Changing Popcorn Ceilings to Knockdown

So many of the homes I’ve done design work on, including our former house, have had ‘popcorn’ ceilings. You know that nasty pokey ceiling texture that was so popular in the 70’s and 80’s? I can’t stand that finish… it collects dust and is just too heavily textured. It actually draws attention to itself, and not in a good way. But I’ve found that it isn’t difficult to get rid of it… and here are the step by step tips to change popcorn ceilings to knockdown. changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

The main reason popcorn ceiling texture was used in the first place, was to camouflage the flaws in the sheetrock &/or taping job. However, a knockdown finish will accomplish the same camouflage feature, but be much more subtle in texture and effect.

The condo I’ve been showing you the renovation projects of, that has been changed from a boring 1980’s to a ‘Modern Swedish Farmhouse’ open concept condo, had those dreaded popcorn ceilings. In their attention-grabbing form, those heavily textured ceilings just seemed to be visually lower than they were, making the room feel even less spacious… just the opposite effect we wanted in this small 2 bedroom condo. changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

This was a picture of the kitchen with the popcorn ceiling, (and wallpapered walls).

So the first step in changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown ones is to get rid of the popcorn… or at least most of it…

The carpenter lightly sprayed the ceiling with water, working one room at a time. He just used a simple sprayer like what you’d spray your yard for weeds. (like this garden sprayer)

The trick here is to let the dampness soak into the popcorn a bit to soften it, but not too long that it soaks the sheetrock underneath. Depending on heat and humidity, you just have to keep checking it until you feel it’s right.

Then with a wide scraper, scrape off the bumpy texture. For this condo reno, we were going to be installing a knockdown finish, so it was totally fine for some of the texture to remain on the ceiling from the old texture… just the pokey bumps needed to go. (Here’s a tip: use a long painter’s pole in the handle of the scraper so that you can do it from the floor) changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

This is a super close up picture of the ceiling after the pokey bumps of the popcorn ceiling were dampened then scraped off.

To apply the new ceiling texture, the carpenter has this machine: changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

But if you’re doing it yourself, and don’t want to buy a whole machine, guess what? You can rent it! (I’m a big fan of renting equipment… it makes so much more sense than storing it if you’re not using it over and over) Here is information on rental cost at HomeDepot: check out this rental deal for a texture sprayer.

Also, when you’re getting the texture mix to create a knockdown finish, be sure to get the right mix! There are 2 choices, aggregated and unaggregated. The aggregated has the little pokey bumps in it, and will create a popcorn texture, so obviously not what you want if you’ve just scraped that off! changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

For a knockdown texture, you need to get unaggregated spray texture!

This is what the ceiling looks like right after it’s sprayed: changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

After it was sprayed up onto the ceiling, the carpenter let it dry a little while, taking it from a very wet mix, when first applied, to a very damp mix. Sorry, I don’t know how else to explain that. It needs to be dry enough so that when it’s knocked down it still holds some of its shape, but not so dry that it won’t knock down at all. Again, depending on the heat and humidity of the room, this time will vary. I think in the condo it was about 20-30 minutes that it sat before he did the knocking down part. (but it was quite humid in there that day too)

By the way, this whole process of changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown ones is messy…

So to sheet everything in plastic is highly recommended and just makes clean up go much easier. changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

Once the texture had dried just the right amount… changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

The carpenter gently used the knockdown knife pulled across the ceiling, creating a knockdown look. (knockdown because this step knocks down the spray texture to be flatter) He placed the wide blade of the knife on the far end of the ceiling by the wall, and gently pulled it across the ceiling as he walked backward. (it’s hard to tell in this picture, but he isn’t pushing the knife, that would take it all down! He’s pulling it across the texture)

This is what the texture looked like after: changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

In this picture, it was mostly dry, but there are still a few damp areas.

Once it was totally dry…

For sure wait a day or more, depending on room’s heat and humidity…

Then prime and paint. changing popcorn ceilings to knockdown

This is the ceiling now, all primed and painted. It looks fresh and the knockdown texture does hide minor imperfections of the sheetrock but doesn’t have that heavily distracting texture of the previous popcorn ceiling. That’s why I like to encourage my clients to change their popcorn ceilings to knockdown ceilings… unless a different treatment would be even better. I’ve treated ceilings with wood, beadboard, woven rattan, pressed tin type ceilings… The options end where your imagination does, but knockdown can be a great choice too. 🙂

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So here is the list of things you’d need for this project, all available online here:

Did you know I now offer e-decorating? I can help you with your decorating needs via email, without having to step foot in your home. If you’re interested in more information, visit my e-decorating site: Frame and Frills. I’d love to help you with your project!

Here are more carpentry tips and ideas:

This post is linked up to the following other sites: Between Naps on the Porch

Reader Interactions


  1. Kathleen Nickel says

    Don’t most popcorn ceilings pre 1980 contain asbestos? Did you have testing done before proceeding? What are the health risks it you D.Y.I. and don’t protect yourself and dump the material where it could be hazardous to others? I want to knock down our popcorn but I’m nervous.

    • Liz says

      Hmm… great questions Kathleen. Probably your building inspector would be a good place to start finding direction for some of those concerns.

      • Benjamin Morrison says

        Building inspector? No permits are required for this type of work, and absolutely the popcorn may contain asbestos. Call a local abatement company first to test for asbestos. This is not a DIY job to be absolutely honest.

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