Acoustical Ceiling Repair

DEAR MIKE: I had a leak from my bathroom upstairs that stained the ceiling downstairs. The leak has been repaired, but my ceiling looks as if someone spilled coffee on it. I have an acoustical ceiling and since it got wet, the ceiling texture around the stain is falling off. How can I repair this mess? -- William W.

DEAR WILLIAM: Repairing an acoustical ceiling (aka popcorn or cottage cheese ceiling) is a messy job. Once it gets wet, the popcorn separates and falls off and you are left looking up at bare drywall, and down at newly fallen snow on the floor.

It's smart to consult with a professional regarding asbestos before you begin this job.

There are some great products available to help you achieve a professional looking repair.

The "coffee stain" on the ceiling is typical when the ceiling gets wet. It will be a brownish color and the damage will be contained to this area and slightly beyond it.

You will need to seal the stain and then repair the area. With any luck, your ceiling has not sagged, so you can go right into the cosmetic repair.

You will want to use plastic tarps or dropcloths to cover everything. You can use plastic pushpins and stick them through some lightweight plastic sheeting and into the ceiling to set up a perimeter around the damaged area to protect the walls.

Remove the loose popcorn from the ceiling with a paint scraper. Hold a bucket under the scraper to catch the debris. Keep scraping until you get to popcorn that is firmly attached to the ceiling. This will likely be just outside of the stain.

Buy a stain sealer such as "Kilz." You can apply it with a paint roller, but I wouldn't recommend it for acoustical ceilings. When you drag a heavy roller over it, the roller tends to knock down a lot of the popcorn that is sticking to the ceiling. The nice thing though, is that the wet popcorn sticks nicely to your clothing.

Instead, buy the sealer in a spray can. There's even a can specifically designed to spray upwards onto a ceiling.

Let the sealer dry and then it's time to texture. You can buy acoustical ceiling texture in a spray can, but you better have a sensitive trigger finger. The entire can will empty out in a matter of seconds.

The can usually says that it will cover an area of about 2 square feet, but you better use short bursts from the can and always keep the can moving. You don't want to end up with stalactites hanging from your ceiling.

The other texturing option is to use a manual pump sprayer. You can buy the sprayer (which looks like a small bicycle pump) and packets of texture for about $15. You mix up the texture and pump it onto the ceiling by hand. This method will give you more control versus the spray can method.

To mix up the texture, fill the bottle with water up to the line (the bottle is included). Pour the water into a plastic cup and slowly add the dry texture mix while stirring thoroughly. Now pour the mix back into the bottle and screw the bottle to the pump.

Cut off the tip of the pump nozzle with a utility knife and you are ready to spray. The pump has several settings to adjust how much texture you want to come out. I would practice on a scrap to get the setting just right and then fire away at the ceiling.

The bottle sits on top of the pump and gravity brings the texture into the pump. As the air rushes through the pump, it picks up the texture and throws it on the ceiling.

The heavier texture settings are simply larger holes that allow more texture to escape through the pump. Keep the pump in the "off" position when you are not pumping to avoid drips.

Hold the pump at a slight angle and about 6 to 12 inches away from the ceiling. Use short choppy strokes and blow the texture on the ceiling. When you are satisfied with the look, let it dry and determine if you need to paint it. The texture mix will dry white in color, so if you are lucky, you won't need to paint it. 

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