How to Test for Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn Ceiling | Spyglass Realty

Asbestos can often be found in popcorn ceilings and other textured ceilings. This naturally-occurring material that was commonly used as an industrial insulator has also been identified as a hazardous substance. Over 39,000 American lives are lost due to asbestos-related diseases every year. 

Testing for asbestos is important if you are worried about the presence of asbestos in your home. In over thousands of real estate transactions I’ve had, I never had an issue with a property that had asbestos in it until this occurred. I had a client call me and ask if a home had asbestos in the popcorn ceiling, I brought it up to my contractor who shrugged it off, put on a mask, and scraped it right off.

In this blog post, I'll explain and share with you some valuable information about asbestos in popcorn ceilings to keep you and your household safe from the dangers of asbestos.


What is Asbestos?

According to the website,, Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that are composed of heat-resistant fibers. It was widely used in construction as an effective insulator and can be added to cloth, paper, cement, and plastic to make it stronger, but when asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, the fibers can permanently be trapped in the body.

Asbestos deposits are located across the United States mainly in the western U.S. and eastern coastal states. Through the mid to late 1900s, asbestos mining was prominent throughout, and in 2002, the last asbestos mine closed. 

The process of mining and milling asbestos involved miners working above the ground removing the first layer of the earth by blasting or drilling. Miners then remove the ore from the earth followed by millers crushing, fiberizing, screening, aspirating, and grading the ore. Asbestos manufacturers can then incorporate asbestos fibers into a wide range of products.


How Dangerous is Asbestos?

Asbestos is banned in over 60 countries. In the United States, Asbestos is not banned but regulated. Exposure to asbestos by inhaling or ingesting this material can cause a rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma which is only caused by exposure to asbestos. This is a type of cancer known for its lethality and aggressive nature and can develop in various areas of the body. Mesothelioma symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, or abdominal distress.

The Mayo Clinic states that this disease is a type of cancer that develops in the lining covering the outer surface of some of the body’s organs such as the lungs, abdomen, or heart. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 recognizes six types of asbestos that fall into two categories: (1) Amphibole Asbestos which has a straight, jagged shape, and (2) Serpentine Asbestos with curly fibers.

How to Get Rid of Asbestos in Popcorn Ceiling?

There is a lack of data about the safe removal of asbestos in popcorn and drywall. You can find plenty of message boards as well as government-sanctioned procedures for asbestos abatement, but for the layman, there is no true guide on what should be done. 

I highly recommend hiring professional asbestos abatement contractors to do the work than doing it by yourself as this task possess serious health risks. This type of removal will require a lot of detailed prep work, scraping and spraying, to bagging for special disposal.

You’ll be required to wear a respirator, and protective clothing, work in humid conditions, and climb ladders and high spaces to reach the ceilings as part of the asbestos removal procedure. If you do not have the experience or materials required, contact an asbestos abatement company to perform this work. These contractors have special equipment and experience in removing asbestos from homes.


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How to Tell If Your Popcorn Ceiling Has Asbestos?

Unfortunately, we can’t tell by just looking at the ceiling alone. You’ll have to carefully scrape off a small sample and send it to an accredited laboratory. However, there are other ways to determine the presence of asbestos including asking for the ceiling tile production date or finding any evidence from the manufacturer.

popcorn ceiling asbestos test

How to Test for Asbestos?

You can take a sample of the popcorn texture from anywhere in the home and bring it to a local lab. The cost of testing asbestos ran us $150 for an immediate result. You can cut that in half for a 24-hour turnaround and it's a little less for a few-day turnaround.

We took two samples of the popcorn from the ceiling and they ended up testing positive for asbestos, to the tune of 5% and 10%.

The U.S. government states that anything over 1% should be professionally abated, even though in Texas it's not regulated in residential homes. 

The ceilings were filled with popcorn, but the walls were smooth with an orange peel type of texture. I assumed that if the ceilings had popcorn texture, but the walls did not, I wouldn't have to worry about the walls having asbestos in them. Negative.

My client calls me as I am telling the listing agent that we want to move forward on this Barton Hills home and tells me that she is worried about the walls. We had already obtained a bid to scrape all the ceilings for $3,425, but she was concerned about the walls. A friend of a friend told her that you can get asbestos in your lungs by simply nailing a hole to the wall for a photo or art you are trying to hang.

To move forward with the deal and give my client the peace of mind she needed, I went over and took another sample from the wall. Guess what? 3% asbestos was contained in the sample. 

How Much Does it Cost to Remove Asbestos in Popcorn Ceiling?

popcorn ceiling asbestos test

The cost to professionally remove the asbestos is billed differently by different companies. You can expect to pay about $4 per sq ft. on average or $3 to $7 per sq. ft. in the U.S. for popcorn ceiling removal whether or not it contains asbestos. The ones I called charged either $1,800 a day or $2.50/ ft to $3.50/ ft.

To estimate the cost to remove asbestos, you can either measure the property's walls, ceiling, etc., and do the calculation or invite a company to give you a bid. I decided to call OAS, a professional asbestos abatement company to bid on the job for me. At $1,800 per day, they were likely to be the cheapest option I could come up with. They bid on the job for 2 days, but the final total for the work was $3,425. They come in, line the house with plastic, wear masks, and remove the asbestos.

The removal of the ceiling was $3,450 by the abatement specialist, which is doable since my non-qualified contractor was going to charge $3,200 to remove the popcorn, texture, and paint the ceiling like new. 

Here’s my breakdown:

  • The abatement specialist charges $3,450 to remove popcorn and leave a mess. 

  • My contractor charges $3,200 to remove popcorn or abatement does their thing.

  • My contractor goes in and cleans it up for an additional $2,000.

It was worth the extra $2,000 or so for my client to have the abatement specialist come in and do the ceiling right and then follow that up with my contractors who come in and float, texture, and paint the place.

What to Do If You Find Asbestos in Your Popcorn Ceiling?

Removing the ceiling by doing it yourself can result in contaminating your home with asbestos and potentially inhaling and ingesting these fibers. Leave the ceiling or walls alone and call an asbestos abatement contractor to do the work. 

If your home has popcorn ceilings, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional to get a sample and test it to know if it has the presence of asbestos. It’s important to be aware of the materials used for constructing your home. 

Consulting a real estate agent before you sell can help you better understand the areas of your home that needs to be improved before placing it on the market. If you are considering selling real estate in Austin, speak to a real estate consultant! Click here to read what our clients say about us!

Image of Popcorn Ceiling from WikiMedia

Posted by Ryan Rodenbeck on
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