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A Complete Guide to Popcorn Ceiling Cleaning

Popcorn ceiling with a heating or cooling vent.

Are you trying to figure out what to do with your popcorn ceiling?

The once-popular ceiling texture has fallen out of style in recent decades, and there’s a fair chance that scraping it is pretty high up on your to-do list. But between the prospect of a monumental chore and the potential for damage, there are plenty of good reasons to wait until you’re ready.

In the meantime, you still need to keep your house looking good, and an essential part of that is popcorn ceiling cleaning. We’ll show you helpful tricks and deep-cleaning tips to make your ceiling looking like new in no time.

Note that if your house was built pre-1980s and you are unsure if you have asbestos in your popcorn ceiling, you must get it tested before trying any DIY approaches. Scraping and even cleaning can agitate asbestos, making you and your family vulnerable. Talk with a professional before working on your ceiling to make sure you are staying safe.

How to Prepare the Room

A bright, spotless popcorn ceiling can look pretty good, or at least it won’t attract any negative attention. The textures, originally meant to hide imperfections in the ceiling, have the unfortunate side effect of trapping and displaying dust for all to see, so it’s crucial to regularly find time to clean it.

Whether you plan on scraping your popcorn ceiling or cleaning it, you’ll need to prepare the room for debris. You’ll be contending with falling dust, cleaner, and bits of popcorn all over the room. Keep your furniture and floors safe by moving everything out of the way and covering them with plastic tarps.

Once your room is cleared and covered, you can assemble your tool kit. To clean a popcorn ceiling, you’ll need the following items:

  • Protective goggles, gloves, and dust mask
  • Cleaning clothes
  • Vacuum cleaner with brush
  • Broom or extendable feather duster
  • Step ladder
  • Spray bottles

If your ceiling needs light dusting, then you should be ready with these tools. For stains and stuck-on grime, you’ll need to add deep cleaning solutions, which we’ll discuss, and spray bottles to your arsenal.

Popcorn Ceiling Cleaning Tips

Now that you’re ready to start cleaning, you’ll need to remove debris before moving on to set-in stains. Follow these steps to refresh your popcorn ceiling safely and efficiently.

Vacuum or Sweep the Dust

Using a wide brush with soft bristles, gently vacuum the ceiling. Try to avoid hitting it with any hard plastic or metal vacuum parts because they’ll easily scrape or break off pieces of the popcorn.

Stand on the floor if you can comfortably clean the ceiling from that position.  If you have to use a step ladder, make sure you place it on a sturdy surface and follow these basic safety rules:

  • Keep your hips centered over the ladder
  • Don’t stand on the top step
  • Move the ladder’s position frequently, so you don’t overextend yourself

Your vacuum may not be able to get into corners, so a soft-bristled broom or feather duster should be on hand to pick up the slack.

Make sure you wear goggles and a mask, as you’ll likely knock dust and dirt into the air as you clean. Before you start sweeping, check to make sure there isn’t any dust already on the broom. Popcorn ceiling easily grabs debris off of brooms, so you’ll only make it worse if yours isn’t clean.

When even the broom isn’t working, duct tape or a lint roller can get any remaining stuck-on dust. If you wrap duct tape with the sticky side out around a paint roller, you can slowly roll it across the ceiling from a comfortable position on the floor.

Treating Stains

With the dust gone, you can assess for any stains around the ceiling. Stains can often arise from grease, smoke, or moisture that creates water stains or mildew patches. These will generally need to be treated with one of three cleaners that you can keep on hand in your spray bottles — water, de-greaser, and mold killer.


Before you apply any kind of liquid to your ceiling, you should understand that popcorn ceilings do not hold up to moisture. When you’re trying to get rid of popcorn, saturating it with water is one of the best ways to loosen and remove it. But when you’re trying to clean your ceiling, it can easily ruin it.

For light stains, you can apply a damp paint roller, carefully rolling it over the stain to collect the dirt. Test the roller in an inconspicuous area to see how the ceiling handles it. Do not get it dripping wet, and try to squeeze out excess water with every rinse.

Dish Liquid for Grease Stains

While you’re cleaning your kitchen, you can add the ceiling to your checklist. Kitchen ceilings can get moisture spots and grease stains above the stove, and they’ll need a more powerful solution than water.

Add warm water to a spray bottle and drop in about one teaspoon of dish liquid, shaking well afterward to get a good sudsy mixture. Spray a thin layer of the solution on the stain and blot it gently with a clean cloth. Let it dry for a few hours and check it again to see if it needs another spray.

Bleach for Mold and Smoke

Water spots, mildew, and smoke stains need a little more power, so a sprayable bleach mixture may come in handy. Mix five parts of water with one part bleach and spray a small amount on the stain. Blot with a cloth and let it sit for a few hours, allowing the ceiling to absorb the bleach.

If the stain still isn’t coming out, you can repeat the process until it fades away. For stubborn stains that won’t go away despite your best efforts, you can resort to painting.

Use an oil-based spray primer on the stained area to block stains. Follow that up with a couple of coats of paint to blend with the rest of your ceiling.

Tackle Your Popcorn Ceilings with Confidence

It may take a little extra elbow grease and TLC, but popcorn ceiling cleaning can be a breeze with the right approach. By following these steps, you’ll save tons of time and effort in refreshing your home.

Knowing how to clean a popcorn ceiling is helpful for any homeowner, but sometimes the chore can get overwhelming. If your ceilings are getting hard to handle, contact our team at Anita’s Housekeeping. We’ll connect you with top-rated deep cleaning companies in your area, matching you with the perfect service to fit your schedule and meet your goals.


Anita's Housekeeping Editors