Q: I have a popcorn ceiling that has been stained a rust and oil color when a cast-iron pipe leaked. The ceiling is more than 40 years old but is still in perfect condition. I don’t know whether asbestos was included in the ceiling material.

My questions are:

1. Can I use a stain blocker primer on these stains before a color coat that matches the popcorn color?

2. Should I apply the new paint with a brush, roller or sprayer?

3. How do I cover the stain without brushing off the popcorn material?

A: We’ve responded to a number of readers over the years who have wanted to get rid of popcorn ceilings, but you’re the first who wants to keep one.

For the uninitiated, "popcorn" is the nickname for sprayed-on textured coating. It was "the look" in the 1960s and ’70s. Some ceilings even had sparkles mixed in.

Until around 1978 there was a good chance the sprayed-on coating contained asbestos — we suppose for its fire-retardant qualities. In 1978, asbestos was banned as a carcinogen. Any post-1978 "popcorn" should be asbestos-free. So it’s quite possible that your 1968 (or older) popcorn ceiling contains asbestos.

If you were planning to remove it, we’d recommend that it be tested. If the test is positive, it should be removed by a licensed, insured and bonded hazardous material contractor. But since you’re keeping it, it is a do-it-yourself project. Asbestos is dangerous only if it is crumbling. …CONTINUED

One way to make asbestos safe is to encapsulate it, and one way to encapsulate it is to paint it. Here’s what you want to do and how we’d go about it:

Using a stain-blocking primer is the right way to go to cover the stain. But don’t limit the primer to the water spot only. Do the entire ceiling and cover the stain twice. Sprayed-on texture is porous. It sucks up water-based paint like you wouldn’t believe. A solid coat of primer will give the finish coat a good base and guarantee a consistent finished look when done. Be advised, though, any way you slice it, it will probably be a three-coat job.

The best way to do the job is with an airless paint-sprayer. Spraying allows you to get paint into all the nooks and crannies of the popcorn easily. Using a brush and roller will remove a fair number of kernels of corn but just won’t do the job. Airless sprayers are available for a reasonable fee at any rental shop and at some Home Depot and Lowe’s stores.

As with any painting project, preparation is the key. In this case, it means "cover up anything you don’t want to paint — including yourself."

If you can, remove all of the furniture from the room before you start. If it isn’t possible, move it all to the center of the room and cover it with plastic sheeting. Next, tape plastic sheeting to the corner formed where the walls meet the ceilings. Make sure the plastic hangs to the floor, covering all the walls, windows and doors. Tape the plastic to the floor. Completely cover the floor with drop cloths, not plastic. It’s too easy to slip on plastic.

Next, cover up yourself. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a hat at minimum. We suggest you add a cloth painter’s hood to the ensemble. It is a lightweight cloth sock that fits tightly over your head, covering hair and ears. A respirator and eye protection complete this fetching outfit. Now you’re ready to paint.

Using an airless sprayer is relatively easy. With the tip of the gun about 12 inches away from the ceiling, begin to move the gun and pull the trigger, applying the paint. Move the gun in a sideways motion, maintaining the 12-inch distance from the ceiling. Let up on the trigger before you stop your arm. Continue this movement, overlapping each pass over the previous one until the entire ceiling is covered. Let the primer dry overnight to let it set and bond to the texture.

The next day, go in with the finish paint. The procedure is the same. Let the second coat dry for a couple of hours before applying the final coat. Don’t be in a super hurry to clean up the sprayer. Invariably there is a little touch-up you’ll need to do. A spritz of the sprayer is easier than getting out a brush.


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