Spiky “popcorn”, sweeping swirls or – please, no – a floral pattern. Nothing dates a room quite like a strange texture on the ceiling. So if you have plans to redecorate, getting rid of a textured ceiling might well be top of your list, but know how to do it can be tricky, with lots of conflicted advice flying around.
Why do houses have textured ceilings?
Ugh, I know. They gained popularity in the 1950s because applying textured wallpaper or a textured render product is a cheaper and easier way of finishing a ceiling than a smooth plaster skim.
The main types of textured ceiling
To know how to get rid of your textured ceiling, you need to know what sort you have.
- Wood chip or Ingrain textured paper: This is made of two sheets of paper with tiny pieces of wood fibre pressed between them. It’s popular because there’s no need to line up sheets for continuation of a pattern, and can be easily painted with brushes or rollers. And it’s more common on walls but people also use it to finish ceilings easily and cheaply.
- Anaglypta-style textured wallpaper: These papers have a particular pattern. Craftspeople make them by spreading a wet mixture onto paper, before pressing with a roller embossed with the pattern. The high end version, Lincrusta, is made from linseed oil and wood flour. Patterns range from small and abstract to large scale impressions of period moulding. This latter is common on ceilings in period homes.
- Popcorn, Stucco or Artex ceiling: These are also known variously as acoustic ceilings, stipple ceilings or by many other names. The key difference here is that this finish is not a pasted-on paper – it is a texture that contractors spray or paint directly onto ceiling boards. Because it’s easier than a smooth render finish, it is very common in more modern homes – especially those built int he 1970s and 1980s. NOTE: textured ceilings installed before 1979 may contain asbestos or lead (read on to see what to do if you think this may apply to your home)
How to tell which type of textured ceiling you have
You can easily identify woodchip by the look of the finish – small, irregular splinter shapes behind a satin-finish layer of paper.
You can confirm other textured paper by looking for joins in sheets. However it is possible to expertly hide these joins (or simply obscure them with layers of paint) so try lifting a corner with a scraper.
In contrast, spiky ‘popcorn’ or Artex-style ceilings can be identified by the absence of paper. If there are no lines or creases, or the effect seems to extend in some places of your coving, that’s a painted/sprayed finish.
How to remove a textured ceiling
So, now that you know what type of ceiling you have, there are 3 main ways it can be removed or obscured:
- Scrape the texture away
- Over-board, or cover with new sheets of plasterboard/drywall
- Skim coat
There are pros and cons to each technique, and not all of them are appropriate for all ceiling finishes. We’ll look at all 3 in a little more detail.
1. Scraping off a textured ceiling
This approach manually removes the texture from the ceiling.
Suitable for: Popcorn, Stucco or Artex ceilings
Not suitable for: Wood chip paper, Anaglypta-style paper
How to do it
- If the textured ceiling hasn’t been painted, use a spray bottle filled with room temperature water to lightly dampen small sections – don’t overdo this or you’ll make your ceiling itself wet and heavy!
- Use a drywall scraper to chip and scrape away the texture to create a smooth surface
- Finish with a thin layer of joint compound or problem wall paint to cover imperfections
- One person can do it solo
- You can DIY it without a tradesperson
- Very time-consuming
- Finish may not be as even
- If paper has been painted over, it will not dampen which may make scraping hard or even impossible
NOTE: textured ceilings installed before 1979 may contain asbestos or lead (read on to see what to do if you think this may apply to your home). If you’re worried about the possible presence of asbestos or lead and considering this approach, employ professional testers or order at-home kits to confirm or deny the presence.
2. Over-boarding or plaster-boarding over a textured ceiling
This approach creates a new secondary ceiling to entirely hide the textured ceiling
Suitable for: all types of ceiling (with conditions below)
How to do it:
- Measure and cut sheets of ceiling grade plasterboard (this is much lighter than regular plasterboard) to size
- Identify position of ceiling joists and attach plasterboards using suitable length of screw and plugs
- Use mudding and taping technique for an even finish (this involves using fibreglass tape to cover seams and create sharp edges)
- Smoothest possible finish
- Suitable for ceilings that may contain asbestos or lead
- Can preserve period moulding or coving by creating a slim shadow gap round edges
- More expensive
- Requires two people
- Requires skilled tradespeople experienced in plasterboard
- Very small loss of ceiling height (expect around 2cm)
3. Skim Coating a Textured Ceiling
This technique applies a skimming composite directly to the texture to even it out.
Suitable for: Popcorn, Stucco or Artex ceilings
Not suitable for: Wood chip paper, Anaglypta-style paper UNLESS paper is removed first using a traditional steam-and-strip technique (the resulting ceiling finish will highly likely need re-finishing with this method)
How to do it:
- Clean the existing textured ceiling
- Apply a coat of PVA per traditional plastering techniques
- Apply a thin layer of a lightweight plaster composite to a smooth finish
- Quicker and cheaper than over-boarding
- Requires 1 person
- Can only be carried out if the existing substrate is structurally secure. Because adding another layer of plaster may be more weight than the ceiling can support therefore it could result in failure.
NOTE: Because of the risk associated with this technique, I recommend always getting a second opinion if your contractor or plasterer suggests it.
Two plasterers I consulted advised against it and gave me all the information why, however they also explained the likelihood of a failure in our particular instance was low. Therefore they’d be willing to do it if that was our chosen route, provided we shouldered the risk. The third plasterer said he would not be prepared to use this technique at all due to the risks. All three made the point that if a plasterer ever enthusiastically suggests this approach and doesn’t discuss the risks with you – run for the hills. Therefore we opted for over-boarding in the end because your girl has a very low appetite for risk!