We finished my parents’ living room yesterday, just in time before they got back from Paris. It was like an episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition, we were done about an hour or so before they arrived! We even had to blow dry the plaster in the ceiling to be able to sand and paint it before they got here. Anyway, now that we’ve done the whole house except for the entry way and staircase area (which we won’t be doing til after Christmas) I’m here to share the process.
First of all, you should know that there are different types of popcorn walls (or ceilings). Some of them are easy to get rid of with a big spatula if you get them really really wet. In my parents’ house this wasn’t the case, and since the texture wasn’t too pronounced, we decided to smooth the walls on top of the texture. Cover the texture, if you will. Whatever type of popcorn walls or ceilings you have, you’re going to have to smooth and sand and smooth and sand anyway, so we simply skipped the first step of removing it first (again, skipping this step might not work for you if you have a lot of texture and/or it’s easy to remove).
So, that said, another disclaimer: it’s going to take a lot of work. And I mean a lot. It took us a full month to do three bedrooms and the living room, and Andoni isn’t working right now, so he was practically here all day. I can’t imagine working full time and then coming here in the late afternoon/evening to do this. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s definitely going to take a long time, especially if you’re living there at the same time. Plus, be aware that everything is going to be a mess. The walls have to be sanded down several times and that creates a huge amount of dust, which gets everywhere.
Now that I’ve scared you enough, let’s continue with the tutorial.
1. If there’s any furniture in the room, take out as much stuff as you can and move the rest towards the middle. Cover everything in paper or plastic – be aware that anything you leave uncovered will get very very dusty. (The picture below is before we covered everything).
2. Protect the trim work and all the floors. Again, anything you miss will get dirty and dusty.
3. For the first coat, we used strong bond filler, which was like a gritty powder plaster. You’ll have to mix it with water in the proportions indicated in the bag. Since you’re going to use very large quantities for this, you’ll probably want to invest in an electric mixer. It’s a drill attachment that costs less than $10 and it looks like an immersion blender. You’ll save a lot of time and energy with this. Once the mixture is ready – be sure to let it rest for a few minutes after mixing, otherwise you might find yourself with bubbles on the wall – use a big spatula to apply it to the walls. The first coat needs to be a bit thick, enough to barely cover the texture if you haven’t removed it. Don’t worry too much about the coat being perfectly smooth. See how there’s too much plaster in some areas? Those are lines that appear right where the spatula ends because of the pressure.
4. Once the first coat is done you need to let it dry. Since it probably took you a full day, let it dry overnight. The next morning, with a clean spatula in one hand and a medium grit sandpaper block in the other, use the spatula to remove the bigger bits of excess plaster – especially around the trim work – and the sandpaper to sand down the walls. It’s difficult to show in pictures/video but the texture of this first coat won’t be very smooth.
5. It’s now time for the second coat. Before you apply it, remove all the sand dust from the trim work so that it doesn’t get in the way. We used a thinner filler for this one, called powder filler. As soon as it starts drying you’ll notice that it’s much less gritty than the first one. Again, like the first coat, mix it with the amount of water stated in the package using the electric mixer, let it rest for a few minutes, and apply a full second coat using a big spatula. This coat is harder to apply because it needs to be smoother than the other one, so be careful, you want it to be as smooth as possible.
6. Now is also a good time to take care of all the corners. The best way to do this is with your finger. Don’t worry if it’s not too smooth, you’ll use the spatula to remove the excess and sand later on.
7. When the second coat is dry (you’ll probably want to wait overnight) use the spatula + sand block method again, only this time you should use a high grit sand block, to get smoother walls. Remove sand dust from trim work.
8. You’re almost done! Since you probably still have a few imperfections on the walls, you’ll want to add a thin coat (using the powder filler, like in the second coat) to those areas only. So unlike the first and second coats, where you coated the whole walls, this third one is only applied to the areas that still need a bit of work. Then use the spatula + sand block one last time.
9. The walls should now be smooth, and you are now ready for paint! Just make sure to remove all the sand dust from the trim work before you start cutting in and rolling away.
All in all, it took us at the very least five days per room from start to finish, sometimes more. Day one was prep work; covering everything up, protecting it, etc. Day two was for the first coat. Day three we sanded the first coat and applied the second. Day four we sanded the second coat, gave the third (partial) coat, and since it dried very quickly, sanded it down and applied the first coat of paint. Day five we applied the second coat of paint, waited for it to dry, and moved the furniture back into place.
So, I hope that gives you a good picture of the method, but since a few things are hard to explain and understand from photographs, here’s a video for you.
And now, a few before and after pics. It’s hard to photograph, but I did my best.
A couple of close-ups of the textured walls…
And after, smoothed down and painted:
Like I said, it’s a long process but it’s definitely doable, especially if you can get time off work and you have enough help. Also, having an empty house helps. And the results are definitely worth it.
I hope this helped anyone out there who’s considering doing this! Popcorn walls were definitely popular here 15-20 years ago so a lot of houses have them. Thankfully ceilings are usually smooth, because doing this to ceilings would be worse than walls.