Those old popcorn ceilings really are horrible - they collect spider webs and dust and they are just plain ugly and old fashioned. If your house has them, it isn't too tough to remove, as long as they do not contain Asbestos. This example was from a house built in 1978, that did not contain Asbestos, so it could safely be removed.
You start out with a spray bottle filled with warm water and a few drops of dish washing liquid or liquid hand soap. The soap helps the water penetrate the texture. Spray the water generously on the area to be removed and let it soak in for about five minutes. Spray one more time, just before scraping, then grab your putty knife and scrape away. I use a four and six inch knife. The smaller knife is for stubborn areas. This ceiling was a real bummer to scrape, because it had been painted, which made it take longer to soften up and it did a better job of repelling the water, but persistence and sweat paid off and it all came down. Before you start scraping, make sure you have a layer of plastic on the floor to catch all of the texture. When the job is complete, you simply roll up the plastic with the texture and your floor will be relatively clean. If the texture has never been painted, you can sometimes use a floor scraper. The long handle of a floor scraper can really save your neck and back some of the torture of scraping up close to the ceiling.
This picture shows the ceiling after it is scraped. One of the reason popcorn texture was sprayed on ceilings, was to save time in drywall preparation. The finish quality of taped joints and nail and screw impressions did not have to be very high if you were going to cover it with a quarter inch of gloppy goo. The heavy work is not completed at this point. The joints and defects must now be re-coated just like a fresh drywall job has to be, after it is taped and coated once. The final coat was never done with popcorn texture. In the picture you can see the nails and joints. This final ceiling will be an imperfect smooth finish, which is not a normal texture. It will look like an old fashioned plaster job, when it is completed. The next step is to break out the hawk and trowel. The joints will receive a coat of mud, then the whole ceiling will troweled to completely cover it. It will be ready to paint after a light sanding. Imperfect smooth leaves some of the tool marks and light defects to have the appearance of a hand finished plaster coat. I use a swimming pool trowel with round corners for the final coat.
The last picture here shows the finish coat in progress. You can see the tool marks and overlaps in the mud. It will be sanded to reduce, but not eliminate those marks. They are part of the character of the final product.
Imperfect smooth finished walls and ceilings have the solid old world craftsman feel of an old lath and plaster home. It is definitely more work than a spray on texture job, but well worth the extra effort.