How To Fix Your Leaking Ceiling

Things You’ll Need

  • Drop cloths or tarps
  • Ladder
  • Bucket
  • Screwdriver
  • Utility knife
  • Saw
  • Power drill
  • Trowel
  • Screws
  • Drywall
  • Drywall paper (optional)
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Lightweight or all-purpose drywall compound

Step 7: Checking for leaks outdoors

Take your bucket or pressure washer, and go outside to your suspected areas on your roofing material, using your painter’s tape as a guide. Spray the suspected area with water while looking up at the ceiling inside. Look out for drips appearing right over the top of the tape. If no drips appear, then move further away from the original spot you were taping off and try again. Continue this process until you find exactly where the leak is coming from. 


Why Your Ceiling May Be Leaking

Here are some common causes of ceiling leaks.

Toilet Leak

Toilet leaks can come from the water or supply tank, but some of the most dangerous water leaks that may affect ceilings come from the worn wax ring.

Water seeps through the wax ring when you flush and may start running behind the walls, dripping down pipes, and causing water damage on your ceiling. This moistens the drywall, producing wet spots.  

Shower Leak

Shower leaks may be difficult to detect at first since all of the plumbing is buried in a wall and surrounded by tiles. 

Your ceiling leak may be caused by an upstairs shower if the tiles or flooring are peeling or curling near the shower. Worn out caulking or holes in water supply lines may be the culprits.

Sink Leak

You may not notice your sink is leaking until there is water pooling on the floor. By that point, the cabinet doors may be damaged and moldy at the bottom. The water leaking from your sink may be coming from:

  • The supply hoses
  • Damaged caulk
  • Loose P-trap connectors
  • A loose strainer or a strainer that needs to be replaced

Roof Leak

There are many reasons why your roof might be leaking. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Holes
  • Missing or damaged shingles
  • Gutter problems
  • Ridge caps and valleys
  • Vents, skylights, and chimneys

Roof leaks typically cause larger water spots to your ceiling that brown and grow mold quickly if left unchecked. Every time it rains, the spot may get bigger, and water may also run down your walls. You may have to go up onto your roof to assess the problem further so you can see what the leak is being caused by.

Leak in Ceiling Repair Process

Now that you have located the leaky spot, it’s tim

Now that you have located the leaky spot, it’s time to do something about it. A leak in ceiling repair is tricky, but chances are you can do it. Here’s the step-by-step process.

Step 1. Stabilize the Situation

You don’t want to risk any more damage being done, especially if you have a severe leak. Move any valuables from the area to ensure they remain safe.

If the water is leaking heavily, take a bucket and place it underneath to contain any water. Even if you have a smaller leak, having a bucket in the spot is a good idea.

You never know how much water can go through the ceiling the next second. To ensure everything goes into the bucket, create a small hole in the ceiling.

Do this by using a screwdriver or awl. This is especially recommended if your ceiling is covered in drywall, as it absorbs water or disperses it. By doing this, you are directing water towards the bucket.

Step 2. Locate the Leak

Now, you have to find the exact spot of the leak. Even if you have to cut up a spot in your ceiling as we’ve mentioned, don’t panic.

The damage is minimal compared to what could happen if you don’t locate the exact spot.

If the trick we’ve mentioned before doesn’t work, try laying toilet paper sheets along ceiling joist and pipes. The toilet paper will quickly show when it gets in contact with water.

This will help you in your search.

Step 3. Dry Everything

Before you start the leak in ceiling repair, make sure everything is completely dried. Not only will this help you fix everything, but leaving the ceiling cavity wet can cause mold.

If you have a minor leak, it will likely dry on its own. However, if you have a more massive leak, you should dry it out with the fan.

Step 4. Repair the Damage

When everything is prepared, it’s time to repair the roof damage. How will you do this depends on the size and type of your leak. If you have a small hole, try touching it up a little bit.

However, it is always better to find a way to repair the roof physically.

If you have significant damage, you may need to replace an entire chimney, vent, or even a whole roof! Never try to simply cement the bigger holes, as this will only delay the big problem. Be careful with waterproof sealants.

If you have to replace an entire ceiling, remove the damaged drywall first. This will likely expose ceiling joists, which will make the entire process much easier.

Once you’ve replaced the faulty part, paint everything to hide the previous damage.

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.

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.

Safety Considerations

Investigating and stopping ceiling leaks can place you in the way of any number of household dangers: lead-based paint in the ceiling; asbestos in the ceiling insulation or on pipe wrap; or black mold behind drywall or in insulation. Climbing ladders into attics or onto roofs may cause you to fall. Falls are a leading cause of household injuries or death.

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How to Repair a Ceiling Damaged by Leaks

  1. Remove all water-logged ceiling drywall and insulation.
  2. Cut back the drywall (even undamaged drywall) to the nearest joists.
  3. Add two-by-fours along the joists to provide an attachment surface for the drywall screws.
  4. Cut a to the size of the missing panel.
  5. With an assistant, lift the drywall into place.
  6. Screw the drywall onto the joists with a cordless drill and drywall screws. Space the screws every 7 to 8 inches along the edges and every 12 inches in the field (or center area).

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

2. Lay tarp or drop cloths

It’s a good idea to place a bucket underneath the leak to catch dripping water, as well as water that may be released once you start draining it. This way, your floors will be protected from water damage.

Why is there a leak in my ceiling?

There are many reasons why you might leak into your ceiling. The first thing that you should do (before going to the store and buying supplies) is to determine whether or not this type of leak can be treated through simple repairs.

Image Credit:
Image Credit:

Identify the source of the leak by checking the roof. It’s possible that there may be an issue with one of your roof tiles, or that it simply needs to be tightened/replaced. Check inside and out for any cracks on your walls, as water can trickle through those as well. Also, make sure nothing opened up while it was raining – like a window screen.

4. Fix the ceiling leak

Once you’ve identified the source of the leak, you can go about fixing it to prevent future damage.

If the leak is coming from your attic, you can use any durable material to temporarily block it, including a wooden plank or spare shingling.

You will need roofing tar to secure the patch to fix the problem. If the leak is coming through the roof, you can patch it with tarp but will likely need to call a roofing specialist to fix the problem.

Faulty air conditioning, and plumbing problems under a kitchen or bathroom are also common causes of ceiling leaks.


A plumber can help you identify what caused the leak. Typically, old, corroded pipes are the most susceptible to developing holes. Excessively high water pressure can also loosen pipes at their connections and make a leak there.

In some cases, clogs can cause enough pressure buildup to create leaks in pipe joints. If you notice slow and gurgling drains in your home or water backing up into your sink or shower, you should contact a professional about drain cleaning.

At Jackson Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, we tackle plumbing jobs of all sizes throughout Madison & Morgan Counties. To get help from one of our expert plumbers, give us a call at (256) 304-8883 or contact us online.


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