How To Fix Water Damaged Drywall Ceilings

Determining Water Damage to Drywall

Because the gypsum drywall is porous and soluble in water, getting it wet can turn into a major headache. Wet drywall will absorb water and grow heavy to pull off from screw or nails that hold it in place. In the case where drywall does get wet and just begins to sag before drying out, fixing it might just require pushing it back into place, securing it with some new screws, and then painting over it with some stain-killing paint.

However, if the drywall gets soft and smushy, then it’s very likely the gypsum will crumble and the paper will separate when the area dries. In that case, you’ll need to cut out these water-damaged sections as soon as possible. When assessing how to repair ceiling drywall when it’s wet and sagging, it’s possible that it could have water ponding above you. To drain it in a controlled fashion, poke a hole through it with a nail to let the water drain out. Place a bucket underneath to catch the water.

Wet drywall can absorb water, so it’s also a magnet for mold. The moisture makes a perfect environment, and mold spores feast on the paper. So whether you’re cleaning up from a leak in your attic or a flood, you need to repair water damaged drywall as soon as possible. You also want to make sure that the damaged area is thoroughly dry before you begin patching and repairing.

Because mold and mildew can be a serious health hazard, it’s not unusual in cases when flooding is less than 12 inches to remove up to 18 inches of drywall. However, FEMA recommends that if the water level was less than 2 ½ feet, the wall material should be removed to a height of 4 feet. As drywall comes in 4’ x 8’ sheets, this makes it easier to replace the damage with full sheets. If the water level was greater than 2 ½ feet, the wall material should be removed to a height of 8 feet or up to the ceiling joint, whichever is higher.



Track Down and Repair

Next, it’s time to track down and repair the source. Water can travel a surprising distance from the initial leak, and roof leaks in particular can be tough to isolate. Even in an apparently simple situation, such as when a bathroom is directly above the stain, there are still a number of potential sources for the water. It could be a leaking drain, loose supply line, or missing caulk.

You may need to cut a hole in the ceiling in order to see where the water is coming from, and if you’re having trouble re-creating the leak, you might try the old trick of laying sheets toilet paper along pipes and ceiling joists. The toilet paper will clearly show any reaction to moisture, allowing you to narrow the scope of your search.

How to find and fix roof leaks.

What are the dangers of wet drywall ceilings and walls?

Soaked drywall in a water damaged ceiling can be dangerous in several ways. Wet drywall can collapse from the weight once the gypsum is soaked and starts to break down, and fall in on the occupants. Water can seep to other areas of your home causing electrical hazards, further damage, threatening the structural integrity of your home, or the moisture can lead to dangerous toxic mold growth in your home.

Step 2: Identifying the Source of the Water

It can be hard to find the source if the water travels far from the source of the leak and ends up in an unexpected place. However, keep in mind that ceiling leaks generally start from one of two places: the roof or plumbing. Water damage that is directly below an attic or roof, the culprit could be a leaky roof that’s been damaged by hail or an ice dam, or an issue with your chimney, caused by storm damage or age. Clogged gutters can also cause water issues near your roof line. Watch for these other signs to suspect to roof:

  • The ceiling appears wet during or soon after rainfall
  • Insulation is wet in the attic
  • The water is brown (it’s bringing dirt with it)

If you have a two-story home, water on a first-floor ceiling is most likely coming from a frozen, burst pipe or other plumbing issue upstairs. If the water damage is below plumbing pipes, such as a bathroom or kitchen, watch for these other signs:

  • There is no weather event
  • The leak is steady
  • The water is clear

In any case, a property restoration professional can assess your situation to identify the source of the water and find a permanent solution, before you undertake any cosmetic repairs.

4. The Repair Process

Use sandpaper to smooth any ridges and bumps that have been left. Then continue by filling all the small holes with a joint compound, letting it dry, and then smoothing it down again. For the other times where you cut out the damaged areas of the drywall, measure the size of the hole and then cut out a new piece of drywall 2 inches wider and longer than the previous hole. This new piece will fill the hole.

Remember to always start with a bigger piece that can be cut down with a utility knife. Once the adhesive has dried, make sure to repeat the process of filling the holes with a joint compound and smoothing. 

Please hire a restoration company to put in complete slabs of drywall panels or work on ceiling repairs. The task can be daunting by yourself as drywall is heavy, and keeping it steady can be challenging. 

What Are the Signs of Ceiling Water Damage?

Thankfully, most signs of ceiling leaks are easy to see. Water spots on the ceiling are common, but water dripping or leaking is a more urgent problem. If you have any of the following signs, find and fix the water leak right away. After you fix the leak, you still need to repair the ceiling water damage.

Water Leaks From the Ceiling

You should always treat water leaking from your ceiling as a major problem. In most cases, you can find the leak easily. Look at the plumbing above the damage for leaks or overflows. If the roof is directly above the ceiling, look for damaged shingles.

Sagging Ceiling

A sagging ceiling is also a sign of a ceiling leak. As the water saturates the ceiling material, it also weakens it. The weight of the water will then cause the ceiling to start to sag. Although most common in drop tile ceilings, water can also cause drywall and plaster ceilings to sag as well. Typically, a sagging ceiling indicates a moderate water leak or issue.

Peeling Paint or Cracked Plaster

Another sign of a ceiling leak is peeling paint or plaster. This is most common with a small leak that leaves the ceiling wet for a long time. Over time, the water causes the paint to bubble or peel. Wet plaster shrinks and expands, causing cracks.

Yellowish-Brown Water Spots

Yellowish-brown water spots on the ceiling also mean you have a problem. These water spots mean the leak is small enough that the area has time to dry. Repeated or inconsistent leaks will form rings as the water spreads further from the source over time. Even if they feel dry to the touch, water spots on the ceiling mean you have a leak somewhere.

How to repair wet drywall

Always take proper safety precautions. Turn off circuit breakers if there has been water near them. If you are dealing with drying out and painting over stains that is simple. Wear a mask and rubber gloves.

If you are repairing drywall, the damaged materials will need to be cut out with a utility knife and removed. You may also have to remove damaged studs, flooring or ceilings. Be sure you are up to the job!

Dry the entire area around and inside the walls. Use fans and blowers and open doors and windows to speed up the process.

Sanitize the walls using a commercial sanitizer to prevent mold and bacteria from forming in the walls.

Measure the size of the hole you are replacing. Cut the piece out of a sheet of drywall, Attach the new piece to the hole using drywall clips and drywall screws. Use drywall tape and some joint compound to blend it with the surrounding area. Sand the area until smooth. You are ready to paint once the surface is fully dried.

Step 4: Prime and Paint

Apply with a large paintbrush or roller applicator. Make sure you cover the entire surface of the wall.


Open windows to make sure you prime and paint in a well-ventilated area.

Pour True Value EasyCare® Ultra Premium Interior Paint into a paint tray and coat your roller or paintbrush. Paint widthwise in 6-ft. square sections, using a zigzag pattern of overlapping “W” strokes. Move from right to left, then left to right, spreading evenly with vertical strokes.

To ensure even coverage, use light strokes to re-roll across the ceiling and paint from the bottom to the top of each wall. If your paint has a flat finish, you don’t need to blend. Otherwise, to blend, paint over the entire surface (for very large areas, do two square sections at a time) with one-directional, overlapping, non-diagonal strokes once again.

Using a small, angular paintbrush, do wall brushwork in areas where your roller can’t reach, like the corners and next to doors, windows and molding.

If necessary, apply a second coat of paint using the same technique as the first. You don’t have to let the paint completely dry between coats, but your results will be better the longer you wait.

2. Dry Out Damaged Areas  

Before removing the damaged drywall, you have to dry out the affected areas. Place down a drop cloth or tarp to protect the floor and catch any dust and debris created when removing the damaged drywall. If the ceiling’s drywall has a bulging area, puncture it to release the water and have a bucket in place to catch all the water.

Take the time to ensure that all areas are completely dry — above and below. 

Fixing Water-Damaged Ceiling Drywall

Fixing Water-Damaged Ceiling Drywall

If you’ve confirmed that your drywall ceiling has been water damaged by checking for the signs above, acting quickly is essential.

The longer the drywall remains soaked in water, the weaker it gets, and the less structural integrity your roof has. It also gives mold the chance to grow, which is another hazard you must avoid.

Before you can fix it, though, you need to identify what caused the damage in the first place and what brought the moisture into the home. Damage may be easy to spot, like a recent storm or a fallen tree. However, sometimes it can be hard to identify. Plumbers may be able to get up into your attic to identify the source or find an exterior leak.


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