Q: What is the easiest way to remove a popcorn finish on a ceiling?

— Karen, Montville, New Jersey

A: Tom Silva replies: The first thing you need to do is have the ceiling tested to make sure it doesn't contain asbestos. If it does, don't touch it yourself — contact a certified asbestos abatement contractor.

If you are absolutely sure that the ceiling contains no asbestos, get ready to scrape. Getting rid of a popcorn finish is one of those things that there's no easy way to do. You just have to scrape it. You can start with a 4-inch utility knife or you can get a 12-inch drywall knife, and you basically just have to get up there and scrape it off. It's messy.

There's going to be a lot of imperfections in the ceiling, so you'll probably then need to skim it with a thin layer of joint compound to fill them in. This will also be the time to fill in any gouges you make from tilting the trowel a little bit while you're scraping, which is pretty much inevitable. In some cases, to make it easier to trowel on, you may want to mix the joint compound with a little extra water to thin it further. Finally, sand your new ceiling smooth.

Again, don't even consider this work until you have the ceiling tested. Many popcorn finishes contain asbestos, and you shouldn't touch it until you know for sure that it doesn't.
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