How to Fix Water Stains on Your Ceiling

How to Fix Water Stains on Ceilings

If you notice water stains on your ceiling, it’s important to act fast. These stains tell you that you have a problem in another part of your home that needs to be fixed. Not to mention, ceiling stains are unsightly and can ruin the entire decor of your home. Here’s how to fix water stains on your ceiling:

1. Figure Out the Root Cause and Fix It

The most crucial part of fixing water stains is to figure out the cause of the water stains. If you do not determine where the water is coming from, the stain will only come back, and you will waste a lot of money and time in the process.

Most often, water stains on the ceiling are caused by problems with your roof, radiator, or bathroom. You will want to evaluate all these potential causes until you determine the root cause. If you cannot determine where the leak is coming from, contact a professional.

After you determine the cause, you need to rectify it immediately. Most likely, you will need to contact a professional who specializes in the area that is leaking. For example, you will need a professional roofer if the roof is to blame, but you’ll need an HVAC professional if the radiator is the culprit.

It’s essential that you get Step 1 squared away before moving on to the next steps. This is the number one priority when it comes to fixing a water stain on your ceiling. If you don’t do this step correctly, all your work on the other steps will be worthless.

2. Use Bleach to Clean Stain

After the cause of the water damage is fixed, you can move on to dealing with the stain itself. Luckily, you have already tackled the hardest part of the job once you have finished Step 1. To begin cleaning the stain, you need to thoroughly clean the area.

Mix 1 cup bleach and 3 cups of warm water to create a homemade bleach solvent. This solvent will help to fade the stain, but it will, more importantly, remove mold, mildew, dust, dirt, grease, or any other item on the ceiling and prevent the paint from clinging to it.

Before applying solvent to your ceiling, make sure to add a drop cloth on the floor underneath the ceiling so that the bleach doesn’t drip onto your carpet or floor. Also, wear appropriate protective equipment.

Use a damp sponge to apply the bleach solvent directly to the stain. Rinse off any remaining bleach using a spray bottle. Wipe down any excess moisture and dampness using a clean cloth. Allow the area to dry thoroughly.

Image Credit: kropekk_pl, Pixabay
Image Credit: kropekk_pl, Pixabay

3. Prime the Stain

After you have cleaned the stain, you then need to prime it. It is imperative to prime the stain before painting it to ensure that the stain does not show through your layer of paint. Make sure that the area is thoroughly dried before grabbing your primer.

Use an oil-based and stain-blocking primer to cover the affected area. You want the primer to be as close to the ceiling’s current color as possible, though it will likely be a couple of shades darker. That is perfectly fine at this stage. How you should apply the primer depends on the texture of ceiling you have.

4. Paint the Stain

Finally, paint up the shade. Make sure that the paint you select matches the rest of the ceiling. Once again, make sure that the primer is dry before you begin painting. Apply one coat of paint, allow it to dry, then apply a second coat. Once this second coat dries, everything should look uniform again.

Image Credit: Malikov Aleksandr, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Malikov Aleksandr, Shutterstock

4. Fix the Water Stains

After you and a roofing professional have gotten the problem under control, you are safe to start covering up the water stains on your ceiling. Make sure you clean the area first, and then prime and paint it with your paint color of choice.

You’ll want to use a stain-resistant primer so that you cover the spot fully, and discoloration doesn’t show through your paint.


Can you just paint over water damage?

Painting over a water stain can address the problem, but it only works after the source of the moisture is addressed. However, this method will cost more time and money than other more efficient strategies. If you don’t have the exact paint the match ceiling, it will be difficult to find something that fits the precise color and texture of the pre-existing paint. You’d likely have to paint the entire ceiling again to achieve a seamless finish.

Other Preventative Measures

There are other preventative measures you can take to keep water stains from ruining your ceilings. For one, utilize a water softener if hard water has overtaken your pipes. Scrape out and get rid of old caulking before you put in a new thickness. Most importantly, do an inspection yourself of your entire roof system, or bring in a professional to take a hard look.

Will you have to paint after bleaching a water stain?

If your ceiling is white, there’s a good chance you won’t have to repaint it after treating the stain with bleach. If, however, your ceiling is an off-white, cream, or any other color, the bleach will lighten the paint in that area. If that’s the case, see if you have any matching paint you can use to cover the lightened area. Otherwise, you may need to repaint the entire ceiling.

Side Effects Of A Leak

The most obvious consequence of a leak is a compromised structure due to damaged rafters, ceiling joists, wall framing, or exterior trim. Wet wood leads to deterioration and rot. Another side effect would be high utility bills caused by water intrusion which destroys the insulation in the attic area. Another side effect is mold. Do not just paint or cover up the damage. You will need to tear out the damaged portion of the ceiling. If mold is present you must kill all the mold spores or it will come back. At this point you may want to call a professional to make sure all is completely clean and dry and ready to replace and paint.

Stop the leak

Water leaks can be caused by worn gaskets or failed fittings. If your pipes appear dry but you suspect the leak still exists, try running water into the device above the stain. For example, fill up and drain your tub. That should be enough to expose the problem if it still exists.

If you have a leak, you can either hire a plumber or attempt to repair it yourself. Most plumbing repairs are fairly simple and can be performed by most willing homeowners. Some older water stains may have been from a plumbing leak that was repaired years ago, but the stain itself was never properly addressed.

Photo from Shutterstock.
Photo from Shutterstock.

How to cover water stains on ceiling?

Try the following steps to learn how to cover water stains on ceiling:

  • Empty the entire room or cover the furniture and other expensive things with a plastic sheet.
  • Scour the entire ceiling to remove dust and spider webs (if there are any).
  • Remove lose paint flakes.
  • Use diluted bleach to clean water stains.
  • Let the ceiling dry and then apply a thin coating of stain-sealing primer.
  • Wait until the primer dries and then paint the primed spots.
  • Let the first coat dry and then apply another coat.

That’s how to cover water stains on ceiling. If you don’t have a reliable stain-blocking primer, then buy the KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior Oil-Based Primer/Sealer.

  • Being one of the top-rated primers, the KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking primer can block smoke, water, tannin, pencil, ink, and grease stains. It also makes the paint stick better. Use this primer on the entire ceiling and then repaint it. There won’t be any stain on your ceiling for many years!

Buy on Amazon

Treat the Spot

Once you’ve found the source of the leak, give the ceiling plenty of time to dry before proceeding with a fix. While mold or mildew might not be visible, it’s best to assume that the stained area should be treated before painting the stain. There is some disagreement over whether bleach or vinegar is better at killing mold because of the different ways they work. Bleach kills surface mold, while vinegar soaks into the material you’re using it on. Wear gloves and use eye protection whether you use vinegar or bleach and lay a nonporous dropcloth under the work area.

Experts at Servicemaster Restore prefer vinegar at full strength. Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar, spray the stain and let the vinegar sit for an hour until it’s absorbed. If the stain persists, make a solution of 1 teaspoon baking soda and 2 cups of water and pour it in a clean spray bottle. Spray the stain with the solution and scrub. Pat the area with a cloth dampened with clean water to remove any residue. If you prefer not to use spray bottles, a sponge or soft cloth works as well.

If you choose to use bleach, Clorox recommends mixing 3/4 cup of bleach and a gallon of warm water. Brush or sponge the solution onto the stain and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before rinsing.

2. Call an Expert

Whether you can easily identify the problem or you’re not sure what the issue is, your next step should always be to call a professional. Water stains on the ceiling mean your home likely has water damage.

Water damage can be tough to repair properly. If you don’t treat water damage properly, the water could sit and turn into mold, which is much more difficult to treat and presents health risks to you and your family.

How to Cover the Water Stain on the Ceiling

Unfortunately, there are not too many ways to clean a water stain on the ceiling without using chemicals like bleach. 

1. Put a Drop Cloth on the Floor

  • With goggles on and gloves, put a drop cloth on the floor.  Then, take 3 glasses of warm water and one cup of bleach and mix it together.  Set up a ladder and climb up to the stain.  Use a sponge that is soaked in the concoction to rub it on the water stain to get it to come off.  Take a spray bottle of plain water and spray the stain to get the bleach mixture off.  This is important because you want to be able to prime it and paint it.  Take a dry towel and rub the stain to help it dry faster. 
  • Next, put painters tape around the ceiling if the spot is near the walls. 

2. Apply an Oil Based, Stain Blocking Primer

  • Apply an oil based, stain blocking primer that is mold resistant that matches the ceiling.  It is important to put the primer on first so the paint doesn’t soak into the ceiling.  If you have a flat ceiling, you can use a paint roller with an extension to apply it.  Once the primer has dried, apply the paint.  If you have a textured ceiling, a spray on primer might work better. 

3. Choose a Latex or Alkyd Ceiling Paint

  • The latex ceiling paint is water-based and dries faster than the oil-based paints and also is thicker than wall paint. Make sure that the paint matches the ceiling color. Using a roller, paint it on over the primer and let it dry for up to four hours. Then, apply a second coat and let it dry.  The second coat should make the stain disappear. 

If you want to try removing the stain and not paint over it, here is an idea of how to do that:


What does a water stain on the ceiling mean?

If there are stains on the ceiling, it means water is seeping through the ceiling material. It can damage the ceiling if you don’t find and repair the leak quickly.

Can you just paint over water damage?

Yes, you can paint over water damage but that paintwork won’t last more than a few days. Do not waste your money in this way. Find the root cause of water damage, fix it, let the ceiling or wall dry, and then paint.

How can you tell if a ceiling has water damage?

There will be brown or dark black stains on the ceiling. Mold and mildew build-up is another sign that your ceiling has water damage.

How long does it take for a ceiling to dry after a leak?

It takes 48-72 hours for a ceiling to dry. It may take a much longer time if you can prevent humid air from entering your house.

Does water stain ceiling mean mold?

No, water stain does not mean mold but it can be mold and mildew build-up due to moisture! Mold produces a musty smell. It is a sign that mold is forming in the ceiling and you should remove it as soon as possible to maintain proper hygiene in the house.

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