soft, ensuring they are angled can also help a great deal.
Rollers can be tricky to use when painting popcorn ceilings. Why? Most roller naps are designed to glide across flush, rigid surfaces to ensure they are evenly painted. However, considering that popcorn ceilings consist of bumps and indents, softer rollers capable of digging into those little recesses while rolling over the little bumps will be needed.
You will also need to reach the ceiling before you can paint it. If you have a roller with an extendable arm this can save you a lot of time, but you will still need to cut in the edges of the ceiling using a brush and apply painter’s tape to your trim (if you have any).
Therefore, ensuring you have a ladder before you begin is always a good idea.
We mentioned previously that painting popcorn ceilings can cause a lot of splatter. Even with the right tools accidents can happen, so why not lay down a dedicated drop cloth or some old newspaper and secure it with some painter’s tape to ensure that your flooring and anything else you don’t want paint to accidentally get on is covered up nicely. Drop cloths are usually inexpensive and readily available at most home improvement stores.
Used in pretty much every exercise involving paint, painter’s tape is one of the best ways to ensure that your trim is protected from unwanted paint, and it allows you to both secure and join your drop cloths.
Painter’s tape is available in various widths and colors, so choose one that best suits your needs before you begin the preparation process.
Another thing you should do before you begin preparing the surface of your ceiling is to protect yourself. Since you will be looking up at a ceiling full of wet paint it’s a good idea to protect your eyes and mouth from any paint drops. How do you do this? With some goggles and a face mask of course. Also, ensure you are wearing gloves graded for use with paint even handing your tools.
How to Paint Popcorn Ceiling Surfaces
Painting popcorn ceiling surfaces might seem daunting at first, but once you get a feel for the flow and technique it’s actually pretty easy. Below we’ve created a short tutorial detailing how to both prepare and paint your popcorn ceiling correctly, as well as some techniques you can implement to make the job a bit easier.
Clear the Area and Cover Your Flooring
One of the most annoying things that can happen when painting a ceiling is realizing you cannot paint an area because there’s furniture in the way. Therefore, moving all furnishings out of the immediate area and storing them where they will be safe from any stray paint droplets is the first step in preparing for the painting process. You will also need to lay down your tarp or some old newspaper to ensure your flooring and anything else you want to protect is covered.
Disperse your tarp as needed and use some painter’s tape to ensure it doesn’t move around while you walk or reposition your ladder. Once you are happy, move on to the next step in the painting process.
Clean the Ceiling
One of the most important steps in preparing any surface for painting is cleaning it. Cleaning your ceiling can be done with a cloth and/or sponge and some good old-fashioned soap and water. Deploy your ladder and ensure it is secure, pop some water and soap into a bucket, and begin cleaning the surface of your ceiling. The goal here is to remove dust and dirt that might have been baked into the ceiling over the years. Be sure to tackle corners and the little dents that tend to house a lot of dust over time. Be sure to work in little sections so you can ensure each is as clean as possible before moving on to the next one. Once you are done, simply allow the water and soap residue to dry before continuing to the next step.
Apply Your Painter’s Tape
Before your primer can be applied you should ensure that your trim and other fittings are protected. Before you begin applying your tape you could remove ceiling lamps or other lighting units to prevent them from accidentally getting covered in paint. Once you do, you can apply painter’s tape to the base of these fixtures if you don’t intend on integrating them into your ceiling’s aesthetic. Finally, cover your trim with painter’s tape. Your tape should be placed on the trim with the edge of the tape pressed firmly down where the wall meets the trim. Most people spring for wide painter’s tape to ensure maximum coverage with minimal effort, but you can get away with using thinner tape in layers too.
To ensure the tape is secure, run a gift card or putty knife over the edge where the wall meets the trim at a 45-degree angle before moving on to the next step.
Apply Primer to Your Ceiling
Priming your ceiling is easy. Before you prime the majority of the surface you will need to cut in the edges. Pour some paint into a small container and use your angled, soft-bristled brush to cut in any corners of the ceiling that you won’t be able to reach using a roller. This is pretty easy and shouldn’t take too long depending on the size of your ceiling. Be sure to get your ladder as close to the wall when painting in the corners and edges. Once the corners and edges have been cut in, grab your roller and extend the frame to a length that allows you to reach the ceiling without straining. Next, mix up your primer with a good shake and pour some into a paint tray. Dip half of your roller into the tray and then run it along the ramp until the entire applicator has been evenly covered in paint.
Begin painting your ceiling. We recommend applying your primer in stripes, starting at one end of your ceiling at an edge and painting a stripe to the next.
Ensure that your stripes overlap with one another to create even coverage and repeat this process until the entire ceiling has been nicely coated in primer. Do you need to apply more than one coat of primer? Probably not, but the more primer you apply the greater adhesion your paint will have and the probability of your paint having an even finish once it’s applied increases significantly. If you do intend on applying more than one coat, simply repeat the process mentioned above and allow the primer to set as recommended by the manufacturer before continuing.
Paint Your Ceiling
Painting your ceiling is not unlike priming it, but it will require some more patience and technique. After the primer will not be visible, but your paint will so it’s best to be extra careful when painting. Start by pouring some paint into a smaller container, positioning your ladder, grabbing your brush, climbing up, and cutting in those corners. You want to paint slowly to avoid the paint being applied unevenly either over the bumps or inside those little indents. You don’t have to paint at a snail’s pace but just slowly enough so that the bristles can find their way inside and over the terrain and lather it with paint. Repeat this process until all of the corners and edges have been cut in nicely.
Once all of your corners have been cut in, you can begin painting the bulk of the surface.
Just like with your primer you should give your paint a good stir before pouring some out into a tray (if you don’t have more than one tray be sure to clean out the primer before pouring in your paint). Again, submerge half of the roller and run it along the ramp of the tray until all of it is coated evenly in paint. Repeat this process when reloading your roller while painting. Apply your paint the same way as your primer by beginning at one end of your ceiling against an edge and painting a stripe.
Repeat this process until you reach the other end of your ceiling and ensure that all of your stripes overlap slightly to ensure even coverage. Once your ceiling has been painted please allow the paint to dry as recommended on the packaging before attempting to apply additional coats. Do you need to apply additional coats of paint? This depends on whether you are happy with the color and intensity of your initial coat.
If your ceiling appears unevenly coated in certain sections more coats can be applied as needed, but you will need to wait for the time period indicated by the manufacturer between coats.
Can You Spray Paint Popcorn Ceilings?
Painting a ceiling can be physically demanding. After all, you’re climbing up and down a ladder to cut in corners, not to mention straining your neck to look up when painting with a roller, so can you spray paint popcorn ceilings? Popcorn ceilings can absolutely be spray painted and some professional painters even advise they be painted this way. Why? Sprayers allow you to apply paint quickly and evenly without the need to manage brush strokes, all without needing to climb a ladder!
Spray painting a popcorn ceiling is easy, simply prepare your ceiling, ensure spray on your primer, clean out your sprayer, fill it up with paint, and begin spray painting!
If you have a particularly large ceiling to paint, or multiple ceilings to paint on the same day, this method makes the most sense, especially if you are working alone. Sprayers can cut your overall painting time in half given that you have the experience and skill to use one correctly. That being said, if you would like to save some time it’s worth looking into using a sprayer.
If you don’t have a sprayer they can be rented, and if you have never used a sprayer before we highly recommend you practice your technique on some spare material beforehand to ensure that your ceiling isn’t accidentally ruined. If you don’t have the time or inclination for any of the aforementioned, you could simply hire a professional instead.
Why Is It Challenging to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling?
Before we show you how to go about painting a popcorn ceiling we thought we’d show you why it can be challenging to add a fresh coat and why some people simply let their popcorn ceilings fall into disrepair instead.
Although it doesn’t require an awful lot of skill or effort to paint this ceiling type, you will need some very specific tools to get the job done properly.
The texture of popcorn ceilings is raised and bumpy. Brushes and rollers are designed to apply paint to relatively flush surfaces, so using them on a popcorn ceiling surface can result in them hooking, tearing, and generally applying the paint unevenly. Therefore, the right technique and applicator need to be used when applying paint to a popcorn ceiling.
It Takes a While Without a Sprayer
Considering that sprayers are used to create popcorn ceilings it comes as no surprise that they are the best means of respraying them too. While there are other means of painting popcorn ceiling surfaces, sprayers require the least physical effort when painting.
Additionally, sprayers get the job done much faster than any manual application techniques.
You Need Special Tools
To paint a popcorn ceiling, you will need some special tools. The heavily textured ceiling tends to catch ordinary brushes and rollers, which will result in you damaging your equipment or applying your paint poorly. To rectify this, we recommend using an angled brush to ensure the paint is evenly distributed so your bristles do not catch on your ceiling.
It Can Get Messy
Remember that ordinary ceilings are flat, which allows brushes and rollers to roll across them with virtually no resistance. Popcorn ceilings on the other hand are textured, which means your applicator will be up against quite a bit of resistance, and this could cause your paint to splatter as the applicator passes over the little bumps.
Be sure to cover up your workspace well!
Tips and Tricks for Painting Popcorn Ceilings
As you can see, painting popcorn ceiling panels isn’t too challenging if you have the right tools for the job. However, there are some neat tricks you can use to ensure your ceiling painting goes off without a hitch and that your finish looks as good as possible. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you ever find yourself needing to paint a popcorn ceiling.
Choose the Right Paint and Primer
Aside from choosing the same type of primer and paint combination, you should choose a paint type that provides the right amount of coverage and protection while ensuring your ceiling looks good too. For this, we recommend some interior acrylic-latex-based paint, as it gets great coverage, protects your ceiling, and is available in a variety of finishes to ensure your ceiling matches your space and taste.
Use the Right Roller
Rollers need to match the thickness of the texture of the ceiling they are being used to paint. In the case of popcorn ceilings, they are pretty heavily textured and therefore you will need a roller with a longer nap to get into those little grooves and roll over the bumps.
Ordinary ceilings use ¼ -inch naps, but the best option for popcorn ceilings is 3/8-inch nap rollers.
Cover Your Floor Well
Previously we mentioned that painting popcorn ceilings can get messy if you do not work carefully. This is because the texture can create paint splatter if you attempt to paint it too quickly, so it’s best to ensure that your tarp is laid down and secured well before you begin painting. Securing your tarp and joining additional coverings with painter’s tape is always recommended.
You will be painting a ceiling, which means you’ll probably be straining your neck upwards while you work. Your eyes and mouth will also be vulnerable to falling paint droplets, so it’s best to wear some eye goggles, gloves, and a face mask to ensure that paint doesn’t get where it isn’t welcome.
Never underestimate how much potential damage some stray paint droplets can do.
Work in Small Sections
When you are painting large surfaces, it is often better to work in small areas to ensure that paint is applied evenly and to ensure that you haven’t missed any spots. It’s also an easier mental load to manage compared to trying to keep track of a large area, and it might even allow you to work quicker as each small section is completed.
That’s how to paint a popcorn ceiling! Textured surfaces can be tricky to paint if you aren’t using a sprayer, but as you can see, it’s not impossible. Like any paint job, having the right tools and making sure that the surface has been cleaned and prepared correctly goes a long way in achieving a good-looking finish. Remember to work slowly, work in sections, and take breaks if you develop any strain in your neck, back, or arms.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Paint a Popcorn Ceiling?
Popcorn ceilings are textured and most of them are fairly old, so can you paint a popcorn ceiling these days? Yes, popcorn ceilings can indeed be painted. Most professionals recommend painting them using a paint sprayer to cut down on time and ensure an even application of paint.
What Is the Best Paint for Popcorn Ceiling Surfaces?
Textured surfaces can be tricky to paint, but choosing paint for them can be even more tricky. What is the best paint for popcorn ceiling surfaces then? Arguably the best paint for popcorn ceilings is interior acrylic-latex-based paints, as they provide good coverage and protection.
Why Should You Paint Popcorn Ceilings?
Painting a popcorn ceiling is a good idea for a number of reasons. For one, adding a fresh coat of paint is far cheaper than replacing your entire ceiling. Popcorn ceilings have also become a niche interior design feature as of late, so you’ll have a newly painted trendy ceiling to show off to your friends and family.