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What Does Asbestos Look Like in a Popcorn Ceiling?

Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceilings are inexpensive and help absorb sound, but many also contain asbestos, which can make it dangerous to make repairs or even paint them. If you have one of these ceilings in your home, keep reading as we explain how to tell if it contains asbestos. We also look at how you might minimize risk while the asbestos is in your home and discuss your options for removal.

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How Can I Tell If My Popcorn Ceiling Contains Asbestos?

Unfortunately, just looking at it, you cannot tell if your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos. The only way to ensure that your ceiling is safe is to test it with an asbestos test kit that you can purchase at your local home improvement store or online. You can also make an educated guess if you know when the ceiling was put in:

  • If your popcorn ceiling was installed between 1950 and 1980, it likely contains up to 10% asbestos.
  • If the popcorn ceiling was installed after 1990, it likely does not contain asbestos.
close up of asbestos
Image Credit: KPG-Payless, Shutterstock

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a thin fibrous material that occurs naturally. It’s a fantastic insulator that works well to prevent fires from spreading. However, the thin fibers can break apart into microscopic particles that get into the air and then into the lungs, where they can remain for a long time, cutting into the tissue and causing damage. Unfortunately, even a few particles can lead to significant health problems, including a long-term dry cough, difficulty breathing, and mesothelioma.

Why Is the Asbestos Content in Popcorn Ceiling So Easy to Date?

While we have been using asbestos for centuries, it became a popular building material in the 1950s because it works great as an insulator and fire retardant. However, by 1978, we learned that it was dangerous and stopped using it for things like popcorn ceilings. However, stores could still sell what materials they had, so asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings were likely installed for a few more years.

What’s in Popcorn Ceilings After 1990?

After 1990, most popcorn ceiling fibers are just shredded paper, which looks identical to asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings. That’s why if you don’t know the ceiling’s installation date, you will need to test for asbestos using a kit

What Do I Do If My Popcorn Ceiling Tests Positive for Asbestos?

  • If your ceiling tests positive for asbestos, you will need to take steps to remove it. If the ceiling is peeling or cracking, you will need to take action immediately to protect your health and anyone entering the home.
  • Unfortunately, removing a popcorn ceiling contaminated with asbestos is not a DIY project, and you will need to hire a qualified professional. It’s expensive, and asbestos in one part of the home means there’s likely asbestos in other parts.
taking off the popcorn ceiling at home
Image Credit: ungvar, Shutterstock

Tips for Dealing With a Contaminated Popcorn Ceiling Until You Can Remove It

  • Do not clean or rub the ceiling.
  • Never use tape on the popcorn ceiling or insert any nails or screws.
  • Never move or put anything in the room that might bump the ceiling.
  • Never allow children to throw balls, pillows, clothing, or other objects that might bump the ceiling.
  • Never use bunk beds in a room with an asbestos-contaminated ceiling.
  • If you notice the ceiling peeling, leave the house immediately.
  • Call your local professional and ask about encapsulation. Encapsulation is sealing the asbestos fibers behind a protective barrier that is usually sprayed on. While still expensive, it’s cheaper than removing the ceiling and will buy you time.

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Summary

Unfortunately, asbestos fibers look exactly like the paper fibers that we use today, so there is no way to visually inspect a popcorn ceiling to detect the presence of asbestos. You can make an educated guess that if builders installed it before 1980, it likely contains asbestos, but springing for the proper testing kit will remove any doubts and help you feel confident about what steps you should take next.


Featured Image By: Lost in the Midwest, Shutterstock

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