Painting is one of the most cost-effective ways of refreshing a popcorn ceiling’s look. However, painting such a ceiling can be quite challenging.

If you want to properly and safely paint a popcorn ceiling, you need to start by making sure that it is free of asbestos. The next step is to then clean the roof and then use a paint sprayer or a nap roller to apply the first coat of a thinned and already-primed flat paint that has been specifically designed for use on ceilings.

Thereafter, give the paint enough time to dry and then apply the next coat perpendicularly to the direction of the first coat.

Painting popcorn ceiling with roller

If you want to get the best painting results, you will need to prepare it. The following are important pre-painting steps that you should never skip.

Check your popcorn ceiling for asbestos

Popcorn ceilings were popular during the mid 20th century. Over time, their popularity waned. As a result, most of these ceilings were installed prior to 1977, when asbestos was banned. And so what this means is that there is always a chance that the popcorn ceiling that you are working on has traces of asbestos.

Asbestos is toxic. It has been linked to cancer, and so handling should be left to trained professionals. Therefore, you should always start the painting process by testing for it. Doing so will let you know whether you can proceed with the rest of the painting process on your own, or whether you should hire a professional.

Cleaning popcorn ceiling

A feather duster is soft and gentle. It is thus perfect for use on popcorn ceilings. Use it to gently remove dust and cobwebs from the ceiling. A vacuum that has a brush attachment with soft bristles can also work.

Water and nicotine stains

A stain-blocking primer can help to cover ugly stains from nicotine and other substances. There are also popcorn ceiling patch sprays that are great at hiding on popcorn ceilings and they can be effective at hiding these stains.

Popcorn ceiling repair

Dislodge and remove any loose texture with a brush or a screwdriver. And if there are any visible stains, good oil-based primers will cover them sufficiently enough to keep the stains from bleeding through the paint.

Skim coating and priming are the best ways of hiding any imperfections on the ceiling. This includes covering cracks and stains. Therefore, if you have a stained or cracked roof, these are two options that will come in really handy.

You will also find a spray acoustic texture to be indispensable. It is ideal for covering small blemishes on popcorn ceilings. And since it usually comes in a ready-to-use mix, all you have to do is to use a knife or a brush to apply it over the existing blemish, stain, or crack.

Painting popcorn ceiling endge with wall

Preventing Common Problems

Streaks, peeling, drips, and splatters are some of the most common problems that homeowners face when painting popcorn ceilings. These problems can be avoided by doing the following.

  • Covering walls with plastic sheeting and keeping them in place with painter’s tape. This will avoid accidental splatters and drips.
  • Covering floors and other fixtures with drop cloths will keep paint off them
  • Wearing protective glasses will keep paint splashes off your eyes.
  • Avoiding water-based paints and products will reduce the risks of oversaturating the textured surface, something that will go a long way towards reducing the risks of peeling.
  • Gently rolling your roller over the surface in long strokes will reduce incidences of peeling as it will keep the pressure applied on the popcorn surface at a minimum.
  • Always keeping your roller wet will reduce incidences of streaking.
  • Lapping over the edges as you apply the paint will also minimize the odds of creating ugly streaks.

Steps of painting popcorn ceiling

The following are the steps that you should take when painting a popcorn ceiling.

Step 1: Taping and covering

In order to keep paint splatters off your walls, floors, and fixtures, start by covering them with either drop cloths or plastic sheeting. Cover your walls with plastic sheeting, and everything else — including your floors — with drop cloths. Use painter’s tape to keep all the coverings in place.

Step 2: Testing

A significant number of popcorn ceilings have traces of asbestos. This is because most of them were built before the banning of asbestos. Therefore, before you begin working on your ceiling, you need to make sure that it doesn’t have traces of this carcinogenic compound.

Step 3: Wear protective gear

You will need to protect your eyes, lungs, and hair when painting a popcorn roof. This means wearing a respirator, a pair of rubber gloves, a cap, and a pair of protective goggles.

Step 4: Edge prepping

Create smooth edges all around by chipping away about a quarter of an inch of the textured surface. A flathead screwdriver will be perfect for scraping off the popcorn along the edges.

Step 5: Clean the surface

Use a micro duster or feather duster to remove cobwebs, dust, and loose debris from the ceiling surface. A vacuum that has a brush attachment with soft bristles will also do.

Step 6: Start with the edges

Using an angled paint brush, start by painting along the edges. Apply the paint gently and avoid using multiple passes on a single area as this can lead to peeling.

Step 7: Paint the ceiling

Dip the long-napped roller in the paint bucket and then use it to gently apply the paint to the ceiling. Apply it in one direction, making sure not to use multiple passes.

Step 8: Let it sit

Before applying the next coat, give the first coat enough time to dry. This will vary depending on the type of paint that you are using. A good rule of thumb is to simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 9: Apply the next coat of paint

After the first coat has dried, it is now time to apply the next one. Apply this coat perpendicularly to the first coat.

Tools and materials needed for painting

It is important to know the tools and materials that you will need because they play a significant role in determining the total cost of painting the ceiling. The following are the tools and materials that you will need to paint your popcorn ceiling.

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Drop cloths
  • Paint bucket
  • Feather duster
  • Paint
  • Paint roller
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Angled paint brush
  • Painter’s tape
  • A ladder

How to get clean edges?

In order to get a neat edge, you will need to scrape off a small section of the textured surface. Scraping off a width of about 1/4 inch along the popcorn surface’s edge with a flathead screwdriver is usually enough to provide you with enough room to create a clean edge.

You can also use painter’s tape along the edges. Doing so will keep the lines straight and avoid accidental splatters and drips. This is so especially if you use an angled brush when painting near the perimeter.

Rolling VS Spray painting popcorn

When it comes to painting popcorn roofs, both rolling and spray painting can work

However, if you have a choice, opting for spray painting is advisable. This is because, with spray painting, it is easier for you to get paint into every nook and cranny of the uneven popcorn roof. This is something that is more challenging when dealing with a roller.

There is also the fact that popcorn ceilings don’t do well with thicker coats of paint. Creating thinner coats that are less likely to peel off is easier when using a spray painter. Replicating the same results with a roller requires some skill, and so for beginners, a spray painter is recommended.

Painting popcorn ceiling   Everything you need to know

What type of sprayer is recommended to use?

An airless paint sprayer is ideal for spray painting a popcorn roof. They are perfect for this because they don’t use pressurized air. This ensures minimal bounce back and overspray. And given their efficiency and precision, they are less likely to create thicker coats that will peel off easily.

What type of roller is recommended to use?

A thick-napped roller is ideal for painting popcorn ceilings because it is best suited to get paint into every single spot of a textured roof. One with a nap that is at least 9/16 of an inch is recommended.

Can you use a brush for popcorn ceiling painting?

Yes, you can use a brush for popcorn ceiling painting. However, it is not the most efficient, effective, and beginner-friendly way to paint a popcorn ceiling. This is because when you use a brush, you risk applying thicker coats of paint that will peel off easily. There is also the fact that with a brush, it will be harder to get paint into every part of the textured surface of a popcorn ceiling.

What type of paint and finish to use for the popcorn ceiling?

A high-quality flat paint that contains a primer is usually recommended for use on popcorn ceilings. As for the color of the paint, white is preferable as it makes the ceiling look higher. And a matte finish, that is non-shiny, is advisable as it doesn’t draw too much attention to the ceiling.

What type of paint and finish to use for the popcorn ceiling

Do you have to dilute your paint before painting?

Yes, you have to ensure that your paint is thinned out before painting a popcorn ceiling. This is because thicker paints create heavier and thicker coats that peel off easily. Therefore, thinning the paint is necessary if you want to end up with lasting paintwork.

Do you have to spray just in one direction?

Yes, you have to spray just in one direction if you want a consistent paint finish. Spraying with long consistent strokes that overlap is also recommended. However, for the second coat, you will have to spray perpendicularly to the direction of the first spray.

DIY vs. Hiring a Painter - Costs & Considerations

Choosing to do it yourself is cheaper. This is because you won’t be paying for the expertise, time, and labor of an experienced painter. It can also be a fun project for you and your loved ones. And since you don’t have to go through the process of vetting painters and scheduling appointments, it can in fact be faster to simply do it yourself.

However, doing it yourself requires your commitment. It consumes time. And you may not end up with the same results an experienced painter would get. Painting a ceiling is also tedious and tiring work. It can also end up taking more time than it should.

Hiring a painter to paint your popcorn ceiling will give you better results. And since the painter can rely on their experience and expertise, they are less likely to make messy mistakes. They can do the work faster. And if the ceiling happens to contain asbestos, they know which precautions to take in order to keep your loved ones from getting exposed.

The only downside to hiring a painter is that you may have to pay for their labor and expertise, meaning that it will cost you slightly more than it would have had you simply done the painting on your own.


No, you don’t need to prime the popcorn ceiling before painting. This is because most paints that are specifically designed for use on popcorn ceilings contain primers and so there is no need for you to apply a primer.

However, preparing the surface by cleaning it and removing any loose aggregate is something that is necessary.

Two coats of paint are required.

After applying the first coat, you should wait until it dries before applying the next coat in a direction that is perpendicular to the first coat’s direction. However, it is imperative that you apply thin coats as thicker coats have a habit of peeling off easily from popcorn ceilings.

If your popcorn ceiling has cracks or ugly stains, you can get it to look better by using popcorn ceiling patch sprays. Painting is also a great way of refreshing its look or totally changing its appearance by settling for a different color or finish.

Yes, it is safe to paint a popcorn ceiling provided you first have it tested to make sure that it doesn’t contain traces of asbestos.

People don’t love popcorn ceilings because their thickness makes them good at trapping heat. This can make a home uncomfortable especially if it is located in a hot environment.

Cleaning popcorn roofs is also challenging. It is hard to get the dirt off all areas of its textured surface. And when cleaning it, you always have to worry about dislodging or flaking off some of the texture.

The other reason why people shy away from them has to do with the higher likelihood of them containing asbestos. This is so because most of them were installed before asbestos — a carcinogen — was banned.

Yes, a popcorn ceiling with asbestos can be painted. However, since asbestos is a known carcinogen, painting such a ceiling is best left to professionals who are trained to handle it.

You can remove painting mistakes by going over the areas with a paintbrush and painting over them.

Yes, you can prime your popcorn ceiling and just not paint it afterward especially if you decide to use stain-blocking primers. This is because these primers are great at blocking stains and you can thus use them to get rid of any blemishes from your popcorn ceiling.

However, it is important to note that primers are primarily designed to prepare a surface for paint application. Therefore, priming without painting won’t give you the maximum benefit of the primer since primers are not designed to be finishing products.

FAQ’s popcorn ceiling

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Timothy Munene
Author: Timothy Munene - Timothy is a freelance writer and an online entrepreneur.