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Textured ceiling paint removal.

Not long after we got the keys to our house, we were out with friends and somehow, the idea of ‘hey, let’s christen your empty new house’ came about. Yeah, okay, sure, cool. Not going to lie: entering the house for the first time since it was transferred to our names was creepy. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were trespassing in an empty house. We sat down on the living room carpet to drink our drinks and it felt like we should be passing around a flashlight and telling ghost stories.

Anyhow. It wasn’t until we were showing our friends around the place that I noticed a) mildew patches on some of the walls and ceilings and b) textured ceilings in two of the bedrooms. The mildew was an easy fix, but dang, textured ceilings?? It was only textured paint, not an asbestos-bomb of a vermiculite ceiling, but I couldn’t just let and let live, oh no. At least with vermiculite popcorn ceilings, you can wet them down and scrape all that crap off easily. Hardened paint is another story.

ceiling before


We could have painted it over, gone bright white with flat ceiling paint. That might have visually smoothed out some of the texture, as well as brightening things up some. However, that ‘easy fix’ would still take money and effort, what with using that much more ceiling paint to get into all the little textured bits.
There was also the option of installing a plasterboard false ceiling directly underneath, to hide the textured ceiling, but it’d be a butt-ton of effort for middling results, quite frankly. I didn’t particularly want to have the ceilings shorter in some rooms than in others, either.

I tried applying a layer of joint compound on top to smooth it out, as seen above. That grey patch is ⅔ of a 4kg tub of joint compound, which is why I didn’t go that route. Even if you get the 20kg bags that you mix yourself, that’s still a lot of mess and work. No thanks. (I did remove that patch later; the joint compound bonded with the paint, and I was able to wriggle a putty knife under it all and break it off.)

Here’s what worked:

In the end, I managed to get off the textured paint altogether using diluted citrus stripper and I’m pretty pumped about it. The citrus stripper was easy to work with; the conventional stuff is caustic as anything and it probably would have wrecked the ceilings. I was able to scrape off the paint in sheets – NO DUST – and it only took a few days, not weeks on end.

finished close

AAAHHHH. Flat and white. Like how I prefer my coffee.

What I used:

  • Dropcloths and tape
  • 4″ paintbrush
  • Citristrip – just over 2 litres for two bedrooms
  • Cling wrap
  • Bowl, ceramic or metal (the stripper can eat through plastic)
  • 5″ scraper
  • 3kg tub of skim coat
  • Hand sanding block and sugar soap, for cleanup
  • Primer and paint, for later, obviously.

NB: Our ceilings (and most of the walls) are made up of a layer of plaster over cement sheeting. I was able to use paint stripper and scrape off all the paint down to the plaster. So I can’t guarantee this would work for any other type of board, like paper-backed drywall/plasterboard. If in doubt, test it out in a small area first.

1. Prep your space: empty it out and cover the floor in drop cloths.

2. Mix up your orange goop with hot water to a soupy consistency, however thick you prefer (thicker = less time required) but not too watery. It should still be bright orange. The watered-down stripper is easier to paint on, given that it’s so thick, and it’s less likely to damage your surface at a dilute strength. And seeing as it’s pushing $40 a litre, I’m happy to stretch it out for that reason too.

Now who wants pumpkin soup?

mixing bowl

  1. Paint the mixture onto your ceiling, bit by bit, and cover it up with cling wrap as you go. It will keep the surface wet and let the stripper do its work. I did one bedroom by myself and it was mind-meltingly tedious, but when Jamie and I worked together on the other bedroom, we got it done in an evening. World of difference.

orange glad wrap

4. Wait several days. Trust. If you try to scrape it off before it’s soft enough, it’ll only take off only the top layer of paint which will splat everywhere like the gooey wet paint it is, the force required will give you hand blisters, and the surface will still be textured and rough. Again, ask me how I know!

Right, so, several days later, come back to your ridiculous orange glad-wrapped ceiling, peel back the plastic and and dig in with the scraper. You should be able to get in there and scrape it off in sheets. Super satisfying, until you realise there’s the whole rest of the room ahead of you. Take all the time you need.

ceiling strips

rough surface

Lastly, after it’s all off, wipe down any orange drips and spills with sugar soap, then go back over it with a sanding block and a thin pass of skim coat to smooth out any irregularities. Sand any ridges in the skim coat when it’s dry, and you’re golden. Paint that ceiling, get it looking nice.

In that last picture above, the ceiling is half-skim-coated. The ceiling in the spare bedroom really wasn’t in great shape; we discovered that it was bulging and sagging in places, so Jamie screwed any bulging spots back to the beams before I plastered everything.

finished ceiling


So yeah, that’s one method of textured ceiling paint removal. This task was utterly crazy-making, no lie, but I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to smooth out the ceilings after we were moved in. It’s SO WORTH IT, or at least I think so. Really freshens and modernises things. It’s not 100% perfect, but imperfections in an older ceiling constitute ‘character’, while textured paint is just ‘dated.’ Maybe. Whatever. I’m happy.

(This is the master bedroom by the way, looks like the walls are gonna be dark again!)

4 thoughts on “Textured ceiling paint removal.”

  1. Hello, Thank you so much for your sharing this. I had given up hope of being able to do this alone and hiring someone is over $1000. Anyhoo, was wondering if you could elaborate on your cling wrap techniques. I tried a small section (I tend to get my hopes up and then get smashed flat when it doesn’t work) and couldn’t get the film to stick to the citrus scented ceiling. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Amy, all I can suggest is making sure the ceiling is wet and goopy enough. Maybe use a thicker concentration of the citrus stripper? Good luck with your ceiling!

  2. Hey! I was inspired by your post to use citristrip on our walls (which have terrible heavy knock-down stucco texture). It’s working! Although there are parts that are stubborn that we’re having to use a heat gun/sander on. Still, better than nothing! Anyways, just wanted to say thanks in advance (just in case i’m dead by the time we finish scraping all the walls of a 1500 s.f. house).

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