Why Popcorn Ceilings Are Actually Pretty Great

Why Popcorn Ceilings Are Actually Pretty Great

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Jessica Isaac
Aug 14, 2018
(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Popcorn ceilings—formally known as acoustic ceilings and sometimes appetizingly referred to as cottage cheese—have gotten a bad rap over the years. Just Google "popcorn ceilings" you'll be inundated with a slew of tutorials on how to remove them. That being said, this spray-on textured treatment was the standard in most homes for decades, and I couldn't help but wonder why. After combing through research and doing some much needed soul searching, I came to a surprising conclusion: Popcorn ceilings really aren't all that bad.

Why are Popcorn Ceilings Even a Thing?

Here's the short answer: Popcorn ceilings camouflage a multitude of sins. If you know anything about building a house, you know that finishing a dry-walled ceiling is an art form. In layman's terms, once a ceiling is constructed, dry wall seams are covered with paper or fiberglass tape and then covered over with joint compound ("mud"). Once dry, more layers of mud coat are thinly applied and sanded until the surface is flawless. Taping and mudding, as the process is referred to, requires skill and can result in uneven ceilings, sagging seams, and visible nail dimples. If you are DIYing the work yourself, or are on a tight budget, spraying this highly textured finish on your ceiling is a cheap and quick way to hide imperfections.

Plus, as their "acoustic ceiling" nickname suggests, popcorn ceilings also cut down on sound, which is attractive in high-traffic hallways and entryways—not to mention rooms with high ceilings that echo.

But Wait, What About Asbestos?

I know what you're all thinking: asbestos. Synonymous with popcorn ceilings, this naturally occurring silicate mineral was used in early formulations of the ceiling treatment until it was banned by the Clean Air Act in 1978. Oddly enough, the EPA advises against removing asbestos-bearing ceilings, stating, "Asbestos-containing materials that aren't damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk. Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos-containing material alone if it is in good condition." After 1978, paper-based and styrofoam materials were used in place of asbestos. So, if you currently have a popcorn ceiling, and it's in okay shape, you're safe.

So, Why Do We Hate Them So Much?

Popcorn ceiling aren't for everyone. Haters tend to mention the highly porous, lumpy surfaces, which, aside from looks, catch dust and materials that can easily discolor over time. Their crater-like surfaces also tend to cast harsh shadows (which is not dissimilar to shining a flashlight under one's face while telling a scary story) which makes rooms appear smaller.

How to Make the Best of Your Popcorn Ceiling

Next time you encounter a dreaded popcorn ceiling, try working with it before demolishing it. Your eyes (and lungs) may thank you.

Paint It: The key to making your popcorn ceiling pop is a bright, consistent finish. Because they have a tendency to discolor, a fresh coat of paint will make a world of difference. Here's an added bonus: Once painted, the surface of a popcorn ceiling becomes less porous, making it less prone to further discoloration and dust collection.

Get Better Lighting: Ditch the recessed and flush ceiling lights. Good, soft lighting via table and floor lamps will reduce harsh shadows. This will turn your popcorn ceiling into a soft, subtle textural element.

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