How to Paint Over Water Stains on Ceiling

water stains on ceiling

water stains on ceilingIf you’re doing some spring cleaning, fixing up or doing some upgrades, you may want to look up. Do you see any water stains?

If you have a leaky roof, any plumbing leaks or if a toilet overflowed on the second floor, you may see water stains on your ceiling. You can’t simply clean up or paint over them. You really need to learn how to paint over water stains on ceiling the right way so the stains won’t continue to show through.

How to Paint Over Water Stains on Ceiling

It’s not that hard to make your ceiling look fresh and clean again, even with an unsightly water stain. It just takes a few simple tools and steps and you can fix the trouble area and have a fresh, clean ceiling.

What You Need to Do the Job Safely:

  • Protective gloves and glasses
  • Ladder
  • Drop cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint roller, brush or spray bottle
  • Bleach
  • Good primer
  • Ceiling paint

1. Find and Fix the Leaks

You may have already fixed the cause of the stains, but if not, check your roof and plumbing for any leaks and make the repairs. You don’t want to clean up the stains and end up having more stains later on.

Also, leaks that aren’t fixed will cause more damage than just water stains, so make sure that whatever caused those stains in the first place is completely repaired before cleaning up the ceiling.

2. Protect the Floor

Lay out some drop cloth on the floor before you start any cleaning or painting. You need to protect the floor or you’ll be fixing that after you fix the ceiling.

3. Protect Walls and Trim

If the stain is near any trim or wall surface, cover those areas with painter’s tape before you use anything on the ceiling.

4. Protect Yourself-Safety first!

Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands. You’ll be using bleach, so you don’t want that getting on your hands while you’re working. It’s also advisable that you protect your eyes from any bleach drops, so you should also wear protective goggles or glasses.

Don’t Forget about Ladder

ladderIf the stain is in the middle of the ceiling and you need to use a ladder, make sure the ladder is tall enough so you can reach the stain without standing on the top two rungs, which could cause the ladder to tip over.

If necessary, either buy or borrow a taller ladder that allows you reach the ceiling comfortably without stretching.

If you have standard height ceilings and not cathedral ceilings, you can also put a longer handle on a paint roller so you don’t need to use a ladder at all.

5. Clean the Problem Area

Start by cleaning up the stain as much as possible. Make a solution of one part bleach to three parts warm water. The solution will fade the stain while getting rid of any mildew odors and residue that will keep primer and paint from adhering to the surface.

You can use a sponge or spray bottle to clean the ceiling. Remember that this is a water-based solution so it may drip, which is why wearing protective gloves and glasses is important.

If you’re using a sponge, dip the sponge into the solution and rub the surface of the stain until it starts to fade and you’re sure you removed any other residue. If you use a spray bottle, simply spray the area and wipe it away with a clean cloth.

If you’re working on a textured or popcorn ceiling, just dab at the stain until it starts to fade.

Once you see the stain is fading, you might be tempted to skip the next step and go straight to repainting. However, blocking the stain with an oil-based primer is necessary for keeping the stain from bleeding through a fresh paint job.

6. Block the Stain from Resurfacing

It’s critical that you do not skip this step. Most interior latex paints are water soluble, meaning that water stains will seep into the paint and bleed right through. That’s why you need an oil-based primer to block the stain once it starts to fade.

Use primer

You can buy a stain blocking primer. Primer will cover the stain while blocking the stain from bleeding through once you paint that area.

If you have a popcorn style or textured ceiling, a spray can will work better and help to avoid the paint from dripping. You can also use a thick napped paint roller on a textured ceiling to make sure you cover everything evenly.

If you don’t have a paint color to match the rest of the ceiling, you should use the primer to cover all surface before you repaint the whole ceiling so it matches.

Once you apply the primer, let it dry completely. If the stain is gone, you can move on to painting it. You can also apply a second coat of the primer just to be sure that the stain won’t ever seep through and bleed through the paint.

Step 6. Paint the Ceiling

Use a sprayer, paint roller or brush to paint over the primer with a color that matches the rest of the ceiling. Again, if you used primer on the entire ceiling then you need to repaint the whole ceiling.

If you have a paint that will match the problem area to the rest of the ceiling, you will only need to prime and paint that stained area. Once dry, the newly painted area will blend in to the rest of the surface.

If you need to change the color on the stained area, you will probably need to primer and paint the entire ceiling so the area you fixed won’t stand out.

You want your ceiling to be eye-catching but not because one section of the surface seems discolored.

Keep Your Ceilings Looking Great

It’s important to find and fix any water leaks in your home since these leaks can turn into mold and mildew damage to more than just the ceilings. Water can drain down through the walls and flooring, causing significant damage if not found and fixed quickly.

If you find water stains on any part of your ceiling, don’t neglect it and just dive right into fixing the stain without finding the cause of it, especially if the stains have a yellow or green tint to them with an accompanying odor. That means the dampness sat long enough to cause mold and only bleach will kill it.

Besides leaky pipes or roof leaks, if you or anyone in your household loves taking steamy hot baths or showers, the steam will rise and may accumulate as water drops on the ceiling. Over time, you may start seeing brown water stains on the bathroom ceiling.

If you have drop-ceiling tiles in the bathroom, you may just need to replace those stained tiles periodically to avoid any mold or mildew problems due to the dampness.


If you’ve invested in high-quality ceiling fans or chandeliers in your home, it’s important to know how to paint over water stains in case you do run into a problem with leaks and water damage.

Don’t let any brown water stains cause a dark spot on your ceilings and take away from the beauty of lighting fixtures, let alone cause any mold and mildew odors. If you see even a small spot on your ceiling, find out how it got there and make the repairs immediately to avoid any further damage.

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