How to Smooth Textured Walls with a Skim Coat

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Spray warm water, using a spray bottle, on one square foot of textured drywall. Let the area soak for 5 minutes. Use a drywall knife to gently scrape at the surface to test whether the texture peels, chips and breaks away from the wall, or whether it remains solid. If the area was texturized with joint compound, water and a drywall knife can generally remove most of the texture. Continue with gentle scraping to remove the texture. If the texture was created with plaster, water won’t help and you can continue to the next step.

Apply A Skim Coat

After drywall is installed, the fasteners and taped seams are covered up with joint compound or “mud” and then sanded down. This is often called a skim coat. The very same technique is used to remove textured walls. A thin coat of compound is applied over the entire wall surface, allowed to dry, and then sanded smooth.

The skim coat wills in all the gaps between texturing which creates a smooth surface. It’s very similar to old fashioned plastering or the cement coat on a foundation. A skilled contractor can get a wall just as smooth as drywall.

Skim coating an entire whole room can be messy and time consuming. Especially if you don’t know what your doing. This isn’t something for a beginner if you want a high level finish. Pros can do a job faster and much smoother so there’s almost no sanding. However, most amateur jobs need tons of sanding because they can’t float the compound smooth and even enough.

Once the new wall is smooth and dry, it can be sealed with a primer and then painted or finished as needed.

Step By Step

Here are step by step instructions on how we remove texture from a wall with a skim coat.

1. Remove The Trim

If the wall or trim’s been painted, cut the edges with a utility knife before prying the trim off. This will prevent the paint from peeling.

Then slip a small steel putty knife behind the trim and gently pry it off the wall. Make sure to pry against a stud if possible to avoid damaging the drywall. Tap the head of the putty knife with a hammer to help wedge it between the trim and wall if you have to.

2. Cover The Floor

Cover the floor with a canvas drop cloth. I don’t recommend using plastic because they can be slippery and break easily.

Tape the edges of the tarp down to the floor. This will help keep it in place as you work.

3. Sand The Surface

I always sand down the surface of a textured wall prior to applying the skim coat. This does two things. First, if there’s paint the sanding will remove the sheen. This helps the compound stick to the wall. Second, any high spots in the texture will be sanded down. Ideally what I want is for the entire textured wall to be about the same height. High spots make it much harder to get a smooth finish.

4. Wipe The Wall Clean

Once your done sanding make sure to wipe the wall down with a damp rag, cloth or paper towels. And dust will make it harder to apply the skim coat.

5. Mix The Compound

I like to buy premixed drywall compound in a 5 gallon bucket. It’s the exact same product we use for all of our drywall work. But it generally comes a little stiff and is much easier to work with if you mix it yourself prior to use.

Mix about a gallon of compound at a time in a different 5 gallon bucket. Add a little bit of water at a time as you mix the compound with a paddle bit. You want a pancake consistency that’s very smooth and free of lumps. Add water slowly, a little goes a long way since it’s already been mixed at the factory. This site mixing just gets it a little smoother and easier to work with but you don’t want it overly wet.

6. Apply The Compound

Some contractors roll the compound on first with a large roller and some apply it with a wide knife. I prefer to apply if with the knife just like old fashioned plaster work. Rolling it on can be very messy.

If you prefer to roll it on then you’ll have to go over it all with a wide knife anyway. This gives the finish a super smooth look.

However you apply your compound the first time, make sure you smooth it slowly with your knife as flat as possible.

Try to maintain a wet edge. This takes some time to get right, especially on a big wall, but it’s best to plaster an entire wall without stopping.

7. Let The Compound Dry. Sand. Apply Second Coat

It’s important to completely let the compound dry before you do anything further to it. Once it’s dry you can take a closer look and access what comes next. Unless your a master plasterer, you’ll probably need a second coat.

Before you apply it, make sure to sand down the first one with a medium grit sandpaper. Get the wall as smooth as possible and then wipe it down. Now carefully go over the entire wall with the same wide knife. The second coat should fill in any small imperfections and correct any unevenness.

8. Final Sanding

Once the final coat of plaster is applied it’s time for a final sanding. This time I use a fine grit sandpaper. Go over the entire wall and get it super smooth.

9. Final Inspection

I always review my work at the very end to make sure it’s all been done exactly how I want it. If you find small imperfections this is the time to fix them. Apply compound, smooth, sand etc. as needed until the finished product is smooth and ready for paint.

Pro Tips

  • I like to use a sanding sponge for my last coat rather than a pad. The surface is now 100 percent drywall compound which means the edges of a sanding pad can gouge and leave marks. Use light pressure and sand in circles.
  • If you use a sanding pad, make it as wide as possible. I’d buy one that was 8′ wide for an 8′ wall if I could. This helps maintain a smooth and consistent finish.
  • Always sand with very little pressure. Let the sandpaper do the work. Drywall compound is very soft and doesn’t need much pressure. Generally just grazing the surface is enough.
  • Be very careful not to apply compound too thick. Ideally you want the surface to be the same as the old texture. If you pack on too much compound the wall will be thicker which means you’ll have to adjust the window and door jambs.
  • Be careful around the edges of a wall. When your sanding close to an adjacent wall it’s very easy to scratch of even gauge it with a sanding pad. The final skim coat is delicate work.
  • Be sure to wear a mask. Sanding an entire wall of compound and texture can create a lot of dust.
  • Use a bright work light on the wall. Lots of light makes it easier to find imperfections.
  • Feel the wall with your fingers. Some times you can find small imperfections and unevenness with your hands that you can’t see until the wall is painted.

Video

Apply joint compound to wall

Work in small sections at a time. The mud is watered down so it will dry fairly quickly and you have to apply it to the wall and then skim it smooth. I generally work in 4’x4′ sections. Depending on the temperature and humidity of the room you’re working in, you may be able to do larger sections.

Using a thick nap paint roller, apply a generous amount of mud to the wall.  Using a roller allows you to get more compound on the wall faster than if you were scooping it out with a taping knife. You can pour joint compound into a roller tray or dip the roller directly into the 5 gallon bucket. 

I generally prefer the bucket method because it’s faster but it is also messier because the excess mud drips off the roller as you pull it out of the bucket.

How Is Wall Texturing Done?

Typically, texture is sprayed onto a flat wall after drywall and sanding is done. The wall beneath the texture should be a finished flat wall that’s ready for paint. But instead of painting a layer of texture is added instead.

After the texture layer is applied, you can paint the wall or leave it alone as is. This has a lot to do with how easy a textured wall is to remove. If you’ve got a textured wall that’s unpainted it’s easier to remove with a soak and scrape method. However if it’s been paint things get harder. You’ll either have to cover it up or spend a lot more time scraping.

Sometimes patterns are added to the texture design. This can be done with either  a soft brush, rag, sponge or other tool. Many of these texture patterns even have names. For example, Santa Fe, orange peel, knockdown, swirl, or cat’s paw.

You can also apply ready made texture paint using a brush or roller. Popcorn is a common example of texture painting. You can either roll the popcorn on by including it in the paint or spray it on later.

7. More Boogers

Get rid of any new boogers.

Small holes in the covering that did not fill in the valleys

Tom Lohr

One Comment

  1. Walt Walt says:

    December 2, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    This information is spot on. We run a handyman company in Concord, NC and can attest to that! Like you say in the article, skim coating is more about patience than anything else. When people do call us to do this for them, it because they don’t have the bandwith for it.

    Reply

4. Get Rid of the Boogers

Boogers are specks of mud that slipped off of your taping knife and dried on the wall before you noticed. Boogers are also areas where, for some reason, you had a small build up of drywall mud. Using the dry medium taping knife, just scrape them off.

Peaks scraped off

Tom Lohr

Step 1:

 Scoop some of the pre-mixed compound into the mud pan. It has the texture of creamy peanut butter. The process of layering it onto the wall is also a little like smoothing peanut butter onto a piece of bread and going all different directions until it stays perfectly smooth.

Gather your supplies

  • all purpose joint compound
  • Paint tray or 5 gallon bucket
  • mixing attachment for your drill
  • thick nap paint roller
  • spray bottle with water to thin you joint compound
  • wet rag
  • Magic Trowel
  • drop cloth (cover your floors)
  • drywall sander

If you’re doing a small room where you’ll only need one bucket, I’d choose a ready mix joint compound.  It costs about $15 for a 5 gallon bucket. So for $15 you get the mud and a bucket.

Dry joint compound is much cheaper.  You can get about 4 times the coverage with dry mix mud. If you’re doing a LOT of skim coating, dry is probably a cost effective option.  You still need the 5 gallon bucket which runs about $4-5.

Step 4

To skim coat around the tile and fixtures, I taped it all off as I would have had I been painting. The joint compound is super easy to clean-up once it’s dry, because it’s basically dried powder. I used the ladder to reach the tops of the walls. I decided against skim coating the ceiling (I’m planning to add some wood planks eventually).

Once the skim coat has dried, examine it for major rough areas, or fallen globs of mud. These can all be carefully smoothed with some sandpaper. Once the walls are smoothed and sanded, you’re ready to paint or add wallpaper!

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Level the walls with drywall compound if the texture is too deep for complete removal. Apply an initial coat of drywall compound to fill in major holes and deep depressions. Use a taping knife to level the wall surface and scrape away excess compound. After the initial application dries, apply a second coat of drywall compound to level out the surface. Allow the second coat to dry completely. Sand the wall with 120 to 150 grit sandpaper to ensure a smooth flat surface.

Things You Will Need

  • Spray bottle

  • Drywall knife

  • 120- to 150-grit sandpaper

  • Drywall compound

  • Taping knife

Tip

Don’t apply paint-removing chemicals on your walls. It’s easier and less harmful to resurface the wall than to remove existing paint with chemicals.

Warning Avoid sandpaper grit that is too harsh for drywall because it can damage the surface of the wall and cause uneven dips in the drywall.

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