Painting a Popcorn Ceiling

Painting a popcorn ceiling is a good way to rejuvenate this type of material once it has become stained and discolored. Popcorn ceilings, also referred to as acoustic ceilings historically served as a cheaper alternative to conventional drywall finishing and painting. The spray-on finish has a texture similar to that of popcorn or cottage cheese. Because of the irregular surface of popcorn ceilings, they have a tendency to collect dirt and become unattractive. These ceilings are difficult to clean and are susceptible to damage.

There is a distinct possibility that popcorn ceilings in homes built prior to 1977 contain asbestos. Asbestos was banned in 1977 for this type of application. Care should be taken not to disturb the ceiling surface in such a way as to release asbestos particles. Sanding, scraping, and drilling should be avoided. For more information regarding asbestos, go to the EPA’s website. During the 1980s, popcorn ceilings lost favor with home owners because of their negative association with asbestos as well as changing trends.

Spray Painting a Popcorn Ceiling

Spray painting a popcorn ceiling is the only viable method of paint application. Rolling paint can soften the material and cause it to lift away from the underlying drywall.

Painting Tools and Supplies

  • Airless paint sprayer fully equipped with hose and spray gun. A sprayer with a delivery rate of 0.25 gallon per minute or greater should be used to handle the viscosity of a typical latex paint.
  • Airless tip guard for reversible tips.
  • Airless reversible spray tip. Optimum sizes include 515, 615, 517, or 617.
  • A spray gun extension wand (for higher ceilings).
  • 5 gallon bucket. The airless sprayer can siphon the paint from the bucket.
  • Extra 1 or 5 gallon bucket for draining excess fluid from airless sprayer hose.
  • 5 gallon paint strainer.

Spot Priming
Before painting a popcorn ceiling, all stains such as water stains should be spot primed with a fast dry oil base or shellac primer. These types of primer are available in aerosol spray cans. A spray can is a convenient way of applying the primer and does not require clean-up. If the staining is extensive and cannot be addressed by a spray can, a full coat of primer may be necessary.

Masking and Covering
Spray painting a popcorn ceiling is much the same as any spray painting application insofar as it requires thorough masking and covering. All adjacent surfaces should be covered, along with the entire floor and all the items within the room.

Spray Painting
Setting up the airless sprayer is the first step to spray painting. Place the paint sprayer on a painters drop cloth and try to position it in a spot that does not interfere with your work. Keep a couple of extra buckets on hand. Thin the paint with clean water up to 5% by volume. This will improve the workability of the paint.

Painting a popcorn ceiling may require two coats. An extra coarse texture often needs to be sprayed in both directions to get coverage. Some colors also require two coats to cover.

It is a good idea to follow some basic mechanics of spraying.

  • Try to keep a constant distance in the range of 12-18 inches between the spray tip and the ceiling.
  • Try to avoid spraying at sharp angles (fanning).
  • Always have the spray gun in motion when you depress the trigger.

Start at one corner of the ceiling and spray a swath of paint toward the adjacent corner. Backtrack spraying a new swath of paint overlapping the previous swath by 50%. Repeat the process working across the entire room. If a second coat is required follow this same process in a perpendicular direction.

When the painting is completed, the airless spray equipment needs a thorough cleaning. Run clean water through the sprayer, hose, and gun. As the water replaces the paint inside the sprayer, drain the paint into the paint bucket until water is at the tip of the gun. Run additional water through the unit until clean water is at the tip of the gun. Make sure to drain all the dirty water into a bucket.

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Professional Painting, Inc. is a full service painting company serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1988.