You can sand down wall texture (and it’s easy!)

My least favorite aspect of my house is probably the wall texture. It’s very rough, ugly, and quite honestly a bit dangerous. I have bloodied a knuckle or two trying to plug something in behind a piece of furniture. Just the act of dragging your skin across it is dangerous! Therefore, I have made removing the bad wall texture a priority. I’ve recently completed the second room and I’m here to tell you that you can sand down bad wall texture, it’s not hard, and so long as you aren’t seeking perfection it will look good.

I’ve said it before, but let me repeat myself. The internet “pros” will tell you this can’t be done. In their eyes, the only acceptable ways to deal with bad wall texture are:

  1. Skim coat all your walls
  2. Replace the drywall
  3. Learn to love the bad texture

Well, I decided these weren’t acceptable options.

First, skim coating. I don’t really believe skim coating is a DIY project. Not to say that it can’t be done, I don’t believe anything can’t be done. But I believe it takes skill and practice to do a nice skim coat. I don’t want to try skim coating my whole house only to really get the hang of it on the last room. Plus, skim coating is super messy.

Second, I’m not replacing all my drywall. My house is not that expensive and replacing all the drywall is an investment I would never get back.

Third, I don’t want to live with it! Perhaps I’m just being stubborn, but this wall texture is bad. I could maybe live with it if it was just the nature of the texture, but it’s also the application. It’s obvious that this stuff is impossible to match, so it’s painfully obvious everywhere the wall ever had to be patched.

Plus, I just didn’t see any reason I couldn’t just sand it down and paint over the top of it. Guess what, you can. And so long as you don’t expect perfection, it’ll be pretty easy and look tons better than what you had before.

If you want to try this yourself, the method is simple. Attack the sanding like you would painting. You’ll want to cut in using a hand sander and I recommend getting yourself a larger sander for the rest of the area.

Supplies to sand down wall texture

I used a drywall sander, though SFGate recommends a belt sander. I think this probably depends on the kind of texture you’re trying to sand down. Mine was like popcorn ceiling texture and was easy to remove. If you’re trying to remove particularly heavy texture, or that done with plaster, I’d go with a belt sander too. To cut in on the edges and corners, I used a Ryobi corner cat. This worked great but I think a square palm sander would also be a good choice. Just don’t go with a circular pad or you won’t be able to get into the corners.

You will also want a lot of sandpaper. Don’t be stingy, using enough fresh sandpaper will make your job much easier. I used 80 grit sandpaper for both sanders, and 120 for the palm sander to fix trouble spots. Don’t get 120 for the drywall sander though, it will just melt the paint and gum up the sanding pad (it’s also not necessary, I did one room with a 120 finish and one without and they look the same).

I also recommend the typical safety gear. Gloves and safety goggles are always a good idea. And get yourself some spackle while you’re out, you will find many holes hiding underneath that texture you never knew were there.

In addition, I highly recommend a good vacuum setup. Sanding walls is EXTREMELY MESSY, but it was extremely not-messy with a strategic vacuum plan. Get yourself a good HEPA filter for your shopvac and definitely grab a vacuum bag. I tried to use a cyclone the first time and it failed miserably. Then get vacuum hose attachments for all your sanders. The drywall sander required a simple graduated attachment from Home Depot and for the hand sander I purchased a “car cleaning kit” for the appropriate size hose. Plus I got some bonus vacuum attachments!

Sanding down wall texture

Awesome, now it’s time to sand down your wall texture. I like to switch off between the hand sander and the drywall sander, that way neither gets overheated.

Starting with the drywall sander, put on a fresh piece of sandpaper and turn on your vacuum system. Then focus on the large areas of the wall, the part that you would use a roller to paint. You want the sander to go fast enough that there’s enough power to eat through the wall texture, but not so much that you loose control of the machine. Use slow back and forth or circular motions, you will be able to feel the areas that need more attention. Be very careful to keep the head flat, you don’t want to put pressure on the edges and create gouges in your wall. Be generous with the sandpaper. I like to use a sheet per wall in a 10×10 room. Trying to be stingy with sandpaper will just create extra work.

With the hand sander, cut in around edges and fixtures. Be careful and follow the sander’s lead. Don’t put a lot of pressure on the sander to eat through the wall texture faster, that will just break your machine (ask me how I know!) I also like to revisit the main part of the wall with the hand sander after using the large sander. There will be areas that the large sander couldn’t get, I think this is because walls get wavy over time and the head of the drywall sander is too big to get in low spots.

I like to go over a room twice, at least with the drywall sander, at 80 grit. This helps get missed spots and areas that need more attention. If you have particularly troublesome areas, put some 120 grit on the hand sander and smooth down those areas of wall texture.

Once your walls are smooth, it’s time to spackle. Fill all your holes and if you want to try to match the texture, I’ve had good results with a spray on orange peel wall texture can from Homax. Then wipe down your walls with a clean damp rag and you’re ready to paint!

Now, if you’re aiming for perfection and are trying to remove the texture completely this will take a lot longer, but I find I can get a 100 sq. ft. room done in about four hours with one person. In the end I’m left with a wall texture reminiscent of orange peel, with a few areas where the wall texture left pock marks. If you’re going for my level of finish, I strongly encourage you to go with flat (matte) paint. This helps to hide the flaws.

Here are some before and after pictures of my wall texture to send us out. Good luck!


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