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The Nasty Art of Removing Popcorn Ceiling Texture - Part 2

This article is reproduced with permission from the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency in Lacey, WA.  It has been slightly modified to be viewed by a
general audience. References to local laws, rules, regulations and procedures may or may not apply to you in your area.

Removal Procedures

You may be required to obtain a permit for this work if the texture contains asbestos.  You might also need a permit for disposal of asbestos-related waste.  Please contact your local building inspector for more information!

Basic Rules

Worker Protection: During removal, you will need to protect yourself from breathing or spreading asbestos fibers by wearing an appropriate respirator, disposable coveralls, disposable gloves and rubber boots.

Wetting: Wetting is critical to asbestos fiber control. Before, during and after removal, asbestos materials should be thoroughly saturated with water in order to keep asbestos fibers out of the air. Once removed, asbestos debris should be kept wet until packaged and sealed for disposal.

Containment: You will need to contain your asbestos debris by constructing a plastic containment around the ceiling areas you wish to remove. This is accomplished by covering walls and floors within the project room or rooms to ensure all debris is captured and remains on plastic sheeting during the removal process.

Personnel and Supplies


It is recommended that three workers perform the job. Two should perform the work and a third should be “standing by” outside the area to provide water, tools and other supplies as needed while the works is in progress. This will minimize the need for removal of workers to remove disposal clothing and put on new for each exit and entrance to the work area.

Note: It is illegal to hire anyone other than a certified asbestos abatement contractor to perform, or assist in this removal process.

Protective equipment and clothing

Before beginning, you'll need to obtain the following items:

(1) Respirators - half- face, dual cartridge respirators, each equipped with a pair of HEPA filters (color coded purple). Request a fit test from the vendor to ensure a proper fit. Respirators provide little protection if they do not fit properly. One respirator is required for each person working within the containment area. (Note: Persons with beards often cannot be adequately fitted with this type of respirator and should not participate in asbestos abatement work.

(2) Coveralls - Several pair of disposable coveralls with built- in booties should be purchased. Oversized coveralls make it easier for workers to move. One pair will be needed for each entry into the containment area. Every time a worker leaves a containment area during a removal, coveralls should be wetted and disposed of in sealed asbestos disposal bags. This will help ensure all asbestos debris remains on plastic.

(3) Rubber boots - Laceless, pull-on rubber boots without fasteners will protect coverall booties so they do not wear through. Rubber boots can be washed off later or disposed of as contaminated debris.

(4) Eye protection - Each worker within the containment area should be equipped with non- fogging goggles.

(5) Rubber gloves - Several pairs of durable, disposable rubber gloves should be purchased. Rubber gloves should be worn by each person working within the containment area. Every time a worker leaves a containment area during a removal project, these gloves should be disposed of in properly sealed asbestos disposal bags. A new pair of gloves should be donned with each re- entry of the containment area.

(6) Tools and supplies

* Tank sprayer (2- 3 gallons) - This will be your means of wetting “popcorn” ceiling materials.

* Liquid dish washing detergent - Mixed at one cup per five gallons of water for best results in wetting.

* Wallboard taping or “putty” knives - The best sizes for scraping off “popcorn” ceiling materials have four to six inch blades.

* Polyethylene sheeting - This will be used to create containment areas. You'll need enough 2- 3 mil sheeting to cover 1.5 times the area of the walls and enough 6 mil sheeting to cover 3 times the area of the floors in the work area.

* Asbestos waste disposal bags - These bags will be used for containing asbestos contaminated debris and materials. The bags should be sized 33 inches by 50 inches made of 6 mil polyethylene. Each should be pre- printed with required asbestos warnings. Assume you'll need at least four bags for each 100 square feet of ceiling to be removed.

* Duct tape - Numerous rolls will be needed for building a containment area and sealing waste disposal bags.

* Clean, disposable rags - A large supply should be on hand for assorted removal and clean- up purposes.

* Bucket - this will be needed for washing tools at the end of the project.

* Encapsulant - An "encapsulant" is a coating that can seal and bind asbestos fibers, rendering them inert and harmless.  This could be latex primer paint or an approved latex asbestos sealing product. It will be used for coating walls and/or ceilings after “popcorn” materials have been scraped off.

NOTE: All asbestos-specific equipment and materials may be purchased at any of the safety equipment vendors listed in the yellow pages in your local phone book.

Prep Work

First things first ...

  1. Post signs warning any “drop in” friends, family and other visitors of the work taking place.
  2. Turn off heating/ air conditioning systems and tape all light switches in the off position.
  3. Remove all furniture from the room( s) were the “popcorn” removal is to take place.
  4. Turn off electrical power to all ceiling light fixtures in the project area, then remove them. After removal, seal exposed wires with electrical tape. Be careful not to disturb the “popcorn” material during these activities.
  5. Remove any smoke alarms or other devices attached to or near the ceiling, once again being careful not to disturb “popcorn” material.

Build a containment area

1. Throughout the area of the house where the popcorn ceiling is to be removed, cover the floors with 6 mil polyethylene plastic sheeting. Place the sheets so they overlap room edges by about a foot. Run the extra foot of sheeting up each wall and tape the edges securely. Make  sure there's plenty of excess plastic - do not pull tight - so the plastic won't pull away from the walls when you're working near room corners and edges. Tightly seal all seams between pieces of sheet plastic with duct tape.  If popcorn is to be removed from rooms that are joined by halls or spaces where no removal is to take place, lay 6 mil plastic sheets on the floor to create a path on which to walk between containment areas.

2. Hang 2 or 3 mil polyethylene plastic sheeting on the walls within approximately one inch of the ceiling, forming a. tight seal with the duct tape.  Make sure the sheets overlap and extend to the floor.  Seal all wall seams with duct tape.  To minimize damage to wallpaper, consider using slender finishing nails to secure a piece of screen molding to the top of the wall and tape the plastic wall sheets to the wood strip.

Note from NH:  One of our visitors, SS from Vancouver, Washington used this method but found that the duct tape would release from the walls if it got too wet!  It is suggested that either push pins or staples be used to supplement the duct tape to prevent this from happening.

3. Lay a second layer of 6 mil plastic on the floor. In larger rooms, install this second layer in pieces of 100- 120 square feet.  Lay the plastic in a loose, overlapping manner without using tape or adhesives. (Using these smaller pieces of plastic will make cleanup easier.  They will become quite heavy with wet ceiling material.)

4. Construct plastic “isolation” walls in doorways or room openings, if necessary, to separate the work area from the rest of the house.  Create an entrance/exit to the work area, if needed, by cutting a five-to-six foot vertical slit in a plastic "isolation wall" and then taping a floor-length plastic flap over the slit on the inside of the containment area.

5. Once you've completed the plastic containment, make sure the entire area where the removal is to take place is isolated with polyethylene sheeting.  The only exposed surfaces within the containment should be the ceiling and about an inch or less of wall below the ceiling.  This ensures that all asbestos material is contained during removal.

6. If there is a door to the outside within the containment area, make this your point of entry and exit to the work area.  Open the door and seal doorway with 6 mil plastic.  Create an entrance/exit through the plastic by cutting a vertical slit as described above and covering it on the inside with a plastic flap.  Then lay down a sheet of 5-6 mil polyethylene outside the door.  At a minimum, have a water sprayer bottle, clean wet rags, a bucket and an asbestos waste disposal bag at this location.  If there is no exit door to the outside within the containment, create an entrance/exit within the house - either through a door or through an "isolation wall: as described previously.  Lay down a sheet of 4.6 mil polyethylene outside the door and, as a minimum, have a water spray bottle and an asbestos waste disposal bag at this location.

7. Windows may be opened for ventilation. However, regulations require that there be no visible emissions to the outside air. Construct and tape an oversized plastic flap or canopy over the inside of each open window (or take other precautions) to ensure no debris passes through the windows.

Wet the ceiling

1. If your “popcorn” ceiling was painted, use the wetting process determined to be successful in earlier tests. Apply the water plus wetting agent with the tank sprayer. However, if the testing procedures for wetting described earlier in this publication failed to penetrate the paint and thoroughly saturate the “popcorn” to the ceiling substrate, do not proceed. Leave the ceiling alone or hire an asbestos abatement contractor to do the work.

2. If your “popcorn” ceiling was never painted, spray the ceiling with the liquid detergent and water mixture using the tank sprayer. Mix liquid detergent with the water at a ratio of one cup to five gallons. Spray the “popcorn” material several times and ensure the popcorn is thoroughly wet BEFORE removal. Spray-on “popcorn” material is very porous and absorbs a lot of water. Thorough wetting will keep asbestos fibers out of the air.

3. Wait 15- 20 minutes for the water to thoroughly penetrate.

Note: If someone outside the containment area is not available to refill sprayers, you may need a hose with automatic shut- off at the entrance to the plastic enclosure for refilling the tank sprayer(s).

Put on protective clothing and equipment

Those who will enter the containment area to do the removal should put on disposable coveralls outside the containment area while standing on the entrance/ exit plastic. They should then put on gloves, goggles and respirators equipped with HEPA filters. Tape your gloves to your disposable coverall sleeves around the wrists to ensure your arms and wrists remain covered.

Note: If you must leave the plastic containment area during the project, wet down and remove your protective equipment and clothing while standing on the plastic just outside the entrance/ exit to the work area. Place your coveralls and gloves in an asbestos waste disposal bag.  Then step off the plastic.  Upon returning, put on new coveralls and gloves.

Test for wetness

Once inside the containment area, test for wetness by scraping off a few inches of ceiling material.  If it is thoroughly wet to the gypsum board or other ceiling substrate underneath, you're ready to begin removing.  If the material is not thoroughly wet, re-apply water (with detergent) and allow time for it to soak in.

Again, if you find you are unable to thoroughly wet this material, do not proceed! Use a certified asbestos abatement contractor to perform any additional work.

Taking Down the “Popcorn” Ceiling

1. Cushion ladder legs by wrapping them with rags or a similar material, thereby preventing them from penetrating the plastic sheeting on the floor.

2. Using four to eight-inch putty or wallboard taping knives, thoroughly scrape the spray-on “popcorn” material from the ceiling, allowing the debris to fall onto the plastic sheets below.

3. Wipe any remaining residue off with clean wet rags. Turn rags frequently so you are wiping with a clean surface. Otherwise, remaining asbestos material will be smeared around and not removed. If the ceiling beneath is painted, wet wiping is very effective. With unfinished sheet rock, wiping is helpful but is less effective. Don't try to rinse contaminated rags. Dispose of them in an asbestos waste disposal bag.

4. Use clean rags to wet-wipe the exposed portion of the wall between the top of the duct tape and ceiling.

5. Keep plastic on the floor and walls wet at all times by periodically spraying them to prevent any debris from drying and becoming airborne.

Note: If your spray- on “popcorn” ceiling was applied as part of original construction, the ceiling was probably never finished (primed) for painting. Thus, even if you did no damage during the “popcorn” removal, you will likely need to smooth, prime and/or re- texture the ceiling before painting. Under no circumstances should you sand ceilings after removal of sprayed on "popcorn" material. This will result in asbestos fibers being released into the air.

Cleaning Up

1. After you've removed all the “popcorn” ceiling material in one room within the containment area, carefully fold and roll up the top layer of loose plastic sheets to contain fallen debris.

2. Double bag the folded plastic, along with the ceiling debris it contains, into pre-marked asbestos waste disposal bags. The top level of the floor plastic was put down in 100-120 square sections.  The plastic, plus wetted “popcorn” on this square footage will be quite heavy and may be all you want to carry in a single, double- bagged container.  Make sure all contaminated wipe rags are also placed inside these bags.  Follow this process for each subsequent room.

3. After removing all asbestos material from the project enclosure, thoroughly wipe down all tools and ladders with clean wet rags.  Place tools in a bucket or plastic bag for more thorough cleaning later.  Dispose of rags as asbestos debris.

4.  Before you remove any plastic sheets that are taped to the walls and floor, encapsulate those ceiling areas from which "popcorn" has been removed.  Roll or spray these areas with a latex primer paint or an approved latex asbestos encapsulant.  In spite of your best efforts to thoroughly remove the asbestos fibers, some fibers will be encapsulated by the paint primer or other spray application.  Any future ceiling finishing work should not entail sanding these surfaces.

Remove plastic containment

1.  Spray plastic walls with water one last time, making sure any visible asbestos debris is thoroughly wet.

2.  Beginning at the point most distant from your containment entrance/ exit, remove all plastic. First, peel the plastic off the walls and lower them onto the floor. Then carefully roll up the plastic on the floor, being careful that all debris stays contained within the plastic. Work backwards toward your exit.  Stay on the plastic flooring at all times during this process.  In larger rooms, you may need to bag the wall plastic separately to avoid creating a bundle of plastic too large to bag.  Roll and fold the plastic sheeting toward you while remaining on the plastic.

3. Place each roll of contaminated plastic inside asbestos waste disposal bags.

4. Place each bag of asbestos debris into a second, clean bag, carefully securing each by twisting the tops, bending the twisted part over and securing with duct tape.


1. Make sure that you dismantle and bag the containment area in such a way that the last piece of plastic upon which you are standing is the plastic sheet you placed on the floor outside what formerly was the entrance/exit to the containment area.

2. While standing on this last piece of plastic sheeting, spray yourself (or each other) with water to wet down any asbestos debris/fibers on the outside of your respirator and disposable coveralls.

3.  Remove boots.  Double-bag them in asbestos waste disposal bags.  If you want to keep them, remove any gross accumulation of "popcorn" material and set them aside on the plastic sheet for further cleaning later.

4. Remove your disposable gloves and coveralls by peeling them off and turning them inside out as you remove them.   Step off the last plastic sheet.

5. Remove your respirators and take off their filters. Discard the filter with other asbestos waste.  Using clean wet rags, wipe down your respirator, goggles, tools used in the removal and, if you elect to keep them, your boots.  Place your respirator, goggles and tools in the bucket and your boots in a plastic bag for washing later.

6. Double bag remaining debris, cleaning rags, other disposable items and the last plastic sheet in properly labeled asbestos disposable bags. Tightly seal each bag with duct tape. Use wet rags for any further clean- up.  Never attempt to vacuum or sweep up asbestos debris.

7. Take a shower.


1. Asbestos debris from an asbestos project may be disposed of only at disposal sites or transfer stations licensed to receive such waste. You need to contact your local disposal site to find out if they will indeed take the waste.

2. A copy of your OAPCA- approved application is required for disposal.

3. All debris must be properly packaged for disposal by double bagging your debris inside pre-labeled 6 mil bags designed specifically for asbestos disposal. You must write your last name, address, and date of removal on each container.

4. Debris must be legally disposed of within 10 calendar days of being generated. If you must store the packaged debris prior to disposal, ensure it is stored in a secured area, such as a locked basement or garage.

5. All double bagged or wrapped debris must be hauled to a disposal site or transfer station in a covered vehicle.

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