Popcorn Ceiling Asbestos: A Safety Check for Your Ceilings

Popcorn ceiling asbestos

If your house dates back to the mid-twentieth century and you have preserved its popcorn ceiling to date, you need to get it instantly tested for the presence of asbestos.

Oftentimes, old houses and structures, built around half a century ago are thought of as some architectural relic and are renovated with great care, sometimes not even renovated at all just to preserve the building in its original form.

If that is true for your house too, it can be a health risk that needs immediate testing. In this article we will bring to light how popcorn ceiling asbestos can be harmful for you, given the fact that your ceiling contains asbestos fibers.

What is Meant by Popcorn Ceiling?

Popcorn ceiling, as the name projects, is a ceiling texture that resembles popcorns. You will see undulations on the surface that are intentionally created to give an aesthetic look to the ceiling. The ceiling surface will show pop-outs and nodules everywhere and touching the surface would feel like putting you hand in a bucket of popcorns.


The creation of a popcorn texture is not part of the construction work; instead, the ceiling treatment for a customized texture is part of the finishing work.

Texture of popcorn ceilings

History of Popcorn Ceilings and Their Application Process

In the mid-twentieth century, especially in the era bracket of 1950s to 1980s, popcorn-resembling ceiling treatment was common and homeowners preferred it over a plain ceiling, which is something they thought just as drab and boring as nothingness.

People back then used to believe that getting a popcorn ceiling will serve manifold purposes. It will hide the surface imperfections of their ceilings, it will give their ceilings a different look, it will also serve the purpose of sound insulation to some extent and it will reduce their maintenance cost.

So, a pertinent question is how these ceilings were made?

Popcorn ceilings were created by using spray-on-texturing technique. The spray mixture was created using a drywall compound (which is a mixture of gypsum and water, with or without some additives), polystyrene or vermiculite particles (to create the popcorn analogy) and some fibers (such as asbestos fibers). A desired surface color could also be imparted by using certain additives.

Pink-colored popcorn ceiling texture

The mixture was sprayed on the ceiling surface to get the characteristic look. The texture was left to dry and a paint coating could be applied depending upon the preferred ceiling hue.

When was Popcorn Ceiling Asbestos Identified?

By now, you must have been convinced by this surface-treatment technique. However, these ceilings posed some serious health concerns as these were investigated and researched on. Ceiling sprays that comprised asbestos fibers were found to be very risky for human health.

Asbestos fibers

In the mid-1970s, it was investigated that asbestos fibers posed serious respiratory problems including, but not limited to, lung cancer. Although the prime objective of adding asbestos fibers was to augment the ceiling’s fire resistance and durability; it was found that particles from these fibers remain in air and were likely to enter the respiratory organs when inhaled.

Health hazards associated with asbestos

Do All Popcorn Ceilings Have Asbestos?

You might be wondering if all popcorn ceilings have asbestos in them. The answer to this is “no”. But this also does not mean that having an untested popcorn ceiling in you house does not put you at the risk of getting affected by it.

The prevalence of health concerns in popcorn ceilings is found to have a correlation with the presence of asbestos fibers in the spraying mixture. Though added as a reinforcing material, asbestos can be detrimental to your health if any particle of it remains stranded in the air (airborne) and is accidentally inhaled.

Prolonged exposure to this indirect consumption of asbestos through the inhaled air can lead to respiratory problems.

Danger alert for asbestos

Popcorn ceilings that were applied before the 1990s are likely to contain asbestos in them because it was used as a reinforcing material to impart fire-resisting properties. However, when asbestos got banned in the 1980s, the subsequent finishing works were banned to use it in the spraying mixture.

Given this, the use of asbestos fibers in construction or finishing works has been curtailed by the local codes of practice. This is a safety measure to keep everyone away from its harmful effects. Therefore, popcorn ceilings, before asbestos was banned, are more likely to contain these fibers than the ones made after it was banned in all types of construction works.

What Does Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling Look Like on the Exterior?

Visual inspection alone cannot be a definitive test to check if your popcorn ceiling has asbestos. This is because asbestos fibers are microscopic and are hard to identify without getting a laboratory test.

Scrapping of popcorn ceiling shows the difference between the textured surface and underlying surface

However, when asbestos fibers were added in the mixture that was sprayed on the ceiling, a rough and uneven texture having small, raised nodules is all you will see.

Is Popcorn Ceiling Having Asbestos Dangerous?

Recent research has unveiled the fact that asbestos can be correlated with health concerns, particularly respiratory disorders. So, yes, a popcorn ceiling having asbestos is not safe, particularly when the particles become airborne and are inhaled.

It is to be kept in mind that asbestos particles become airborne only when they are disturbed or agitated. This is usually done during renovation or cleaning works (such as nailing in the ceiling), natural disasters, or some environmental wear and tear.

When this happens, the asbestos particles get free and remain suspended in the air, waiting for someone to take them into their breath and down their respiratory tract. If this exposure is a one-time experience, you might not feel sick. But prolonged inhalation of microscopic asbestos particles can be deadly for human health.

Respiratory problems

Do Popcorn Ceilings Still Exist?

Popcorn ceilings do exist today and the use of asbestos fibers as a reinforcing material has been replaced with paper fiber. However, their prevalence has decreased over the years and homeowners have switched to other benign ceiling finishes that suit the modern trends and compliment the house interior.

Modern construction and renovation trends prefer going for a smooth or lightly-textured ceiling surface that can also be given any color of your choice.

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