For many years, popcorn ceilings, aka stucco ceilings, had been very popular. Most American homes flaunted the stylishly textured ceilings in the bedrooms and hallways. However, they suddenly lost their charm when it was discovered that most popcorn ceilings contained carcinogenic asbestos fibers. So, how do you find out if you have popcorn ceiling asbestos in your house or not?

But first, an important question for first-time homeowners.

What is a popcorn ceiling?

Popcorn ceilingPopcorn ceiling, by Enoch Leung on flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

To put it simply, this acoustic or textured ceiling material resembles cottage cheese. It was hugely popular during the late 1930s through the 1990s because of its unique texture. Such a ceiling was stylish, and a great way to hide imperfections well. 

However all that changed when studies called out popcorn ceilings for containing asbestos that had carcinogenic properties without a doubt. 

If your ceiling has asbestos, such a friable material releases toxic dust at the slightest disturbance. And, inhaling it can lead to serious diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma or asbestosis.

Do all popcorn ceilings contain asbestos?

Luckily, not all popcorn ceilings have asbestos. However, you cannot look at a ceiling and tell the difference. So, how can you tell if a popcorn ceiling has asbestos? Well, if your home was built before 1977, it’s possible that your popcorn ceiling has asbestos.

If you think there’s a chance that yours might, do have it tested by an asbestos inspector at the earliest. 

After all, the health risk of asbestos exposure is serious. No wonder, it was banned in ceiling treatments by the Clean Air Act of 1978 in the United States. Even so, it’s always a good idea to test your popcorn ceiling for asbestos even if your home was built in the late 1980s. You never know, the spray-on texture may have contained some asbestos.

Is painting your popcorn ceiling a good idea? Let’s find out!

How to test for popcorn ceiling asbestos?

Testing asbestos popcorn ceilingAsbestos Sampling, by NAVFAC on flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Most homeowners simply hate the thought of having any dangerous substance anywhere in their home. If you too are thinking about removing your popcorn ceiling, it is important to first test it for asbestos. You can get an asbestos test done on your ceilings for around $100. The bottom line is: you MUST NOT skip the asbestos test.

As mentioned, one of the methods is through a home-based asbestos testing kit. You can buy one from your local hardware store. This kit will have everything you’ll need to safely remove the sample and contain it for shipping.

It allows you to scrape off a small section of the texture product and mail it to a lab for testing. Usually, results take two weeks after the lab receives the sample. 

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Though these home test kits are easily available, it is safer to have a professional test done. Or, you can hire an asbestos remediation professional to do it for you. We do not advise home testing. What’s more, it may not even be legal in all the states of the United States. 

The first step is to contact your local environmental regulatory agency, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to see if they allow self-gathering of samples. You’ll also need to find out state-specific laws in addition to EPA laws.

Once that is done, you need to make sure that the lab you send your sample to, is accredited under the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP). You can ask them about the sampling requirements — the method of collecting the sample, its size, etc.

Taking a sample 

Asbestos testingasbestos bagged twice, by NAVFAC on flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Keep in mind that asbestos is highly dangerous if you disturb it. Testing your ceiling will require that either you or a certified contractor remove a small sample from your ceiling and send it off to a lab. 

Needless to say, you want the process of collecting the sample to be as safe as possible, lest the asbestos fibers become a hazard. We highly recommend hiring a professional to do the job to keep you from coming in contact with asbestos.

Here are some asbestos testing precautions. Remember to relocate your pets to another room. Do cover the flooring with brown rolls of paper, plastic sheeting, plastic bags, or drop cloths to collect the mess during the sampling process. If you find out that you do have the harmful asbestos popcorn ceiling, its disposal or cleanup will also have to be as per guidelines. 

Asbestos testing steps

  1. Your contractor will wear a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) mask for protection and plastic gloves to avoid contact with the surface.
  2. He will fill a spray bottle with a teaspoon of soap and 16 ounces of water, and spray a small area to dampen the surface. 
  3. He will use a sharp razor blade or knife to cut out a sample. 
  4. After this, he will seal the sample in an airtight container.
  5. Mail the sample to the lab and wait for the results.

Remember that it’s important to fill the gouges or holes with a joint compound after the ceiling dries and then sand it. If the samples are positive, you need to contact an asbestos abatement contractor regarding its cleanup.

Should you get rid of your popcorn ceiling?

Popcorn ceilings are a liability if you are putting your house on the market. If this textured ceiling has asbestos material in it, it can pose a serious health hazard, especially if it’s moved. 

According to the EPA, there is no need to panic once you find out that your ceiling contains asbestos. Generally, if popcorn ceiling asbestos is in good condition and not disturbed, it will not release asbestos fibers. But, if you notice damage, or abrasions, or in case you are contemplating a home renovation that might compromise the ceiling, you’ll need to get your ceiling removed at the earliest.

Last words

Asbestos is not something to be taken lightly. Testing for it and eventual popcorn ceiling removal will keep you and your loved ones safe.

Asbestos removal is a tricky affair. Ensure that you work with a trained asbestos professional on the home improvement project. Remember that popcorn ceiling removal is NOT a DIY project!

How to Test for Popcorn Ceiling Asbestos? was last modified: July 10th, 2020 by Ramona Sinha
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