Has anyone ever tried to put wallpaper over old spongy ceiling tiles?
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No! Get someone to check if the ceiling has Polystyrene tiles or Fibreboard tiles etc. Get some quites to remove them (That should tell you what they are) and then decide if you want to do it yourself or have it done for you, or leave it as it is and just emulsion paint over them. To remove would be a messy job!
Have you taken any of the tiles down and looked at them closely?
Sounds like the tile is wet.
Wall paper won't adhere well to a wet surface.
You need to fix what every caused the tile to become spongy first.
We had our bathroom redone a few years back and the company used the ceiling tiles with fiberglass and that worked well until we had the whirlpool tub removed and a shower put in and a new ceiling fan installed over the shower. Now the tiles need replacing and we can no longer find the fiberglass tiles. The area for the tile depth only allows for 2", so we are limited. Seriously thinking about plastic squares, like they have over fluorescent light fixtures.
Wallpaper would not hold well, but, it is a creative idea.
I painted my tiles white, They were sort of off white with brownish edges. Used roller on tiles and cut in brown edge with a brush. Looked so nice and clean. Used water based paint...not enamel.