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Tips to Handle Popcorn Ceilings With Asbestos

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on June 29, 2021

Asbestos is a dangerous mineral that can cause illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma even with small amounts of exposure. Unfortunately, asbestos exposure is still a risk today due to a large number of products containing asbestos. Many asbestos-contaminated products were used in building and construction until the 1990s, including textured spray coatings. For this reason, it is important to safely and correctly handle popcorn ceilings when remodeling to decrease your risk of asbestos exposure.

Why Do Some Popcorn Ceilings Contain Asbestos?

Popcorn ceilings refer to a style of drywall that was popular in homes and commercial buildings from around 1945 to the early ‘90s. Other names include acoustic ceiling, blown-on ceiling, stipple ceiling and stucco ceiling. This spray contains small beads in the mixture that give the ceiling a dimpled look, earning it the nickname “popcorn ceiling.” It boomed in popularity for its ability to cover up imperfections in walls and ceilings, as well as its acoustic insulation.

Many popcorn ceilings that were installed in the 1990s may contain asbestos, as it was a popular building material for its fire-resistant properties and durability. This means that renovating, remodeling or working on a building that contains an older popcorn ceiling comes with the risk of asbestos exposure and related ailments, such as mesothelioma.

How to Handle a Ceiling With Potential Asbestos Contamination

If you recognize popcorn ceilings in a building that was built or remodeled prior to 1995, proceed with extreme caution. Assume that the popcorn spray coating contains harmful traces of asbestos. Keep in mind that no amount of asbestos has been proven to be safe for exposure, despite current OSHA regulations that allow for a certain amount of asbestos in the workplace. Take the following steps to properly handle the popcorn ceiling without putting yourself or your family at risk.

Don’t Start Work

It is critical not to begin your construction project on a popcorn ceiling until you have confirmed that there are no traces of asbestos. Don’t touch the ceiling, especially to cut into it or scrape off the popcorn spray. Cutting into it, sanding it down or altering it in other ways can release dust that contains asbestos into the air. Most masks and respirators will not protect you from asbestos exposure, and microscopic fibers can remain in the air and your home for a long period of time.

Test for Asbestos

Call in a licensed asbestos professional to come to your home and perform an asbestos test on your popcorn ceilings. If you cannot afford to hire a professional, there are cheaper home testing kits available that allow you to collect your own samples and send them to a lab. It is important, however, to take steps to prevent exposure if you choose to collect the sample yourself.

Contact an Asbestos Removal Expert

If a test comes back positive for traces of asbestos in your popcorn ceilings, do not attempt to remove the spray coating yourself. You must hire a trained and licensed asbestos removal contractor to handle the job for you. 

Licensed professionals can carefully remove the popcorn ceiling and rid the rest of your building of asbestos-contaminated products, including insulation or brick mortar. A professional will use asbestos encapsulation techniques to cover up the popcorn ceilings and prevent asbestos fibers from being released into the air. Finally, a professional can safely and legally dispose of asbestos in a designated dumpsite according to state law. 

Protect Yourself and Your Family

If you believe that contaminated popcorn ceilings in your home have already been disturbed, take steps to help prevent asbestos exposure. Remove your family and pets from the area immediately. Close all of the doors and vents to the affected room. If possible, wet the patch of the ceiling to keep asbestos fibers out of the air. Leave the area and call in an asbestos removal expert. The best way to deal with popcorn ceilings is to trust them to the professionals.