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Asbestos—not sure, but is it safe to remove a painted popcorn ceiling?

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QuestionI don't know if my popcorn ceiling contains asbestos or not, but I do believe it has been painted. We would like to remove the ceiling, though. Is it safe to remove a painted popcorn ceiling?

AnswerIt can be hard to tell sometimes if your popcorn ceiling has been painted. Latex flat paint, especially some variation of white, dries to approximately the same color as the original popcorn ceiling, making it difficult to determine if the ceiling has been painted.

In general, painting encases (not encapsulates) the asbestos, but it will not prevent asbestos fibers from going airborne if the surface is disturbed. It is not safe to remove an asbestos-containing popcorn ceiling just because it has been painted; correct and legal asbestos abatement procedures must be followed.

A good starting point is a "wet" test to help you determine the presence and type of paint on the ceiling. Once you know whether it was painted with a latex or an oil-based paint, you can decide what to do.

The procedure to obtain a sample for asbestos testing is outlined in the Q&A titled "How do I obtain a sample of my popcorn ceiling for asbestos testing?" To conduct a "wet" test, you'll want to basically follow those procedures with these differences:

  • Allow the water to soak in for 15 to 20 minutes, respraying each test area a couple of times during this period.
  • Repeat the process by respraying and increasing the length of soak time if the sample caught in a plastic bag is not thoroughly wet.
  • If the sample is still not thoroughly wet, then most likely your ceiling has been painted.

The Q&A titled "Can I remove the popcorn ceiling myself if the ceiling has been painted?" offers insights into a safe course of action once you get the results of your wet test.

If you have a popcorn ceiling and it contains asbestos, I encourage you to read all the Q&As here carefully, check out all the links to read what others have to offer, and consult your local/regional/state air quality authorities about the applicable regulations before you begin the project.

Asbestos abatement has stringent requirements. When you finish your research, you may decide to turn it over to the pros, something I heartily recommend.

I've been in the construction field for over 25 years and wish I'd known then what I know now about asbestos. I would not have tackled a lot of projects because of the asbestos content of so many building products.

To get the whole picture, I recommend that you purchase my informative article, Asbestos In Popcorn Ceilings, Purchase this article to learn about asbestos in popcorn ceiling and how to patch them!which describes how to determine if asbestos is present and the steps a professional takes to decide if removal is the correct course of action. These same steps apply to homeowners facing the same decisions.

Included are links to government and state agencies where you can get more information on the subject, locate state-certified professional asbestos contractors for removal, and find other documents that address removing the asbestos yourself.

As an added bonus, Patching a Popcorn Ceiling has been added to Asbestos In Popcorn Ceilings to help those who need to make repairs to their ceilings. The process is about the same whether the ceiling contains asbestos or not; however, for your own peace of mind, you still need to determine if your ceiling contains asbestos, and the article describes procedures to follow to safely take a sample for testing.

Click to Purchase Don't forget—before starting this project get your informative 10-page PDF article titled Asbestos In Popcorn Ceilings and Patching a Popcorn Ceiling. To order your downloadable .pdf printable copy, click here or click the purchase button to the left!

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Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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