Step 1: Don’t even start. It’s a horrible idea unless you want to pay someone else to do it.
Step 2: Oh, so you’re going to ignore my advice, hmmmm? Okay, you asked for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I had read a couple DIY tutorials for removing the popcorn from the ceiling, so I had some conflicting advice. I opted to to ignore the good advice and follow the shitty advice, apparently. First, what you should do, is not be a damn cheapskate like me, and spring for the whopping $5 pack of plastic sheeting drop cloths. I’m on a seriously tight budget for renovating my whole house, so I thought, nah, I can be neat and tidy and catch the popcorn in a painting tray as it falls. Yeah, right. Not doable. And what does fall in the tray makes it really heavy and it makes your arms ache that much more. Buy the sheeting, tape it to the walls and spread it across the floors and tape it together where the walls and the floors meet. That way it can fall wherever and at the end you can just roll it all up in a ball of plastic and not have to deal with bits of popcorn haunting you for the rest of your life. I know I’m going to be finding little bits of it for years to come. I’m already having nightmares about it.
Step 3: Put on goggles and a respirator. My house was built in 1990, so I’m assuming there’s no asbestos, but even so, I’m pretty sure I’ve plastered my lung with all the crap I inhaled as it fell. Fill one of those garden bug sprayer thingies with water and douse a large section of the ceiling. As the water falls back onto your head, pretend it’s not disgusting and yellow from the years of the previous owner smoking. Think calming thoughts of raindrops and waterfalls, then run to the bathroom because all those thoughts made you have to pee. Go back and douse another large section of the ceiling. When you’re done, go back to the original section, spray it down one more time and start scraping. I used a 4″ wall spackler thingy (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term for it). Be sure to only scrape in one direction, not back and forth, or you’ll gouge the sheet rock itself.
Step 4: Take off the goggles and respirator and strip down into your underwear because you’re so fecking hot from holding your hands above your head for so long. Turn off the overhead lights because it makes it hotter up near the ceiling where you’re working (and highlights all the spots you’re missing). Spray down more of the ceiling, this time dancing around in the cooling mist as it falls back down on you. Go back to the second section you had doused and spray it again, then scrape some more. As you get to the edges, be careful not to scrape toward the wall, as you’ll hit the tape that runs along the seem and it’ll come loose, necessitating either re-taping and mudding or a serious ability to pretend it’s not there mocking you for all time. Go along the edge parallel to the wall instead. Keep working your way around. Spray a section and let that seep in while you go back to spray and scrape the previous section, so each section gets sprayed twice before you actually scrape.
Step 5: Realize that you will absolutely have to put up crown moulding* as there is no bloody way to get a clean edge where the wall and ceiling meet once there has been popcorn along it. Go back and rework your budget and be glad you didn’t buy that $5 plastic sheeting I told you to buy. That’s, like, 2′ of crown moulding, people.
Step 6: When you’re done, clean up as much of the popcorn on the ground as you can. Try to use the shop vac your husband brought over. It will work well for about 30 seconds, then smell like the 7th circle of hell and turn off. Throw your wall spackler thingy at it and curse loudly.
Step 7: Seriously consider running to the ABC store so you can stock your refrigerator with bourbon even though the only other thing in it is a bottle of water since you don’t live in the house yet and are planning on selling the fridge.
Step 8: Give up on cleaning up for now. You’ll figure that out later. Move on to priming the ceiling. I used Killz. It’s a good, all purpose primer. I used a brush for the edges and around the light fixture, and a roller for the center. I tried using an extender handle so I didn’t have to keep climbing up and down the ladder, but it was really just too awkward. Stick with the ladder and the roller. Watch out for bits of the wallboard coming off. Slap a thick layer over those spots and don’t keep passing the roller over it because it will just keep pulling back off. When you paint, you’ll cover that well enough.
Step 9: Flush your eye out because you forgot to put your goggles back on when you started priming, and a giant glop of primer went into your eye, potentially blinding you for life. Be careful not to fall off the ladder while shrieking and covering your eye, or slip on the linoleum that’s wet from all the water pouring back down off the ceiling. Consider calling an insurance agent to take out a life insurance policy. Take your contact out and rinse it thoroughly, then pull down your lower eye lid and try to pick out the remaining bits of primer in there. Realize that your hands are caked in primer, so you’re putting as much in as you’re taking out. Throw your contact out and call your husband and ask him to bring you another pair. Contemplate crying, because, hey, that would help flush your eye out and stop you from screaming in frustration.
Step 10: Take a deep breath, decide you can still see, and recommence priming. Wait for everything to dry, then slap a shitty layer of paint on there and swear to all the powers that be that you will never, ever, alter another ceiling again.
Step 11: Write to me and tell me you’re sorry you ignored Step 1.
* Why is spellcheck telling me moulding isn’t a word? Fecking spellcheck.