Artex ceilings: What you really need to know before getting rid of them

artex ceiling
(Image credit: jax10289/iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Artex ceilings were all the rage during the 1950s and 1980s. However, these days people are more likely to want to find ways to remove or conceal them than to incorporate them into their interior decor scheme. 

As types of ceiling go, textured plaster finishes such as Artex have really fallen out of favour, with smooth ceilings and walls now being the preferred option for most.

If you are living in a property with Artex ceilings or walls you may well be wondering what your options are. Perhaps you are wondering if you should have it removed or covered up or are wondering whether you can do this on a DIY basis?

Our guide has all the information you will need to take your ceiling from swirls and stipples to super smooth. Plus, we reveal what you really need to know before removing it.

What are Artex ceilings?

As types of plaster go, Artex is just one brand of textured surface coating and while the name now tends to be used to generically describe this type of finish, there are other similar products out there. 

Unlike smooth plaster ceilings, Artex was designed to be applied in a way that allowed the plasterer or decorator to create texture and pattern to it. Common designs include stipples, swirls, fans and shells or simply just an all-over 'bobbly' finish. 

artex ceiling

While Artex ceilings were very popular during the 1960s and well into the 1980s, they have now fallen out of favour.  (Image credit: Getty/Nicholas Free/iStock)

Does Artex contain asbestos?

What many people don't realise is that Artex did used to contain asbestos.

"Artex, Marblecoat, Newtex, Pebblecoat were some of the trade names for what we in the industry refer to as a ‘textured coating’ that used to contain asbestos and were used on ceilings and walls," explains Greg Byrne director at RB Asbestos Consultants.

"The asbestos would be present as a binding strengthening material within the textured coating with varying amounts up to 3%," continues Greg.

However, the use of asbestos within Artex has now been stopped. "Most manufacturers stopped the use of asbestos (generally Chrysotile ‘white’ asbestos) within their products around 1983," says Greg. 

"There can be no guarantee however that other textured coating products were not left over from that time or imported from other countries. The only safe approach is to have the material tested. All asbestos use was banned in the UK in August 1999."

How do you remove Artex?

Most homeowners choose to get rid of Artex ceilings, either by having them removed or by covering them up.

Unlike when repairing old ceilings covered with other types of plaster, the main issue with removing Artex is the potential presence of asbestos. While the ceiling remains intact and undisturbed, the asbestos poses no health threats, however once the asbestos fibres are tampered with or if the Artex becomes damaged, they can prove deadly. 

While Artex can be removed using a wallpaper steamer and by scraping it and sanding it off, this will be extremely dangerous if it contains asbestos. For this reason, it is vital that you call in the professionals to ascertain whether or not your Artex contains asbestos before trying to do anything on a DIY basis.  

"Anyone working on asbestos should have a license or appropriate training," says Greg Byrne.

The most common ways to remove Artex these days is to use a water-based product designed to dampen the Artex so that any potentially hazardous fibres and dust won't be released when the coating is scraped away. A particularly popular product is Eco Solutions X-Tex® Working Wet System

These kinds of products are painted onto the Artex surface to soften it, allowing it to be scraped off easily without any asbestos fibres becoming airborne. The sodden Artex simply falls away and can be bundled up and taken to the nearest refuse site accepting asbestos. 

If your Artex or plaster coating doesn't contain asbestos, you could sand it away, although this causes a considerable amount of dust, which is why using a wallpaper steamer is a better option, dampening the plaster and causing it to fall away.

artex in fan pattern

Artex was applied in a number of different patterns, such as fans, swirls and stippled designs.  (Image credit: Getty/Shaun Wilkinson/iStock)

Can you plaster over Artex?

Some people choose to leave their Artex well alone and have it skimmed by a plasterer. It is still advisable to get professional advice if the Artex is likely to contain asbestos.

Skimming is only an option where the Artex is in sound condition, with no sections falling away.

Skimming Artex is a trickier job than skimming plasterboard or a smoother surface and it is recommended that if any of the Artex surface protrudes by 5-10mm, a bonding coat is applied before the skim coat is applied. The skim coat will usually need to be thicker than usual to take into account the textured finish. 

"From speaking to plasterers, they don’t particularly like skimming over Artex as the bond between the skim and the Artex can fail over time," says Greg Byrne. "Particularly on ground floor ceilings where there is a bedroom above as the floor movement can make the skim coating fail more quickly."

Natasha Brinsmead

Natasha is Homebuilding & Renovating’s Associate Content Editor and has been a member of the team for over two decades. An experienced journalist and renovation expert, she has written for a number of homes titles. Over the years Natasha has renovated and carried out a side extension to a Victorian terrace. She is currently living in the rural Edwardian cottage she renovated and extended on a largely DIY basis, living on site for the duration of the project. She is now looking for her next project — something which is proving far harder than she thought it would be.