Drywall Tape Separating from the Ceiling? [Do These 8 Things]

To repair loose drywall tape on the ceiling, start by cutting out the damaged section of tape. Then, sand the area to prep the surface. Next, use a putty knife to spread a thin layer of joint compound along the drywall seam. Cut a piece of tape to fit the gap and place it along the seam. Apply joint compound over the tape and smooth it until the tape is wrinkle-free. Once the joint compound is dry, sand it to a smooth finish. Add joint compound over the tape up to 3 times to achieve a smooth finish. After sanding your final coat of joint compound, you’re ready to paint your ceiling to hide the patch.

Drywall tape separating from ceiling

Why is Your Drywall Tape Separating from the Ceiling?

The most common reason drywall tape separates from the ceiling is due to the building shifting and settling over time. As this happens, two pieces of drywall move out of alignment. When this occurs, the tape pops free along the seam between the two drywall sheets. However, if the tape was installed improperly during construction, this may also lead to tape separating from the ceiling. Usually, this occurs if too little joint compound was used.

  • The house is settling.
  • Poor installation.
  • Water damage.

Water leaks are a major cause of drywall tape separating from a ceiling. Water destroys the bond between the tape and the joint compound, resulting in loose tape. If there is an outline where water soaked the ceiling, this probably loosened the tape. In this case, the roof leak must be repaired before you fix the drywall tape. If you do not fix the leak, your new drywall tape will be destroyed the next time water leaks in.

8 Steps to Repair Drywall Tape that is Separating from the Ceiling

You can repair a loose, bulging, or damaged portion of drywall tape on your ceiling easily. Begin by setting up a sturdy ladder so you can work in the area. Then, follow the steps below to tackle the job:

Remove the Old Tape

Use a sharp utility knife to cut away the loose section of tape. Make a straight cut across the tape 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the loose section. Then, make a second cut through the tape 1 inch below the loose section. Discard the tape. It is much better to use new tape to patch the area. Trying to get old tape to stick properly is seldom successful. Simply applying new joint compound over old, loose tape results in a wrinkled, unattractive finish.

Sand the Area

After removing the loose tape, sand the area along the drywall seam with this 120-grit sanding block. Remove any loose or uneven joint compound, as well as any debris. If your ceiling has texture. It is okay to sand it off during this step. It is important to smooth the area along the seam so it can accept new joint compound and tape.

Apply New Joint Compound

With the joint sanded, use a putty knife to spread a thin layer of joint compound along both sides of the seam. Do not try to fill the seam between drywall pieces with joint compound. You will waste compound and won’t get good results. This layer of joint compound is just meant to create a surface the tape can stick to. The tape itself will hide the gap between drywall pieces.

Add Tape over the Joint Compound

With the joint ready for taping, cut a piece of this paper drywall tape to size. Cut the tape 1 inch longer than the exposed seam. Then, position the tape so that it covers the exposed seam and overlaps onto the existing tape at each end. This will ensure a gap-free finish. Press one end of the tape into place, then use your putty knife to smooth the tape so it sticks to the joint compound you added in the previous step.

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Smooth Joint Compound Over Tape

With the tape in place, use your putty knife to add a thin layer of joint compound over the tape. Make sure the tape has no wrinkles or bubbles. If a bubble does form under the tape, use your putty knife to pull it from the center of the tape toward the edges. By guiding the bubble toward the edge of the tape, you can release the air trapped under the tape. This will result in a smooth finish.

Sand Your Joint Compound

Wait 24 hours for your joint compound to dry. Then, sand the entire patched area with 120-grit sandpaper. Make sure to remove ridges and rough areas of the joint compound. Don’t sand too much—going too far can expose the tape and damage it. Instead, sand to smooth the compound, but don’t expose the edges of the tape.

Use Multiple Coats of Joint Compound

Plan to use at least 3 coats of joint compound to hide your drywall tape so it doesn’t show through. After smoothing a new coat of joint compound over the area, wait 24 hours for it to dry, and then sand. Repeat this process until the edges of the tape are hidden and the patch is smooth. For your final sanding, use this 220-grit sanding block. It will remove small imperfections and create a flawless surface.

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Add Texture and Paint

If you are repairing loose tape on a ceiling with texture, check out our article on how to fix drywall tape on a textured ceiling. It contains specific steps for repairing texture. Once you’ve restored the texture over the tape, prime and paint the entire ceiling. Painting only the patched area will result in uneven color. So, it’s best to repaint the entire ceiling in the room.

How Do You Fix Drywall Tape Separating from the Ceiling?

To repair drywall tape that has begun to separate from the ceiling, you should:

  • Cut out the loose section of tape with a utility knife.
  • Sand the ceiling area under the old tape with 120-grit sandpaper.
  • Spread a thin layer of new joint compound along the seam.
  • Cut a piece of tape to the length of the gap and place it over the seam.
  • Apply joint compound over the new tape until the area is smooth.
  • Wait 24 hours, then sand the joint compound with 120-grit sandpaper.
  • To get a smooth finish, add 1 to 2 more coats of joint compound. Sand after each coat hardens.
  • Paint your entire ceiling to hide the patch.

These steps will result in a professional patch job every time. Just remember to be patient. If your joint compound has ridges or visible edges, sand and apply another coat of compound. After 2 to 3 coats, your newly taped section will blend in with the surrounding ceiling.

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