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How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling

Giving your popcorn ceiling a facelift can be a grimy and time-consuming job, taking up the better part of an entire weekend, but you can certainly do it yourself. Read these tips on how to easily and safely clean popcorn ceilings.

Popcorn Ceiling iStock

Many homes constructed in the mid-20th century feature textured ceilings also known as “popcorn” or “cottage cheese” ceilings. Achieved by spraying a mixture of stucco and Styrofoam onto the ceiling, the style was popular at the time as an inexpensive sound insulator and way to hide imperfections.

Many homeowners keep up the look today because they either enjoy the quirky aesthetic or don’t want to go to the trouble of redoing their ceiling. Whatever the reason, popcorn ceilings need to be cleaned at least once a year, as the nooks and crannies easily trap dirt and dust, turning the surface into a dingy eyesore. What’s more, if you’re someone who suffers from home allergens, it probably doesn’t help to have all that dust literally hanging over your head.

One reason to bring in professionals, however, may be if your home was built prior to the 1980s and asbestos is a concern. Make sure this isn’t a problem before you begin tackling this project yourself, as the consequences could be serious.

Steps for Cleaning a Popcorn Ceiling

Here’s how to get rid of dust from your popcorn ceiling, give it a good deep clean, and have it looking new again.

Step 1: Prep the room and yourself

  • Start by prepping the room. In addition to all the dust and debris that will be falling from the ceiling, pieces of the “popcorn” may loosen and come down as well.
  • Cover the entire room, including the furniture and floor, in drop cloths or a plastic tarp.
  • Next, gather all your tools and materials so they’re easily accessible. You’ll need a vacuum or broom, a lint roller, spray bottles filled with cleaning solutions, sponges, fans, a stepladder, and possibly some primer and paint.
  • Finally, make sure you’re protected as well. Wear a face mask, goggles, and gloves to shield yourself from cleaning fluid and falling debris.

Step 2: Remove the dust and cobwebs

  • Use a vacuum with the widest brush attachment to gently remove dust and cobwebs from the ceiling’s surface. You can use a soft-bristled broom or feather duster instead, brushing the dust onto the covered floor.

If there are any stubborn particles trapped in the grooves of the uneven surface, try rolling a lint roller over them to pick them up.

Step 3: Deep-clean stained areas

Stains on the ceiling can be caused by water, mildew, smoke, or grease. For these areas, you’ll need to apply a liquid cleaning solution.

Start by testing a small area of the ceiling to make sure the solution works properly and doesn’t damage the surface. Popcorn ceilings don’t do well with moisture, so make sure a small part of the ceiling can handle the cleaning fluid before you tackle the whole thing.

For stains caused by smoke, water, or mildew:

  • Mix one-part bleach with four parts water in a spray bottle.
  • Mist the discolored area and lightly dab it with a sponge, then wait a couple of hours to see if the stain comes out. If it doesn’t, add more bleach to the spray bottle and try again in another area until the solution appears to be effective.
  • Make sure you don’t moisten the ceiling too much or it may start to disintegrate.
  • Let dry overnight, with fans blowing to speed up the drying process and the windows open for ventilation.

To attack grease stains:

  • Combine one-quart warm water with one teaspoon liquid dish soap in a spray bottle.
  • Lightly spray the mixture onto the stain, then gently dab at it with a sponge, taking care not to let the ceiling get too wet.
  • Let dry overnight, with fans blowing in the room.

Step 4: Paint over trouble spots

Some stains may prove too tough to remove with cleaning solutions.

  • In those cases, consider hiding the discoloration with paint.
  • Apply a stain-blocking oil primer, followed by two coats of flat ceiling paint that matches your ceiling’s color.