How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling

Josh Arnold

How to clean popcorn ceilings by removing dust, cobwebs, yellow water marks, mildew or other stains using a variety of methods.

Popcorn ceilings -- also known as acoustical, or spackled, ceilings -- have a bumpy, cottage cheese appearance due to a paint- or spray-on treatment. Popcorn ceilings were popular from the 1950s through the 1980s, and ceilings constructed prior to 1979 may contain asbestos. If you know your home was built before 1979, or if you aren't sure of the structure's age, take precautions when cleaning the ceiling. You can remove cobwebs, stains and even yellow discolorations from the ceiling to give your home a refreshed appearance.

Removing Dust and Cobwebs

The easiest and safest way to remove dust and cobwebs from your popcorn ceiling is with a vacuum cleaner. First, equip the vacuum with its brush attachment and then gently run it over the popcorn ceiling, being careful not to damage the texture. If you suspect that the ceiling contains asbestos, put on a protective dust mask prior to cleaning.

Although the method may be less effective than using a vacuum, you can also use a feather duster to pick up and remove any dust or cobwebs. If the ceiling is very dirty, you may need to clean the duster off as you clean to remove any dust and debris build-up.

Removing Everyday Stains

Over time, items such as cooking grease and nicotine from cigarette smoke can leave unsightly stains on the light-colored popcorn ceilings. Before cleaning the ceiling with liquid, test a small area with plain water to make sure the textured surface doesn't melt.

If the ceiling holds up to the liquid, create a cleaning solution by mixing warm water with a mild dishwashing soap. Dip a soft cloth into the soapy water and wring it out. Dab at the stains gently, being careful not to damage the ceiling, and repeat the process as needed until the stains are gone. Be careful not to over-saturate the ceiling.

Removing Yellow Water Marks and Mildew

A leaky roof may cause yellow water marks or mildew to form on a your popcorn ceiling. If the ceiling holds up to the liquid test, you can remove the yellow stains and mildew using a bleach solution. Combine 1 part bleach with 5 parts water and gently dab the mixture onto the stains using a soft cloth. Repeat the process as needed to completely remove the marks or mildew, being careful not to over-saturate the surface.

Painting a Popcorn Ceiling

If you aren't able to use a liquid cleaner on the ceiling, or if the liquid cleaning methods didn't remove the stains, you can paint the surface to create a clean appearance.

First, coat the ceiling with an oil primer to create a base for the paint. Allow the primer to thoroughly dry for a minimum of two hours, and then apply two coats of an acrylic flat ceiling paint.