Look up. How does your ceiling look? If you are living in a home that was built prior to the 1990s, you probably see a popcorn ceiling. It’s easily identifiable by its bumpy, rough texture. Also known as acoustic ceilings, the popcorn ceiling effect has been applied in homes and businesses since the 1950s.
Popcorn ceilings are created by spraying a texture on the ceiling using a spray gun or aerosol propellant. It’s a thin layer of coating often used by building contractors as a way to quickly cover ceiling imperfections and offer minimal acoustic dampening effects to the room. Since the 1990s, popcorn ceilings have waned in their appeal; however, they are still commonly found in many buildings.
Popcorn ceiling spray is readily available as either a pre-mixed liquid or a powder to be mixed with water. The materials used in these solutions vary depending on the product mix purchased by the building contractor. Over time these mixes have changed to adhere to newer safety standards and practices, so the materials that form your popcorn ceiling can differ depending on its age. Today most of these mixes are a blend of various natural and man-made materials such as clay, silicates, cellulose and polystyrene.
Polystyrene is the main ingredient of popcorn ceiling spray. The name may sound familiar, as it is found in many common products such as disposable coffee cups and the knobs on your car radio. It is a relatively harmless material created from petroleum, and it is the secret behind the textured popcorn effect.
The other compounds in the texture spray help whiten, strengthen and bind the mixture. Many of these compounds are plastics, such as vinyl, or naturally occurring materials found in rocks and clays. These materials help the polystyrene adhere to the ceiling and give it a uniform, finished look.
Asbestos and Safety
Earlier forms of popcorn ceiling spray solutions often contained asbestos as a strengthener. The use of asbestos in these products was banned in the United States since 1977, but it is still possible to find asbestos-containing ceiling treatments in homes built well into the 1980s. If left undisturbed, popcorn ceiling treatments that contain asbestos are considered safe. It is important, especially in buildings built prior to the ban, to treat popcorn ceilings delicately. Prior to doing any project, such as cleaning or removing your popcorn ceilings, contact your local health department to discuss having your ceiling tested for asbestos.