Post-popcorn: Finishing scraped ceilings

We had three weeks from purchase of our house to the end of our rental contract. Three weeks of an empty house.

So we removed the textured ceilings.

And they had been painted.

It sucked so very hard.

There are a million tutorials online that address how to remove textured ceilings. If anyone is interested in my take, well, the bathrooms still have texture so I would consider posting about it whenever we tackle that project. Let me know.

But the thing those tutorials often don’t address is the post-popcorn mess. What do you do with your ceilings once the drywall is exposed? How do you deal with the scrape marks? What do you do when your living room looks like this?

If you’re interested in my method (newly perfected), read on!

So, you’re going to start with something that looks like this:

Clean scraped drywall ceilings

If your ceilings were painted, like mine were, then the removal was likely difficult and you’ll have scrapes and gouges in your drywall, like the ones below.

Gather your supplies:

  1. Trowel or spackling knife
  2. Mud pan or hawk
  3. Sanding screen and pole
  4. Sandpaper or block
  5. Hammer
  6. Eye protection
  7. Dust mask

This is going to be messy since you’ll be sanding drywall and joint compound. Lay tarps to protect your floor and open the windows. You can also hang plastic over doorways and set a fan in front of your window to try to control the dust traveling. But let’s me honest, there’s not a whole lot you can do. Just go zen and accept that you’ll be dealing with the cleanup for a while.

Here we go!

Drywall patching supplies

First step is to sand your blank ceiling. The idea here is to sand off the rough edges around your gouges and even out the scrapes. You also want to focus on leftover paint that will be stuck on the joint compound, and leftover texture on the drywall. This will give you a nice surface for your joint compound and allow you to better see problem spots.

Pole sander
Use a pole sander, like this. I also recommend a sanding screen, it won’t gum up like sandpaper does.

Now, fill in those spots with joint compound. I like to use a mud tray and trowel. I bought a big five gallon bucket of joint compound for $15 and I’ve almost gone through all the ceilings of my 1450 square feet house and I have half a bucket left. Scraping ceilings is a mess and a pain, but at least it’s cheap!

Stick a big blob of compound on the side of your mud tray. I like to use one side of the tray for clean compound and use the other side to scrape off dirty compound (usually it will get full of dust or chunks of leftover texture.)

Drywall mud and trowel

Great, now start filling your gouges. This is pretty obvious, right? Just slap on a blob and then scrape it down. I don’t think I need to explain this process and most blogs just leave the instructions to “spackle”. I do, however, have some recommendations of things to watch out for as well as a couple favorite techniques.

Noob mistake image The internet recommends priming holes in drywall paper first with a sealing primer before mudding over them. The gypsum has a tendency to absorb moisture and can cause the paint to blister. I did not do this. However, I think I’ll be fine as none of my tears and gouges broke through the paper layer of the drywall, I never saw any gypsum.

Drywall joint compound on the end of a trowel ready for application

My tips and tricks:

  1. Always keep the joint compound at the very end of your trowel. It’ll help you control the mud and keep things neat.
  2. Scrape down the corners of your trowel. I use the corners of my trough. As you work, the dirty mud will inch toward the edges of your trowel. For me, this is always the source of the blobs of compound that fall off. And if you let this dry on your carpet or trim, it doesn’t come off.
  3. Popped nails are easy. Grab a hammer and then fill it in.
Driving in popped nails with a hammer
Push popped nails back in before mudding.

4. Watch the previously mudded joints. After you uncover them there will be a few spots with paint and texture still stuck to those areas. This generally seems to happen because they’re in slightly lower spots, but they look terrible when they’re painted. Make sure you scrape those off, and possibly put a layer of joint compound on them.

Mudded nail hole
When the drywall was originally installed nail holes were mudded over. Some of these places create low spots where paint or ceiling texture sill may be left over. Be sure you scrape these down before mudding.

5. Watch the edges. On my ceiling, the tape around the edges was damaged during the scraping, causing areas of the tape to lift. This looks really bad when painted (ask me how I know!). Sand it down a little and make sure you mud it.

Peeling joint tape on where the wall meets the ceiling
Lifting joint tape
Mudding over lifting joint tape
No more visible lifting tape
Be sure to put a thick bit of mud on it, then smooth it out.

When you’re done filling in, your ceiling will look something like this:

Scraped drywall ceiling covered in patches

Now you need to wait 24 hours for your joint compound to dry completely. So I guess it’s a good time to mention cleaning up.

DON’T PUT JOINT COMPOUND DOWN THE SINK!

Okay, maybe it’s not that scary, but I wouldn’t risk it. This stuff dries SO HARD guys. I hate the idea of that clogging up my pipes.

I get a bucket and fill it with enough water to dilute all my dirty mud, then I just dump the water outside.

The next day you can move on! The bucket of joint compound says you need to wait a day for the stuff to fully dry. It seems to dry faster than that for me, but why risk it? When you return to the project, it’s time to sand again.

Sanding down the new joint compound on the ceiling

Ugh, sanding. I don’t even think that picture is blurry, I think there’s just so much dust in the air it’s created a blur!

I usually sweep down the ceiling before painting, just to get off the extra dust.

I like to use a coat of PVA primer on the bare surfaces. I’m using Valspar’s PVA primer from Lowe’s. I quite like it, and it’s cheap. The raw drywall and the mud will take paint differently, and using a PVA primer is supposed to seal your ceiling so that your paint looks even and beautiful. A warning though, PVA primer is weird stuff. It’s thin and doesn’t have much pigment. Don’t worry too much about even coats or bleeding your edges. I find that it usually dries quite even and the coverage looks good even if it seems very patchy and uneven when wet. So don’t sweat it so much, just get it up there.

Prime your patched ceiling

And there we go! That’s how to go from scraped to ready-to-paint.

Primed ceilings

Much better. But obviously, this room is far from complete. If you’re interested in seeing the transformation of this room, keep watching, I’ll be posting more soon. The next step is tackling the walls. Did you see what looked like popcorn in some of the photos above? I didn’t miss a spot, those are the WALLS.

If you’re interested in seeing the completed ceiling, walls, and paint, click here to see my base room “reveal”.

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