Restoring Ceilings

Restoring ceilings in your Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian home can be a rewarding task. How do you safely strip paint and artex from plaster, restore loose and cracked plaster and deal with minor problems? Repair to more serious damage is here.

Stripping Paint

Plaster ceilings were usually originally painted with distemper. This is water-soluble and can be removed with a soft brush and hot, soapy water. A small quantity of wallpaper stripper in the water is sometimes effective. For complex mouldings, wet a little at a time and use a brush and toothpick to remove the distemper. Wash thoroughly with clean water.

However, in most cases the distemper has been over-painted with modern oil-based paints which are best removed with a solvent-based stripper. Do not use an alkali-based stripper as this can damage plaster. Dab the stripper into details with a stiff brush and an artist's palette knife. Protect your hands with gloves or simply strong polythene bags.

If the paint is very thick, use a poultice stripper; cover the stripper with the sealing sheets supplied or with clingfilm. After one or two days, peel them off, and they should lift away much of the paint. You may be left with the underlying distemper which you can wash off, as above.

Wash off all the traces of stripper. Use a paint brush to help penetrate all the details in the plaster. Allow the plaster to dry for several days before repainting. The best results are achieved using a distemper which is available from specialist paint suppliers. This gives a wonderful chalky finish, and of course, can be simply washed off in future when redecorating.

Removing Artex


Decorative coatings that were put on before the mid-1980's usually contain a form of asbestos. This represents a significant health hazard if the fibres become airborne and are breathed in. The removal of this type of material needs to be done with care. Asbestos removal companies are licensed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE provides free information on this. As a homeowner, if you employ someone to remove the coating, then they should be licensed. If you do it yourself, then you should follow all the precautions both for your health but for the health of your family.

If the artex is on plaster, try a wallpaper steamer. The steam should cause the artex to split from the plaster and you can then scrape it off with a small plasterer's blade. If the artex has a lot of plastic or latex in it, the wallpaper steamer will soften it enough to scrape and peel it away. A gypsum-based artex should start to disintegrate once soaked with enough hot water and you can scrape it off.

If the artex has really stuck on and you still want to save the plaster underneath, the only way is to get underneath it and carefully and slowly lever it off with a small plasterers blade.

The final option is to strip the plaster and artex from the ceiling and replace.

Removing Woodchip

For advice on removing woodchip paper, see the section on Internal Walls.

Loose and Cracked Ceiling Plaster

To fill fine cracks, scratch along their length to widen them and remove any loose plaster. Use a fine surface filler; spread it with a filling knife across the crack and then finish along the crack.

With larger cracks, solve the cause first and then use a bolster chisel to chop away and undercut the edges of the crack. Rake out the loose debris. Moisten the plaster thoroughly, and then apply a filler in layers, or plaster of Paris and then a coating of surface filler. Once it has set hard, use sandpaper to smooth the surface.

Where a moulding has sagged, press it gently. If the crack between it and, for example, the ceiling closes, you can wipe wet plaster into the crack, and then support the moulding with a length of wood to close the crack.

Stains and Mould

Deal with the source of the staining first. If it is due to damp, investigate the source of the moisture and solve the problem. Leave the ceiling to dry out for as long as possible – two or three weeks should be sufficient.

If there are black specks of mould, apply a fungicide.

The staining should then be sealed. For most stains, an aluminium alcohol-based sealant is effective.


For companies specialising in this area, see the Products and Services Directory.