How to Clean a Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceiling with lighting fixture.

Popcorn ceilings all have one thing in common—those little bumps help muffle noise but also tuck away dust, dirt, and grime, which means they need to be cleaned periodically. Adding to the problem, cleaning your popcorn ceiling requires a delicate hand to avoid damaging the texture. Because you can't dust and scrub the ceiling using elbow grease, this cleaning chore is more time-consuming than many.

Before we help you learn how to clean a popcorn ceiling, it's important to note that popcorn ceilings in homes built before the mid 1980s may contain asbestos. Asbestos exposure of any level is unsafe, so contact a professional if you aren't sure what you're working with.

If your ceiling is safe, most of the tools and supplies needed are common to many households. Here's what you'll need in order to dust, clean, and remove various stains from a popcorn ceiling:

  • Lint roller on a pole
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Ladder
  • Microfiber duster
  • Spray bottles
  • Bleach
  • Liquid dish soap
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Protective eyewear
  • Face mask
  • Disposable gloves
  • Sponge

You may not use all the supplies and cleaning solutions from this list, but you'll want to keep them handy in case they’re needed. Before you clean your popcorn ceiling, it’s best to move furniture out of the way or cover it to avoid adding that to your cleaning list. Use plastic sheeting, drop cloths, or tarps to cover items, furniture, and the floors where you will be working. Once everything is protected and you've gathered your supplies, it's time to dust and then clean your popcorn ceiling.

How To Dust a Popcorn Ceiling

Dust and other pollutants that accumulate on a popcorn ceiling can make it look dingy and dated. These contaminants can also aggravate conditions like asthma and allergies, so learning how to dust a popcorn ceiling is essential to improving the air your family breathes. Here are three of the easiest ways to dust a popcorn ceiling:

Lint Roller:

A sticky lint roller is ideal for removing surface dust from a popcorn ceiling. You can use a ladder or step stool to get to the dust, but putting your lint roller on an extension pole is safer. Gently roll the lint roller across the ceiling using light pressure. When a sheet is covered in dirt and dust, tear it off and keep rolling.


Using a vacuum to remove dust from your ceiling is more involved but can deliver excellent results. Safety is vital, so ensure the vacuum and hoses don't hit your ladder. Use your vacuum extension wand and the brush attachment to remove dust, dirt, and cobwebs from the ceiling and corners.

Microfiber Duster:

An extendable, flexible microfiber duster can attract dust and dirt from those thousands of crevices. The flexibility and length of the duster will prevent you from having to move your ladder as often.

Always wear goggles and a face mask to protect yourself from dust and parts of the ceiling that may become dislodged in the process. Whichever dusting method works best for your popcorn ceilings, a yearly cleaning is a good rule of thumb. Depending on the location of the popcorn ceiling in your home, some, like those in a kitchen, may require more frequent cleaning. If your ceiling needs a deeper cleaning, always dust first and use the appropriate cleaners for dirt and stains.

Types of Stains on a Popcorn Ceiling

Water, smoke, mold, grease, and other culprits can leave their mark on a popcorn ceiling in the form of unsightly stains. Different stains require specific cleaning solutions, but the process is the same—gently dab the dirty or stained area, let it dry, check, and repeat if needed. Use a spray bottle with the appropriate cleaner and spray the surface, then dab it with your sponge. Always spot-test your cleaner in an out-of-the-way area to make sure it's safe to use.

Dirt Stains:

Many stains can be removed using a mild, natural solution with one part white vinegar and four parts water. Use undiluted vinegar to pretreat particularly dark stains.

Smoke Stains:

Mix two tablespoons of dish soap and a quarter cup of baking soda into a half gallon of warm water. You can use 3% hydrogen peroxide for dark stains to treat the stain before you clean.

Mold and Mildew:

To remove mold stains from a popcorn ceiling, use undiluted white vinegar or a fungicidal cleaning spray to kill the mold and treat the stain.

Grease Stains:

If your kitchen ceiling is particularly grimy, dusting may be out of the question, so you can skip it with this one. Mix four tablespoons of dish liquid formulated to dissolve grease and a quart of warm water. Spray or dab the greasy areas with the solution and a clean cloth.

One of the most troublesome popcorn ceiling stains comes from water. When the ceiling gets wet, it creates a stain and an ideal environment for mold and mildew to thrive. It's essential to locate and correct the source of the water stain before you remove it  from your ceiling.

How To Remove Water Stains on a Popcorn Ceiling

Remember to dust first and ensure everything in the room is protected. You'll most likely need a ladder to reach the stain. Ensure your ladder is secure and stable and all your supplies are handy. If possible, turn on a ceiling fan (as long as it’s not close to where you will be working) and open a few windows.

  • Mix one part bleach and three parts water in a clean spray bottle.
  • Spray the stain remover onto the stain, being careful not to overdo it.
  • Use a sponge to dab away excess cleaning solution.
  • Wait about 12 hours and check the water stain.
  • Use a more robust 50/50 solution and repeat the process if the stain is still visible.
  • Wait 12 hours and check the results.
  • Paint the ceiling with primer and paint if the stain remains.

If you paint to cover the water stain, use a stain-blocking primer before you paint. For the primer and paint, use a thick-nap paint roller for popcorn ceilings for the best results. Remember, if you paint over the ceiling stain, you'll probably need to paint the entire ceiling for consistent color.

Professional House Cleaning Services

Now that you know how to clean a popcorn ceiling, what's next? Are your baseboards looking dull? Is it hard to see through the windows? Whether you roll up your sleeves and use our handy house cleaning guides or call in one of our professional cleaning teams, Molly Maid® is here to make housekeeping easier.

Discover what professional house cleaning services can do for your home when you let us create a custom cleaning quote for you. Every cleaning service is delivered by a local cleaning team and backed by the Neighborly Done Right Promise™ for a clean you can count on.