How to remove old ceiling tile adhesive

Updated February 21, 2017

Painting a coat of adhesive on to a ceiling and pressing the tiles in place creates a strong bond between the tile and the substrate. Removing tiles generally consists of prying them off the ceiling, leaving behind the adhesive residue. To apply new tiles or paint the ceiling, stripping the old adhesive is necessary. If not properly stripped, the new paint or tile will not adhere properly and coating failure will occur.

Remove furniture and all other items from the room.

Lay dust sheets over the floors and furniture that was not movable. Use masking tape to hang thin, plastic sheets on the walls, beginning at the edge of the ceiling.

Open the windows and doors. Set up large fans for ventilation. Wear a solvent-approved respirator, face shield, solvent-approved coveralls and gloves. Tape the wrists of the overalls to prevent solvent from dripping on to the skin.

Paint a coat of adhesive solvent on to the ceiling with a paintbrush or paint roller. Adhesive solvents are job-specific, meaning the label will clearly state what type of adhesive the solvent will break down. Adhesive solvents are also available in aerosol form, allowing for easier application.

Allow the solvent to remain on the ceiling according to the manufacturer's recommendations, generally 15 to 60 minutes.

Scrape the softened adhesive off the ceiling with a long-handled scraper until no adhesive remains on the ceiling. Softened adhesive has a runny paste-like consistency.

Wipe the ceiling with a soapy damp rag to remove solvent residue. Immediately follow by wiping three to four times with a plain water-dampened rag. Residue-free adhesive solvents are also available and may not require washing the ceiling.


Less toxic, citrus-based adhesive removers are also available.

Work in small sections to avoid solvent drying and re-hardening of the adhesive.


Solvent fumes are toxic, work in well-ventilated areas.

Store solvent-soaked rags, paintbrushes or paint rollers in a bucket of water when not in use in order to avoid combustion.

Things You'll Need

  • Dust sheets
  • Masking tape
  • Fans
  • Solvent-approved respirator
  • Face shield
  • Solvent-approved coveralls
  • Gloves
  • Adhesive solvent
  • Paintbrush or roller
  • Long-handled scraper
  • Rags
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About the Author

Sal Marco began writing professionally in 2009. He has written many online home improvement articles based on his more than 20 years of experience in the home improvement and building industries. He has worked as both part of a team and as a site supervisor. Marco has a Bachelor of Science in management science from Kean University.