How to Texture a Ceiling and Walls: Apply Knockdown

Updated: Dec. 21, 2023

Spray ceiling texture to add visual interest and hide imperfections. Keep reading to learn how to texture a ceiling and walls.

FH00DJA_CEILTX_01-4Family Handyman
Use this simple technique to add character to walls and ceilings, and to help blend the old with the new while remodeling. Textures give smooth, flat walls and ceilings a new dimension that enhances a room. This is a great project for problem walls as the texture hides minor imperfections.

You might also like: TBD

A full day

Choosing your materials

Close-up: sprayer and hopper

The crucial components of a spray gun.

Textures add an entirely new dimension to flat, smooth walls. Instead of a blank slate, you’ll have a surface that will attract attention, add visual interest and warm the room with an earthy, organic feel. This technique also helps hide minor imperfections, making it a great way to meld remodeled walls with existing ones—no small bonus to those of us still perfecting our drywall-taping skills!

Applying a knockdown texture is an easy, low-cost, low-tech project that can dramatically change a room’s appearance and simplify wall repairs. The name comes from one of the final steps in the project when you use a wide knife to knock down and flatten the peaks of the texture applied to the walls. This step gives the texture its stucco-like appearance. To texture the walls and ceiling of an average room, the rental sprayer, the joint compound and knockdown knife will set you back only about $70 to $80, and you’ll be finished in one day. These are the three components you’ll use:

Joint compound
To make this project as easy as possible, use premixed all-purpose joint compound. These buckets contain about 60 lbs. of “mud” and are available at most home centers for $9 to $10 each. Don’t use the lightweight premixed compounds—you’ll be paying for a lot of air and the mix won’t be as “sticky” as the all-purpose. It generally takes 1-1/2 to two full buckets of mud to texture the walls and ceiling of an average size (12 x 12-ft.) room.

Knockdown knives
Traditionally, knockdown textures were done with flat trowels or wide steel taping knives. However, the trowel technique is hard to master. A much better choice is to use one of the flexible Lexan knockdown knives now available at drywall supply stores (see Photo 5). These knives are 18 to 24 in. wide and cost $15 to $18. Here’s what you need to know about the types of drywall texture.

Acoustical sprayer and gun.
You’ll need to rent an acoustical spray gun, hopper and compressor from a rental center or paint store for this project. Although home compressors work fine for the initial orange peel coat, they won’t produce the volume of air you need for the heavier topcoat.

Expect to pay $25 to $30 for a one-day rental. While you’re still at the rental store, be sure to put the machine through a dry run to be certain it works. Also, remove the hopper from the gun and make sure the inside of the gun is clean. Look for a trigger adjustment on the gun It allows you to control the fluid flow. The recipes in this article will give you the just-right mixes for your project.


File any sharp edges off the blade mixer. Sharp edges will scrape little plastic curlicues off the side of the bucket, bits that can clog the gun or wind up on the wall.

You will get mud in places you didn’t want it. Don’t worry! It cleans up easily with a wet sponge.


If you have ceiling texture applied before 1980, it may contain asbestos. Before you remove any ceiling texture, contact your state’s department of environmental protection, department of health, or a regional asbestos coordinator for information on asbestos testing and removal. For a list of regional contacts, click here. For general information on asbestos, click here.

Apply the texture

Photo 1: Mask off everything you don’t want textured

Mask your windows and doors with plastic sheeting. Then cover remaining trim, outlets and light fixture bases (remove glass covers) with masking tape. Cover your floors with a heavy canvas or multiple layers of those bed sheets you haven’t had the heart to get rid of. Don’t use plastic sheeting on the floor or your work area will become a skating rink.

Photo 2: Add water to the joint compound and mix it

Thin the joint compound, or “mud,” with water. Use a blade mixer mounted to a variable-speed 1/2-in. drill (most mixers are too large for 3/8-in. drills). You can also mix the mud by hand with a 5-gal. paint stirring stick (available free at paint stores). Scoop half of a full bucket of unthinned mud into an empty 5-gal. bucket and add the correct amount of water to both buckets. Hug the bucket firmly with your feet and stir. After the initial stirring, scrape the sides and bottom with a stick or your hand and stir again. The second stirring helps remove thicker clumps that can clog the spray gun.

Photo 3: Spray on the base coat

Spray an orange peel base coat on the walls and ceilings. This step will help blend areas where new walls meet old, allow consistent drying for the topcoat, and act as a background for the final texture. Hold the gun about 30 to 36 in. from the surface. Starting in a corner, spray the ceiling first, working in grids sized according to what you can comfortably reach from a stationary position. On the walls, work from side to side and from top to bottom. Let the orange peel coat dry (three to eight hours).

Photo 4: Apply the top coat

Apply the topping coat using the same techniques you used to spray on the base coat but with different gun settings and mud consistency. If possible, practice in the closet or on a spare piece of drywall before moving to the main area. Hold the gun a bit farther from the surface, up to 48 in. The splats should be 1/2 in. to 1-1/2 in. in diameter. Finish spraying the entire room before going to the “knockdown” step. After you apply the first coat, spray on a quick second coat to help even out slight differences.

how to texture a ceiling

Photo 5: Knock down the top coat

Knock down the topping coat with an 18- or 24-in. Plexiglas knife and light pressure after the mud has set up for 10 to 15 minutes. Start in the closet until you get the feel of the knife and the effect you want. Knock it down in the same order you applied it. On the ceiling, knock down in a direction across the joists or framing. This helps compensate for unevenness of the ceiling. On the walls, start at the top and bring the knife two-thirds of the way down, then start at the bottom and bring the knife up to finish off the knockdown.

Photos 1 to 5 show how to apply the knockdown texture.


Don’t let the hopper run dry. Keeping at least 4 in. of mix in the hopper helps maintain a consistent flow.


Always make sure you start with a clean edge on the knockdown knife for each stroke. Keep a damp sponge and a bucket of water handy for this task.

Dealing with textured ceilings

Scrape a textured ceiling with a drywall knife

Round the corners on a drywall knife and use it to scrape the texture off acoustical or popcorn ceilings.

If you have acoustical or popcorn ceiling texture, remove it by spraying it with water, letting it soak in for a minute, and then carefully scraping it off with a drywall knife. Wear goggles and a cap. To minimize accidental gouging of the drywall, round off the corners of the knife with metal snips and remove burrs with a smooth-face file. If your ceiling texture has been painted, you won’t be able to scrape it clean. You may need to skim-coat the surface.

Painting a textured surface

Paint a textured surface the way you would new drywall. Let the “mud” dry completely. As it dries, it will release tremendous amounts of moisture. You’ll feel as if you’re standing in an Iowa cornfield in July. If it’s warm enough outside, cut through the masking on your windows and open them, but leave the masking tape in place until the surface dries. If you have some box fans, use them to help speed the drying.

After the walls and ceiling dry, check the surface for any spots you missed knocking down or any ridges you raised with the corner of the knife. With 120-grit sandpaper and a sanding block, sand these high spots down. Begin painting with a high-quality primer applied with a 3/8-in. nap paint roller. On the first coat, avoid going over surfaces before they’re completely dry. The mud is water soluble and painting too soon can cause you to peel up a thin layer of mud with the paint.

For the final paint coat, use a high quality latex paint and a 3/8-in. nap roller. An “eggshell” or “satin” finish emphasizes the depth of the texture.

Other Knockdown Textures

If you want to texture just a small area or a single wall or don’t want to mess with a sprayer, you have an endless supply of options. One of the simplest and most attractive is done with a plastic loop roller or ceiling texture roller, which fits on an ordinary paint roller. To do this texture, use the same methods as described in this article except skip the spraying steps and roll on a single coat of mud. You can also apply a knockdown texture using texture paints.

Recipes for Textures

Recipe for orange peel coat or orange peel ceiling texture:

  • Half a bucket (30 lbs.) of all-purpose joint compound
  • 5 pints of water
  • Spray gun orifice—second or third smallest
  • Compressor setting—high (25 to 30 psi)
  • Trigger—half open
  • Mix consistency—thin pancake batter
  • Splat size—pencil eraser

Recipe for topping coat:

  • Half a bucket (30 lbs.) of all-purpose joint compound
  • 3 pints of water
  • Spray gun orifice—second largest
  • Compressor setting—10 to 15 psi
  • Trigger—fully open
  • Mix consistency—thick cake batter
  • Splat size—nickel to silver dollar

Recipe for rolled-on texture:

  • Half a bucket (30 lbs.) of all-purpose joint compound
  • 1 pint water
  • Mix consistency—thick oatmeal/barely pourable

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Corded drill
  • Dust mask
  • Hearing protection
  • Safety glasses
Mixing paddle, acoustical sprayer and gun (rental), Lexan knockdown knife.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • All-purpose joint compound
  • Canvas drop cloth
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic sheeting