Popcorn Ceiling Asbestos

If you have a popcorn ceiling and your home was constructed before 1990, your popcorn ceiling may be made with asbestos. Popcorn ceilings are easily damaged, and it is not always evident when this has occurred. As a result, it is possible to be exposed to asbestos in popcorn ceilings for years without realizing it.


Medically Reviewed By:
Patricia Shelton, M.D.

Patricia Shelton

Medically Reviewed By:Patricia Shelton, M.D.

Popcorn ceilings were popular from the 1950s until approximately 1980. They were made from a mixture of plaster and asbestos, with asbestos comprising one to 10 percent of the mixture. This mixture was applied with a sprayer.

The popcorn texture was an effective means of covering imperfections, and the substance was highly durable and fire-resistant. It also provided sound insulation. Like all spray-on applications of asbestos, popcorn ceilings are especially hazardous because they are friable. This means the slightest pressure could disturb the asbestos and release it into the air, where it can be inhaled.

What does an asbestos popcorn ceiling look like?

Popcorn ceilings have a raised texture that resembles cottage cheese. There is no way to visually differentiate between a popcorn ceiling that contains asbestos and one that does not. The only way to know for sure whether a popcorn ceiling contains asbestos is by testing.

asbestos ceiling

What is the likelihood of asbestos in a popcorn ceiling?

If your house was built between the 1950s and 1980 and has popcorn ceilings, it is safe to assume that it contains asbestos. Houses built between 1980 and 1990 also may contain asbestos in popcorn ceilings, although the likelihood decreases as the house becomes newer.

Passive Exposure to Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

Undamaged asbestos popcorn ceilings are not automatically considered a risk. However, they are easily damaged because of the way the popcorn texture was generally applied. Damaged asbestos popcorn ceilings are hazardous to human health, and it only takes a small amount of damage to release asbestos fibers.

For example, asbestos in popcorn ceilings can be disturbed in the following scenarios:

  • If a hole is drilled into the ceiling to install a plant hanger, ceiling fan, or wiring 
  • If you bump or scrape the ceiling with a broomstick or other object 
  • If your ceiling becomes damaged by water or fire 
  • Small vibrations from household appliances and disturbances from such mundane events as doors closing 

Popcorn ceilings are notorious for trapping dust, but attempting to clean one will likely cause the “popcorn” to crumble and break off, resulting in asbestos released into your home.

You can inhale millions of asbestos fibers without knowing it. They are invisible, and you likely will not experience signs or symptoms that you inhaled them until decades later when a deadly disease develops. These fibers can easily circulate through your heating system and remain in your home indefinitely.

A Case Study of Asbestos Exposure in Popcorn Ceilings

The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health published a case study about a popcorn ceiling damaged by broken water pipes. It released large quantities of asbestos-laced dust throughout the apartment upon drying. The occupant experienced substantial asbestos exposure during the 18 years that followed.

The level of asbestos was highest while the ceiling was under repair. Overall, the research concluded that the resulting cumulative exposure averaged 5.69 fibers per cubic centimeter over 18 years, nearly 60 times higher than OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for workers, which is 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter. 

The resident was diagnosed with lung cancer, which was attributed to asbestos exposure. She had no history of smoking. 

While the dust from the ceiling was visible in this case, this is not always true. A popcorn ceiling may be damaged and release asbestos fibers without any apparent dust or other visual evidence.

Occupational Exposure to Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

Occupational exposure to asbestos may occur while installing popcorn ceilings or performing work on the ceilings that involves such tasks as the following:

  • Drilling or puncturing the ceilings
  • Removing the popcorn ceiling
  • Performing repairs
  • Sanding the ceiling
  • Cleaning the ceiling
  • Performing building demolition
  • Renovating the area

When popcorn ceilings were used, other building materials also contained asbestos, including insulation, paint, drywall compounds, caulking, adhesives, and sealants. Any worker who has drilled or cut into a popcorn ceiling may have concurrently damaged asbestos in additional building components.

Workers involved in the installation of asbestos popcorn ceilings spray-applied the asbestos popcorn ceiling texture. The asbestos was wet, so exposure during application was likely minimal. 

However, after it dried, any worker could be exposed if it became damaged, whether the worker was working directly with the ceiling or was merely in the room. Asbestos that dried on the sprayer could also release harmful fibers into the air. 

While these products are not applied today, workers can still be exposed when working on popcorn ceilings in older buildings.

What occupations have been exposed to asbestos in popcorn ceilings?

Workers most likely to be exposed to asbestos in popcorn ceilings include various types of construction workers and workers whose duties require them to damage or modify the ceiling, such as the following:

  • Drywallers
  • Plaster workers
  • Painters
  • Cable installers
  • HVAC technicians
  • Handymen

Popcorn ceilings were also used in commercial and public buildings, such as schools. Anyone working in an older building with popcorn ceilings may be at risk for significant asbestos exposure, including school teachers and office workers.

Health Risks of Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

The friability of the asbestos in popcorn ceilings raises serious health concerns for people living or working in buildings constructed with these types of ceilings. The popcorn texture can easily mask damage, and you can inhale asbestos fibers for years without symptoms. 

According to the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, inhalation of asbestos fibers in popcorn ceilings has a documented history of causing malignant pleural mesothelioma, as was seen in the following cases:

  • A 60-year-old school teacher with 31 years of asbestos exposure in popcorn ceilings, insulation, and fire protection equipment in a school building
  • A 52-year-old school teacher with 25 years of exposure to chrysotile asbestos exposure in a popcorn ceiling, pipe insulation, and fire protection equipment
  • A 43-year-old school teacher with 21 years of exposure to a ceiling containing asbestos in which pieces would often fall
  • A 54-year-old office worker with an unknown period of exposure to asbestos ceilings

In addition to mesothelioma and lung cancer, it is also possible to develop asbestosis, a painful scarring of the lungs that results in difficulty breathing. All of these conditions are incurable. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that is difficult to diagnose and treat, and it is associated with a poor prognosis.

Do all popcorn ceilings contain asbestos?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned spray-on applications of asbestos for insulation purposes in 1973, but the industry continued to use popcorn ceilings, claiming it was used for aesthetic purposes. The ban was expanded in 1978 to include all spray-on applications. 

However, contractors who had already purchased the material were allowed to use their existing stock. For this reason, if your house was built before 1990 and has a popcorn ceiling, you should have it tested.

What should I do if I have an asbestos popcorn ceiling?

If your ceiling tests positive for asbestos, the testing company will also perform an air quality test to determine whether airborne asbestos is present. If the ceiling contains asbestos, but it is not airborne, it means the asbestos is intact and not currently endangering your health. 

Even in this case, you may be advised to encapsulate or remove it to prevent a future release of asbestos since popcorn ceilings are easily damaged.


Encapsulation is generally accomplished by painting. This may be recommended if the ceiling is in good condition. If using this method, it is important to choose a paint that is labeled for asbestos encapsulation. One of the drawbacks of encapsulation is that it makes the asbestos harder to remove later if removal becomes necessary. 

This could occur if you experience water damage or you desire to renovate. When asbestos is removed, it is necessary to thoroughly wet it first to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne during removal. This is much more difficult to accomplish when the asbestos is covered in paint.


Removal of asbestos popcorn ceilings is one of the most common asbestos abatement projects by homeowners. It is a difficult process that should only be performed by a licensed, experienced asbestos abatement contractor. Removing an asbestos popcorn ceiling requires the following equipment:

  • A half-faced, properly fitted dual-cartridge respirator with purple HEPA filters
  • Multiple pairs of disposable coveralls with built-in booties
  • Disposable gloves
  • Laceless rubber boots or disposable boots
  • Non-fogging snug-fitting goggles
  • Containment plastic
  • Asbestos disposal bags

The room where the ceiling is being removed must be sealed off with plastic lining covering the walls. Removing the asbestos will require a tedious process of wetting it repeatedly and scraping it from the ceiling. At least three people should be involved, with one providing supplies from outside the containment area.

Each time a worker exits the containment area, the gloves and coveralls must be removed and replaced prior to re-entry. A decontamination shower is necessary before leaving the area, and the asbestos must be properly disposed of in EPA-approved containers in a designated asbestos disposal area.

It only takes one small misstep to release asbestos and contaminate your home indefinitely. A licensed asbestos abatement company can perform this work without making these disastrous mistakes. The company will also conduct testing upon completion to confirm that no asbestos has been released.

How much does it cost to remove a popcorn ceiling?

The cost of removing a popcorn ceiling can vary based on your location. It will be necessary to confirm the presence of asbestos with lab tests before removing a popcorn ceiling.

Lab Tests

According to Cost Helper, the average cost of asbestos testing is as follows:

  • $10 to $60 if you take your own samples
  • $125 to $300 if an inspector gathers the samples (recommended)
  • $400 to $1,000 if you are testing a whole house

Removal of an Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling

The average cost of an asbestos abatement professional is $3 to $7 per square foot. This calculates to the following:

  • For a 15-foot by 20-foot room: $900 to $2,100
  • For all the ceilings in a 1,600-square-foot home: $4,500 to $11,500

It is illegal to pay anyone who is not licensed and qualified to perform asbestos removal. While hiring a qualified professional may seem costly, it pales in comparison to the cost of developing mesothelioma.

What are my legal options if I have been exposed to asbestos in a popcorn ceiling?

If you have developed an asbestos-related illness after being exposed to asbestos in a popcorn ceiling in your home or workplace, you may be entitled to recover substantial compensation. Compensation may be available through the following avenues:

Who is liable for my exposure to asbestos in popcorn ceilings?

Liability for asbestos exposure almost always falls on asbestos product manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. If you were exposed in the workplace, it could also fall on the employer. If you were exposed in your home and the building owner was negligent, the building owner may also share liability. In some cases, the construction company may share liability. 

It is not uncommon for multiple parties to be liable. Companies that manufactured or supplied asbestos-based products used in popcorn ceilings include the following:

  • Murco Wall Products, Inc.
  • National Gypsum Corporation
  • Sears, Roebuck & Company
  • Union Carbide

How can The Lanier Law Firm help?

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, you may not know how you were exposed. At The Lanier Law Firm, we maintain a database of asbestos products and companies with a known history of exposing people to asbestos. Whether you were exposed on the job or in your home, we can help you identify the responsible parties and hold them accountable.

Our mesothelioma lawyers are passionate about getting justice for individuals against the large asbestos companies who knew their products were harmful but concealed this information in order to continue to profit from asbestos.

We are one of the most experienced mesothelioma law firms in the world, with more than 25 years of experience. We have won nearly $20 billion in verdicts and settlements for our clients as a result of our determination to go to whatever lengths are necessary to win maximum compensation.

If you or your family member has contracted mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness due to asbestos exposure through popcorn ceilings, you deserve substantial compensation. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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