Do All Popcorn Ceilings Have Asbestos?

Popcorn ceilings are a type of spray-on textured paint once manufactured with dangerous amounts of asbestos. Textured ceilings are also known as stucco, stipple, cottage cheese, and acoustic ceilings. Initially, the style became popular in the 1950s – when asbestos insulation use was similarly common – because it was easy to install and offered some sound- and fireproofing.

Some popcorn ceilings contain up to 10% asbestos contamination.

Not all popcorn ceilings have asbestos, yet those built during and before the 1980s may have a high risk for contamination. How dangerous an asbestos-containing textured paint is, depends on its overall condition. Usually, materials in good condition (with no tears, water damage, or crumbling areas) should be left alone and checked periodically.

For homeowners, if you find out your ceilings are contaminated with the carcinogen, you have three options:

  • Encapsulation
  • Encasement
  • Removal

What Does Asbestos Popcorn Ceiling Look Like?

Normally, popcorn ceiling is a white paint peppered with small, popcorn-like kernels. There’s no way to tell if your textured paint was made with asbestos just by looking at it. The paint’s asbestos fibers are 1,200 times thinner than a human hair. So, you won’t be able to see the toxic fibers if they are released into the air either.

Other asbestos-containing spray-on textured paints come in a variety of colors. In addition to ceilings, these paints were used on walls and some siding. Most of these products were banned by federal regulations beginning in the 1970s. However, buildings and homes built around this time may have asbestos in popcorn ceilings and several other places.

Additionally, old textured paints are easily broken and crumbled when touched too hard. Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests leaving materials alone unless you’re wearing the proper protective gear and clean up afterward.

When Did Companies Stop Using Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings?

For years, companies manufactured spray-applied textured materials with asbestos. Yet, because spray-on paints are easily inhaled by workers installing them and people living with them, they received early regulatory bans.

Timeline of Popcorn Ceiling Asbestos Regulations

  • 1973: The EPA placed the first ban on spray-on “surfacing asbestos-containing material for fireproofing/insulating purposes.”
  • 1978: The EPA expanded the ban to include spray-on paints with asbestos not already covered under the wording in the previous regulation.
  • 1989: The EPA banned most asbestos-containing materials. However, the ruling was overturned in 1991. The resulting law prohibited new uses of asbestos after 1989 and 5 specific products (flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper).
  • 1990: Another, more comprehensive ban covered spray-on surfacing materials made with more than 1% asbestos to “buildings, structures, pipes, and conduits unless certain conditions specified.”
  • 2019: The EPA’s Final Rule further banned “textured paints (e.g., simulates stucco), and block filler paints (e.g., for coating masonry).” The Final Rule prevents asbestos-containing products from returning to the market without EPA evaluation.

Think you’ve worked or lived somewhere with high asbestos risk? Request a case evaluation to assess your chances for exposure.
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Testing and Removal

Currently, asbestos testing is the only way to prove the presence of asbestos in popcorn ceilings. Due to the risk of toxic exposure, the EPA recommends hiring a professional to test materials and the air in your home for contamination. Often, an asbestos tester can tell you how much it will cost to remove asbestos-contaminated materials. However, consider hiring a separate company for asbestos removal or encapsulation to avoid a conflict of interest.

According to the EPA, it’s safest to assume materials contain asbestos and move forward with one of three options:

Encasement (covering) Cover the asbestos popcorn ceiling with ceiling panels or vinyl paint so dust cannot escape.
Encapsulation (sealing) Sealing asbestos-containing materials with an adhesive sealant to bind fibers together. Encapsulation can make later renovations more difficult.
Removal (full abatement) Completely removing asbestos materials. Projects are often expensive and require full-body protective gear to safely finish.

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos?

The latency period between exposure and the first symptoms of asbestos-caused illnesses can last between 5 and 40 years. If exposed, you won’t experience any immediate symptoms of asbestos poisoning. Years later, you may develop a cough or abdominal swelling from asbestos-related side effects.

If you have any related symptoms, talk with your doctor as soon as possible. Being diagnosed with an asbestos-caused disease often qualifies individuals for legal compensation.

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