How Do I Get Rid of Water Stains on My Ceiling?

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: October 13, 2020

As long as you don’t look up, water stains on the ceiling don’t seem too serious. Still, you’re always good about taking care of things around the house.

This problem needs a fix.

How did the stains get there? Are you dealing with bad flashing on the roof or leaky pipes up in the attic? Why can’t you just paint over water stains on the ceiling?

Our teams restore water-damaged ceilings in Chicago, IL, and the suburbs every day. We cover it all from repairing burst pipes to cleaning moldy ceiling tiles.

Read on for the answers to all your questions about water-stained ceilings.

How to Fix a Water Stain on the Ceiling

1. Find the Source of the Water Stain

moisture reader
Professional moisture readers can detect water damage behind the surface.

Ceiling stains show up as pale patches or discolored, uneven rings. They appear after moisture in ceiling material dries, leaving behind mineral deposits. A dark, wet spot is a sure sign of ongoing water damage.

Even if a water stain on the ceiling isn’t wet, you need to identify and repair the source of the problem as soon as possible.

5 Common Causes of Water Stains on Ceilings

  • Roof leaks due to bad shingles and flashing
  • Attic problems, including AC condensate line clogs
  • General plumbing issues in overhead pipes
  • Old caulking in upstairs bath fixtures
  • Failing seals around upstairs windows
burst ceiling pipe
Leaky or burst overhead pipes are common causes of ceiling water stains.

If you have water spots on the ceiling, but no leak is obvious, the problem could be attic pipes that sweat because of poor insulation. If you live in an apartment, you may be dealing with a leak from a neighbor’s unit upstairs. Always call the landlord if you have a water stain on the ceiling in your apartment.

2. Take Care of Repairs Right Away

Check for obvious problems, such as bad fittings or worn gaskets in overhead pipes. Simple DIY repairs are usually enough to stop the leak. If you’re dealing with a serious plumbing failure, call in a licensed plumber.

Ceiling stains resulting from a leaky roof can be challenging. Not every homeowner wants to climb the ladder and replace bad shingles and flashing. You may be more comfortable letting a professional roofer take care of the job.

mold removal
Professional restoration companies will take care of mold removal as well.

Often, it takes more than a coat of paint to repair a water-stained ceiling. Fixing structural damage requires replacing overhead drywall and ceiling tiles. Mold growth is another common problem in wet ceiling materials. It’s best to bring in water damage restoration professionals who handle ceiling repairs and also offer certified mold remediation services. Restoration technicians take care of plumbing leak repairs too.

3. Paint Over the Ceiling Water Stain

Once you’ve stopped the leak and repairs are finished, you’re ready to paint over the ceiling water stains. If you don’t plan on using a paint roller extension pole, plan on staying safe on the ladder. Make sure ladder shoes aren’t worn, rungs are secure and spreader bars firmly lock in place.

Give yourself extra on-the-job protection by wearing shoes with anti-slip soles, gloves and goggles. Mask ceiling and baseboard trim with painter’s tape, and cover the floor with a drop cloth. Follow these easy steps for painting the water-stained ceiling.

  • Pre-Clean the Stain – Mix 1 cup of bleach and 3 cups of warm water, and clean the affected area. This fades the stain and discourages mold growth. Rinse with a spray of clean water, and let the ceiling dry.
  • Match Roller With Texture – Take a close look at the ceiling’s texture. A 3/8-inch nap roller cover works best on smooth ceiling surfaces. If you’re painting a textured or popcorn ceiling, use a roller with a 3/4- to 1 1/4-inch nap. Spray-on primers are a good choice for heavily textured ceilings.
  • Apply a Stain-Blocking Primer – Prime the ceiling stain with an oil-based primer that contains a high volume of polymers. This type of primer binds pigments and prevents bleeding from the stained area. It also reduces the risk of mold growth in the stained ceiling. Let the primer dry for at least two hours.
  • Paint Over the Water Stain – Both latex and oil-based paints work well on textured ceilings. However, be sure to choose a paint specifically formulated for ceilings. Use the same type of roller cover that you used for applying the primer. Paint over the ceiling water stain, let it dry for at least 4 hours, and finish the job with a second coat.

The Dangers Behind a Water-Stained Ceiling

Whether a water stain on the ceiling is old or new, it’s an obvious sign of trouble. We’ve covered the most common reasons for water-stained ceilings, so let’s take a look at the potential dangers.

roof collapse
The most severe outcome of a ceiling water stain is roof collapse.

They range from fire and electrical hazards to plumbing and structural problems.

  • Fire caused by shorts or sparks from wet wiring
  • Water leaking through a ceiling light fixture
  • Attic insulation ruined by accumulated moisture
  • Excessive attic humidity that affects HVAC performance
  • Overhead plumbing problems due to corrosion buildup
  • Ceiling support failure caused by water-damage

These are just a few of the reasons for working with restoration professionals who know how to identify and solve problems that show up as water stains on the ceiling. Their services preserve your home’s structural integrity and the safety of its electrical and plumbing systems. That assurance gives you invaluable peace of mind.

Who to Call When You Have a Ceiling Water Stain

Painting a water-stained ceiling is usually a straightforward DIY project. Taking care of overhead repairs can get complicated. If you’re dealing with more than a small leak, consider calling in a licensed plumber.

Not every homeowner feels comfortable replacing shingles and flashing. A professional roofer can take care of the job and spot any other potential problems.

Often, a water-stained ceiling needs more than a coat of paint. If you suspect mold growth in wet ceiling materials, contact a water-damage professional like ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba in Chicago, IL that provides certified mold removal services. The company can also take care of small plumbing repairs, water damage mitigation, drywall replacement and other structural repairs.

Finally, water-stained ceilings create a different set of issues for renters. Always call the landlord right away if you have a water stain on the ceiling in your apartment. The problem may be in the unit directly overhead.

Have a Water Stain on the Ceiling of Your Chicago, IL, Home? We Can Help!

We know you’re handy around the house, but a water-stained ceiling can challenge anyone’s best DIY intentions. We take care of everything from identifying and addressing the water source to restoring your ceiling.

When you need help with any type of water damage at the house, you want the best restoration contractor in Chicago, IL, and the suburbs. We’re always ready for your call here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba: 773-647-1985.