Sneaky Pests That May Be Lurking In Your Popcorn Ceilings

Your popcorn ceiling looks like the moon's surface: pockmarked with craters and coated in soft dust. Unlike that lifeless rocky satellite locked in motion with our planet, this cottage cheese-like decorative feature could harbor all manner of creepy crawlies. Spiders, dust mites, phorid flies, cockroaches, scorpions, carpet beetles... even dreaded bed bugs might reside in its crevices. Popcorn ceilings were at the peak of popularity during and just after the mid-20th century, favored for their purported ability to soundproof a room and hide imperfections. The material is sprayed on, making them cheaper to install than smooth plaster. Many homes have popcorn ceilings even today — between the labor required and possible asbestos contamination, they can be a hassle to remove.

If you're unlucky enough to have popcorn ceilings, what pests could they be hiding? First up, and perhaps most alarmingly, bed bugs. Despite their moniker, it's a myth that bed bugs only inhabit mattresses. Yes, they can climb walls and will happily do so if it means finding a daytime hiding spot from which they can emerge in the wee hours to pray on their sleeping victims. "The attractant is not the bed itself but the warm-blooded person that lays in it quietly for hours at a time," says entomologist and Virginia Tech associate professor Dr. Dini M. Miller via NBC News.

Spiders, dust mites, and beetles ... Oh my!

Abandoned spider webs are difficult to remove and may stain your textured ceiling. The tiny nooks and crannies in the ceiling collect dust, which hosts armies of sometimes allergy-causing dust mites. Like bed bugs, ticks may hide in the ceiling's tiny crevices. Cockroaches and scorpions don't live in popcorn ceilings, but they find the popcorn texture easy to cling to — they use the ceiling as a highway to safely get from one room to another in your home. If you see phorid flies congregating on the ceiling, it's a sign your plumbing has sprung a leak. They're attracted to moisture. Carpet beetles bury themselves in popcorn plaster; look for burrows, egg casings, and plaster dust.

Before attempting to clean a popcorn ceiling or remove pests, get an asbestos check — a common material in ceilings crafted before the 1980s, per a 2016 paper on asbestos-related lung cancer incidences published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. Asbestos isn't harmful if left undisturbed, but damaged ceilings pose a risk. If your popcorn ceiling is asbestos-free, proceed! Remove spider webs with duct tape — sticky side out — wrapped around a paint roller. Paint the ceiling, cover it using planks, give it a flat drywall finish (and then paint over that), or remove it entirely to reduce the texture critters hide in or cling to. If you have phorid flies, you need to treat the leak. Large infestations of any pest may require professional pest control.