How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling

Return a popcorn ceiling to its mid-20th century glory with these cleaning tips for removing cobwebs, stains and discolorations.
Before: Boring Game Room

Before: Boring Game Room

The popcorn ceiling outdates this plain game room, and the large pool table takes up most of the space. Nobody can watch sports on the disconnected TV, making it a not-so-great place to gather friends.

From: House Crashers

Popcorn ceilings were inescapable from the 1950s to the early 1980s. They were a quick, cheap way to finish ceilings in tract homes and apartment buildings. Builders sprayed a stucco mixture on the ceiling that had a lumpy cottage-cheese like texture.  Many homeowners got rid of their popcorn ceilings in the half-century since they were all the rage. But many popcorn ceilings remain, and those that do need cleaning by now. Here are some tips on how to clean popcorn ceilings, remove cobwebs, stains and discolorations and return them to their mid-20th century glory.

Cover the floor and surrounding furniture with tarps to protect them from the dust and dirt that will come off the ceiling during cleaning. Put the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner and gently run it over the ceiling. This will remove dirt and cobwebs. You can also use a feather duster to clean the ceiling, but it your ceiling is very dirty, the vacuum is the better choice.

Cooking grease and cigarette smoke can stain popcorn ceilings. You’ll need a liquid cleaner to remove these stains. Before putting something wet on the ceiling, test a small area by putting water on it to be sure the ceiling won’t disintegrate. A key part of knowing how to clean a popcorn ceiling is understanding that they cannot stand up to much moisture.

If the ceiling can stand liquid, mix warm water and dish soap to create a cleaning solution. Dip a soft cloth in the solution, wring it out and use it to gently dab the stains on the ceiling. Be careful not to get the ceiling too wet.

If the roof has ever leaked, there may be water damage in the form of yellow streaks on the ceiling, or even mildew. You can remove them with a mild bleach solution. Mix one part bleach with five parts water and dab the stains with a soft cloth. Be careful not to get the ceiling too wet.

If you cannot remove the stains, consider painting the ceiling to freshen it up. Prime the ceiling with an oil primer and then apply two coats of a flat ceiling paint.

One caution: popcorn ceilings constructed before 1979 could contain asbestos. If your home is older than that, get a professional to check for asbestos. If it contains asbestos, knowing how to clean a popcorn ceiling will be less important than knowing how to replace a popcorn ceiling.

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