How to Paint a Popcorn Ceiling

Painting the ceiling is a wise and inexpensive way to brighten up a room. You can choose the colors which are appropriate for you at the moment. Not all roof, though, is the same. For example, there is what we call the "popcorn ceiling."

What is the point of a popcorn ceiling?

Popcorn ceilings, also referred to as stucco ceilings / acoustic ceilings/cottage cheese ceilings were widely famous and used in residential houses built between the 1930s and 1990s in Canada.

This type of surfaces is characterized by their textured look. These surfaces were commonly found in entrance hallways, bedrooms, and basements of homes.

In other words, popcorn ceilings are surfaces which have been textured with a material including styrofoam or stucco. This gives way to a bumpy appearance that can be compared to popcorn.

The purpose of creating this kind of surface or also more precisely called “acoustic ceilings” is to increase the quality of absorbing sound. In smooth surfaces, sound just bounces back.

Painting a Popcorn Ceiling

man spray painting a ceiling

It may make you hesitant to paint this kind of surface because of its texture. However, in some cases, we cannot stay away from doing so, especially of the surface badly needs a touch-up.

Don't worry about doing so, because, with the right preparation, any hard task can be made easier.

You can have that surface look new in no time. Just take note of and follow the following easy steps to do this.

1. Preparing the area

Test the water solubility of the surface

Before proceeding in covering this surface, it is crucial for you to check if it has ever been painted before. A coating which has never been included is usually water-soluble.

You can check this by spraying a small and unnoticeable spot with water.

Your checking is that if the area becomes soft, that surface has not been painted before. This is where your best option is the spray gun.

If you use a roller to cover it, the ceiling may just absorb moisture from the paint, and subsequently, the texture can come off on the roller.

Remove and cover areas you don’t intend to spray on

Covering an overhead surface will undoubtedly result in some drips. You need to protect the furnishings and even the flooring in the room.

To do this, take as much of the furniture out of place as possible. However, if there are large items which could be difficult to move, try covering them with plastic sheeting.

Cover the floor also with newspaper/drop cloths / plastic, so you save it from any drips.

Use a painter’s tape

You may also use a painters tape and plastic to secure the covering to the fixtures and walls. You will also need to cover the walls, windows, fans, and doors, with plastic sheeting to save them from being sprayed or painted on. 

Make sure you tighten the seel to the point where the ceiling connects with the wall.

A tight seal is critical if you are planning to spray the surface. If in case you are going to roll on the paint, you can go with a looser seal.

yellow painting tape with red brush

If you are also covering the walls along with the ceiling, there is no need to include them and creating a seal with paint.

Use the right safety gear

Before you even begin painting, make sure that you have the proper safety equipment to protect yourself.

You are going to work on an overhead surface, which means that it is easy for paint to fall in your face. To protect you from this, see to it that you are wearing a dust mask and safety eye mask or glasses.

Apart from the mask, it might also be helpful to wear a hat to cover your head.

Another point is making sure that you are wearing old clothing or disposable coveralls, in case of stain.

Make all necessary repairs

Once the room is covered and secured in plastic, fix first any damage to the surface before you start covering.

For small areas (damages that 16-inches by 16-inches or less) that require repair, it is wise for you to use a can of spray acoustic texture.

popcorn ceiling getting fixed

Meanwhile, for larger areas, the best option is to use powder texture to ensure the pneumatic hopper mixes well with water.

If your surface has never been covered ever since you can repair the damaged areas by directly and gently applying water to them and scraping away the damage.

For any areas of water damage, seal it with an oil-based, stain blocking primer which has been thinned with water by around 25 percent.

Another point when checking the ceiling for damage is to keep an eye out for dust, dirt, and other debris. Use a feather duster to remove these.

2. Preparing the Paint 

Look for the right finish.

The best option when you are covering a popcorn ceiling is a flat or matte finish. This is because it will not draw attention to any areas with an uneven texture.

However, you can also use a satin or semi-gloss finish if you prefer.

Check the temperature in the room. If the surface is prone to humidity, such as a bathroom or kitchen, go for satin or semi-gloss finish as this is actually the best option.

Do not be cheap in choosing paint. If you can afford the price, go for the ones with high quality.

The better the substance, the less you will have to use and the less effort it will take to apply it.

Although a single can is expensive, using high-quality paint will save you from purchasing more just because you are not satisfied with the finish.

Choose the best color.

You will notice that white is usually the color for surfaces because it keeps the focus on the walls. White can also help brighten up the room and make low ceilings appear higher.

However, if you prefer, you may also use light colors for this surface. Just remember not to use the same color on the walls.

Now, if your ceiling is high, you may want to go for a dark color. This gives the room an imposing feeling. Meanwhile, a more vibrant shade on the surface can help make space feel warmer and cozier.

Thin the paint.

Be careful in choosing the kind of paint you will work on with the ceiling. Acrylics work best on popcorn surfaces.

However, it may be too sticky that if you apply it straight away to the surface, it will wind up pulling some of the texture from the ceiling.

To make acrylics more workable, you should thin the material before applying it.

You can use water to thin the acrylic. To do this, aim to add approximately a ½-quart of water for each gallon of paint.

Be careful not to dilute the paint too much. A good way of doing this is by adding around 8-ounces) of water to the paint and test its performance by dabbing it on a corner.

If there is a need to add more water because the solution is still too thick, you may do so. 

popcorn ceiling getting spray painted

To check the viscosity of the solution, make use of a funnel. Pour some of the answers through a funnel.

If it passes through it quickly and easily, you've got enough consistency. Otherwise, you need to add more water to further thin the solution.

3. Spraying the Ceiling

Use an airless, vibrator type sprayer.

In covering surfaces like the ceiling, an airless sprayer may be your best bud because it fans the pain out in droplets, resulting in an even coat the surface.

guy painting a white ceiling

Because you are working an overhead surface such as a ceiling, you may want to select a model with a suction set and paint storage.

Don’t worry about purchasing a new paint sprayer if you don’t paint regularly.

Nowadays you can already rent them from hardware stores, home improvement centers, and tool rental companies.

Paint sprayers may work differently so make sure to read the instructions on how to fill the sprayer with paint.

Test the tip 

Testing cardboard by using the right tip on your paint sprayer is key to a successful paint application. With thinned acrylic paint, you may use a 415 or 515 as this may be your best option.

To test this, you can spray a piece of cardboard and view the patterns.

Ensure the spray pattern is intact

Another point is to examine the tip itself. If there are a rounded or has grooves along the edge, most probably, the tip is worn out and needs replacement.

Spray in one, consistent direction

Spray the paint onto the ceiling in a single direction and consistently, gently moving in a steady motion. Be sure to hold the sprayer in a way that it is perpendicular to the ceiling.

Once finished with one strip of the ceiling, overlap this section to achieve better coverage.

For the second coat, apply paint in the opposite direction

Once you are done spraying the entire surface in the first direction, apply a second coat if there is still a need. Then, try moving the spray over the ceiling in the opposite direction.

Check if the surface is already dry before applying the next coat. Usually, drying takes around one to two hours. Apply more coats as necessary.

Check out this video for more tips on painting a popcorn ceiling:

Wrap Up

Painting whatever kind of surface becomes more comfortable if you have enough preparation. Same with covering a popcorn ceiling, it can be bearable.

Remember to prepare the room, including the furniture, walls, windows, and floors to save them from drips.

Choose the correct materials like a roller or spray paint, as well as the right paint. Be sure to wear as well the right protective gears. Lastly, in applying more coats, be patient in finishing your work.