How to Remove Stippled Ceilings

While I’m working on getting the paint color features up and running, I thought I’d share with you one of the first major projects we tackled.

stippled ceiling picture


It felt like these little stalactites were coming down on your head, especially since our ceilings are only 7.5 feet tall. According to our Realtor, the builders marketed the short ceilings as being energy efficient. While our house does seem fairly energy efficient, surely it had nothing to do with it being cheaper for the builders. In any case, we have low ceilings and I wanted to do everything I could to make them seem taller. Plus, when stippled ceilings are 25 years old, they get a bit old and dingy looking. And let me tell you, they are cob web magnets. Through our research we learned that painting stippled ceilings is an option, but we just wanted to get those suckers down and have smooth ceilings.


Oh, and if you are wondering why they used stipple in the first place – it is easier and quicker to do a stippled (also called “stomped”) ceiling than it is to finish it smooth. Nowadays some builders do popcorn ceilings. Popcorn ceilings have a similar look though a different application process. Stipple is applied with a big brush dipped in a thinned out mixture of joint compound (mud), and then “stomped” on the ceiling. Popcorn ceilings are sprayed on and look more like the name suggests by having round “popcorn” bumps.

Almost instantly after closing and walking in our new house, I grabbed a putty knife to see just how difficult it would be to scrape off the stipple. I took a little squirt bottle, sprayed some water on a small part of the ceiling to soften up the stipple, and scraped a little section with a putty knife. I was super excited to learn that it did come off fairly easily.

Since our house was built in the mid-eighties we  had the stipple tested for asbestos. We took a little sample of the ceiling from two different parts of the house and mailed it off to an asbestos testing company. We had the results back in a few days. We were glad to find out that the stippled tested negative for asbestos so we could get moving on removing it!

After doing lots of research we decided to tackle the project of removing the stippled ceilings ourselves.

  • Step 1: Cover the walls and floor with plastic. Lay contractor paper on the floor since the plastic gets slippery when wet.
  • Step 2: Spray a section of the ceiling with water. You can use a spray bottle or a hose on a light setting.
  • Step 3: Use a large putty knife and gently scrape the stipple off the drywall ceiling. Be careful not to scratch up the drywall paper underneath. Be particularly gentle around the seams and edges of the ceiling where there is drywall tape. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the entire ceiling has been scraped
  • Step 4: Once all the stipple is off, repair any dings or scratches you made to the ceiling using joint compound.
  • Step 5: Prime and paint! We used Zinsser Primer and C2 Ceiling Paint.

It took us the better part of a weekend just to scrape the stipple off one room. Smoothing out any rough patches and repairing dings to the drywall can take just as long. It also makes a huge mess and can get uncomfortable to be up on a ladder scraping away at a ceiling for that long. Can you say sore neck anyone? Ouch.

We trudged through doing the kitchen and living room and decided that we just were not up to the task of finishing the rest of the ceilings in the house. We decided to hire out a contractor that came out with a team of four workers who did the rest of the house for us in two days. I am all about DIY, but it’s good to know when to call in the pros for reinforcement. If you are curious how the pros did it, they sanded the stipple down to make it smooth, did a skim coat to smooth it out even more, sanded the skim coat, primed, and painted. They made it look so easy! It’s not, trust me.

We had our air ducts cleaned after the contractors came and the air duct company said they had never seen so much dust in air ducts before. Lesson learned – don’t let the contractors talk you into keeping the air on (to help with drying the skim coat) when there are massive quantities of joint compound dust flying through the air.

The finished product was so worth it in the end. It really helped to make our house seem cleaner, brighter and more current.

After Stippled Removed

What do you think of textured ceilings? Love em? Hate em?



  1. Steph says

    Would you mind sharing how much it cost to hire the pros for the rest of the house? How many rooms did they do? Thanks!

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  8. Kelly C Traywick says

    Looks great! Could you share how much it cost for the pros to tackle the other rooms? We’re buying a house with 1800 Sq ft of this stuff.


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