A water stain on a ceiling is usually more than just an eyesore. It is often an indication of a potentially bigger problem.

To fix a ceiling water stain problem, you need to first inspect the ceiling for the source of the problem. After identifying it, fix it and then clean the stained area with bleach. Thereafter, apply a primer to the area and then give it time to dry before finally covering it with several coats of an oil-based or latex-based ceiling paint.

Here is everything you need to know about water stains on ceilings, how to fix them, and how to keep your ceiling stain-free.

Water Stains on Ceiling How to Fix and Prevent Future Stains

Water stains on ceiling surfaces form because of a number of reasons. Here are the most likely reasons why you have a water stain on your ceiling.

Leaky roof

A roof can develop a leak when it is past its lifespan. Holes, cracks and gaps can thus form just because it’s worn out.

Physical impact can also be to blame for roof leaks. And so can a damaged waterproofing membrane, compromised seals around roof vents, and poor flashing installation.

Leaky pipes

A plumbing leak is one of the most common causes of water stains in a home. Stains on the ceiling are no exception.

Therefore, if you have stains on your ceiling, one of the first things you should do is to inspect your plumbing for any signs of damaged pipes, weakened seals or loose joints.


Moisture is a typical byproduct of the air conditioning process. As a result, HVAC systems have to not only collect but also get rid of any moisture that condenses.

Unfortunately, there are times when the collection or drainage process becomes problematic. When this happens, the moisture-handling system will cause a water leak. And so if you have an HVAC unit installed in your roof, it might be to blame for any water damage or water stains on your ceiling.

Upstairs bathroom

When an upstairs toilet clogs and overflows, it causes water spills. This may eventually result in water seeping into your ceiling especially if the bathroom has worn out, damaged, or poorly installed caulking.

Inadequate insulation

Ice dams sometimes form on roofs. In a home that has poor attic insulation, the formation of these dams will encourage condensation to form in the attic. Ceiling stains are likely to form when the resulting moisture drips onto the ceiling.

How to get rid of brown water stains on ceilings

You don’t need professional help to get rid of water stains from your ceiling.

It is something that you can do on your own. All you have to do is to follow the following steps.

Step 1: Wear protective gear

The first step in the process of fixing a water stain on the ceiling surface is to wear protective gear. This includes making sure that you are wearing a dust mask, a pair of safety glasses, and gloves before beginning the process.

Step 2: Inspect and fix the source of the moisture problem.

Ceiling water stains are mainly caused by leaks from an HVAC unit, plumbing, faulty roof, or an upstairs bathroom with worn-out caulking. Therefore, if you want to prevent future staining, you have to make sure that the leak is not only traced, but also plugged.

This may mean:

  • Checking your HVAC unit for clogged drainage tubes or faulty condensation pan. If it is the problem, then you will have to repair it or even replace it completely.
  • Inspecting your roof for any signs of wear and tear. This includes looking out for crumbling shingles, missing shingles, compromised weatherproofing material, or damaged roof tiles.
  • You should do this especially if the water stain seems to grow or get worse every time it rains. And if you can’t narrow down the water source, seek the help of a roofing contractor.
  • Check ceiling plumbing for any signs of plumbing leaks. This is so especially if the discoloration can be traced back to pipes in your roof. In such a case, repairing or replacing the pipe that has the leak, may be necessary.
  • If you have an upstairs bathroom, then checking it for loose or missing caulking is necessary. You should also confirm that it doesn’t have any leaking faucets or pipes. And if you have persistently overflowing toilets on the second floor of your building, calling a professional is always advisable.

Step 3: Prep the area

After fixing the underlying cause of the ceiling water stain, prep the room for the removal process.

To do so, start by opening windows and doors so as to ensure that the room is well ventilated. Good ventilation helps to reduce the odds of severe irritation from inhaling toxic fumes — from cleaning chemicals like bleach.

You should also cover your floor — directly under the damaged area — with plastic sheeting or a drop cloth.

Step 4: Remove the water stain

After making sure that your floor, and any other fixtures, are properly protected by a drop cloth or plastic sheeting, you can now begin the removal process. You will have the option of either removing it with bleach or painting over the stain with latex or oil-based paints. In some rare cases, replacing the ceiling might be necessary.

Here is what you should know about getting rid of a water stain on the ceiling.

How to remove water stains on ceiling with bleach

Ceiling stains are essentially discolored mineral deposits that form when moisture evaporates. As a result, washing, especially with diluted bleach, is an easy way of removing them.

What you will need

For this process, you will need bleach, water, a spray bottle, and a sponge.


Here are the steps that you should follow.

  1. Start off by pouring warm water into a container.
  2. Add bleach into the warm water in a 3:1 ratio. That is, one cup of bleach for every three cups of water.
  3. Use the diluted bleach solution to gently wipe the water stain– use a sponge for this part.
  4. The bleach mixture will get rid of any mineral deposits in your ceiling. It will even kill off any mold while also whitening any spots that may have been caused by mold growth.
  5. After giving the bleach some time to work on the stain on the ceiling, pour clean water into a spray bottle. Use it to rinse off the area. And then dry it out using a dry cloth.

It is important to note that using bleach is ideal in cases where you have a white ceiling. This is because using it to get rid of a water stain on a colored ceiling will lead to discoloration.

And if you really want to use bleach on such ceilings, you shouldn’t use chlorine bleach or other bleaching solutions. Water stains, in such cases, should be removed by using oxygen bleach.

How to remove ceiling stains by painting

You can also remove water stains on the ceiling by painting the ceiling.

How to remove ceiling stains by painting

What you will need

For this process, you will need a stain-blocking primer (one that has a high volume of polymers is ideal), paint, a paint brush, painter’s tape, a sponge, diluted bleach, and a paint scraper.


Here are the steps that you should follow in order to get the best results.

  • Prepare the area for painting application by first getting rid of any loose or flaking paint. Use a chemical paint remover, a heat gun, or a paint scraper to do so.
  • After removing any loose or flaking paint, the next step is to clean the stained area. A sponge and soapy water are usually enough to do the trick. And if you have a white ceiling, you can use diluted bleach as it will give you better results.
  • Give the area, with the stain on the ceiling, enough time to completely dry
  • Use either a paint roller or a paint sprayer to apply a coat of stain-blocking primer. While a paint roller can work on almost any ceiling, it should only be used on a smooth ceiling. This is because its use is not ideal when painting a popcorn ceiling or any other textured ceiling surface. Therefore, opting for spray painting is usually recommended for any homeowner who has a textured ceiling.
  • Using a stain-killing primer will do two things. It will block the stain. It will also enhance the bonds between the ceiling and the paint. And if you opt for a mold resistant primer, it can also reduce the odds of mold infestation.
  • Let the primer dry, and after it does, apply the first coat of paint. You can use either a latex-based or oil-based ceiling paint.
  • Give the first coat enough time to dry — it may take up to four hours — and then apply a second coat of paint.
  • Let the second coat dry, and then finish the job by finally painting the whole ceiling. However, this last step is not mandatory.

Should you paint over water stains on the ceiling?

No, you shouldn’t paint over water stains on ceilings if you haven’t yet identified and fixed the root cause of the stains.

Therefore, you should first fix the source of the leak or moisture problem before attempting to cover the unsightly patch with ceiling paint.

But once you have, then painting over the stain on the ceiling is a viable solution.
When doing so you should ensure that:

  • You use the same shade of ceiling paint that you originally used.
  • You prime the affected area using an appropriate latex primer. For the best results, use a stain-blocking primer.

Apply it on the stained area and it will keep the stain from leaking through the paint while also ensuring that the paint forms stronger bonds with the ceiling.

Who should you call to fix a water stain problem?

You don’t have to necessarily call a professional to fix a ceiling stain.

However, while getting rid of a stain from the ceiling tiles in your home is a simple project, there are times when you may need help. This is because a water stain is a common sign of water damage. The dark ring and wet spot that you are seeing on your ceiling may just be the first sign of extensive water damage.

Therefore, calling a professional may be necessary in order to solve the underlying cause of the problem and fix any other damage on the roof. Asking for help from experts will also keep you from causing any accidental damage — such as electrical damage or any other structural damage.

You may have to call a plumber if damaged pipes are the root cause of the staining. In case a faulty cooling or heating appliance is to blame, then a HVAC professional will be the right person to carry out the necessary repairs. And if a leaky roof is to blame, asking a professional roofer for help will be ideal.

If you suspect that the stains on your roof are caused by mold, then you may have to call a mold remediation expert to fix the mold problem.

And if you need help covering the stain, an expert painter near you will be the ideal person to call.

Who should you call to fix a water stain problem
Timothy Munene
Author: Timothy Munene - Timothy is a freelance writer and an online entrepreneur.