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A Quick-Guide to Removing Polystyrene Ceiling Tiles

How to Remove Polystyrene Ceiling Tiles

If you're here, it's probably because your house, or part of it, has been filled with dreaded polystyrene ceiling tiles. What were the 70s thinking? These were a major fire hazard, and let's face it - damn ugly! Affixed with several blobs of adhesive, glued up onto your ceiling, these aren't the easiest things to remove - but consider yourself lucky, they could have always installed asbestos tiles at your  dreaded peril instead. I'll take the polystyrene any day.

What you'll need:

  • Wallpaper Steamer
  • Wide Scraper
  • Sharp Scraper (definitely invest in some new blades!)
  • Hammer
  • Arm Strength
  • Music
  • ...and a bit of patience

Step 1 - Removing the Tiles

Save yourself the arm pain by over-stretching on a ladder and attempting to push these tiles off the  ceiling in a jerky back and forth motion - instead take a wide scraper and use a hammer to gently but forcefully break the bond between the tile and glue, pushing them down from the ceiling as you go. This way is MUCH easier, it'll save your arm from going dead, it's more likely to pull off some glue along with it and it will bring the polystyrene down in much larger chunks, making clean up a hell of a load easier too. It's all win win.

removing polystyrene ceiling tiles
ceiling tiles removal


Step 2 - Removing the Glue

After removing the tiles, you'll find yourself left with a ceiling covered in hundreds of sizeable blobs of glue, something perhaps not too dis-similar to this...

how to remove glue from ceiling

If your ceiling is Lath and Plaster, then (for once!) you're in luck, as removing these wont be too much hassle. If you have plasterboard, prepare for a much longer journey ahead. The method I've used for both is exactly the same. If you don't already have a wallpaper steamer, you're going to need one. These steamers were not designed for use on ceilings, so you need to be extra careful using it, as boiling hot water is more than likely going to dribble down onto you until you've got your techniques sorted. I recommend long sleeved clothing and googles!

Holding the steamer upside down onto the ceiling (15 seconds for lath and plaster, 30+ for plasterboard) will soften the glue. You can then use a sharp scraper to peel the glue away from the ceiling. On lath and plaster, this will come off in one smooth action, but be careful not too over-steam the ceiling, particularly in any cracked locations as the plaster will be at risk of completely dropping off! For plasterboard, the technique is exactly the same, but you're probably going to have to go back over with the steamer a couple of times and fight the glue to the ground. Be patient though, it does work and once you've found the technique, you'll be whizzing through.

ceiling during tile removal


Step 3 - Repair

Unfortunately your job isn't over yet, unless you're having your ceiling re-plastered (lucky you!). No matter how careful you are with scraping off the several hundred blobs of glue - it's inevitable that little flakes of plaster have also been removed along with it. I find it easiest to paint the ceiling first, so its all one flat colour, which then allows you to properly see these little holes ready to fixing. You can see they're not particularly bad, but they are noticeable and do need fixing.

how to repair ceiling after removing tiles

Polyfiller is all you need here. I like to use a thinner consistency polyfiller (just mixed with a bit more water) for small holes and gaps, particularly when I know there's going to be loooottts of filling involved. Why? Because sanding the stuff is a heck easier! The thinner the polyfiller, the less tough it is - so it's really only suitable for little holes, such as these.

If you have lots of cracks in a lath and plaster ceiling, check out this post for repairing them.

filling holes in a ceiling

A good sand and you're done! Your house is now massively less of a fire hazard and no longer looks like it just stepped out of the 70s! This is definitely an easy achievable DIY job that could be done over a weekend - nothing here requires any real DIY skills, so I definitely recommend giving this a go yourself. You'll save mega bucks too.

finished ceiling without polystyrene tiles

I'd love to know if you've attempted removing polystyrene ceiling tiles yourself and if you used a different technique or if  you have any tips to add?

1 comment

  1. We are doing the same thing, we have used a steamer to remove the globs of adhesive but there are still round stains where the glue was. They are flush with the ceiling but I'm wondering what you think the next step should be after? Texture or something like killz first? The celing already has a fine orange peal texture but all the scraping has left the areas where the glue was smooth in some places.

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