How to Get Rid of Water Stains From Your Ceiling

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Photo: Afanasiev Andrii (Shutterstock)

Even if the rest of a room is impeccably clean, decorated, and designed, a water stain on the ceiling can easily become the focal point, making the space look and feel dingy and neglected.

Your biggest concern, of course, shouldn’t be aesthetics, but rather, what’s causing (or caused) the stain to form in the first place. Not only is that important for the safety, value, and structural integrity of your home, but if you only cover up the stain—rather than addressing the underlying problem—it will likely continue to come back until you do.

But our focus today is on removing cosmetic stains on ceiling—not its root cause—so we’ll work from the assumption that you’ve done that first. With that in mind, here’s how to get rid of cosmetic water stains on your ceiling (after fixing the underlying problem).

How to remove ceiling water stains

Regardless of whether or not you plan to paint over the stain, you should start by cleaning it with a mixture of one cup of bleach and three cups of warm water.

You can either put it in a spray bottle, or use a sponge to apply it. Either way, put a drop cloth down under the stain, and wear gloves and eye protection when working with it. You have two options from there:

No-paint approach

Try this method first if you have white ceilings, and are hoping to avoid having to prime and paint your them (which can be especially tricky if it’s been some time since it was painted last—even if you have some of the same paint left, it may not match up perfectly).

  1. Get up on a ladder and spray the entire water stain with the bleach mixture.
  2. Give the solution about a minute to set in.
  3. Then get back up on the ladder and spray another layer of the solution. Let it sit for 24 hours.
  4. Lighter stains may be gone (or minimized), but if not, you can repeat this process until the stain is removed (or at least lightened to the point where you’re OK with it).

Painting the ceiling stain

If you go in knowing for sure that you’re going to paint over the stain—or, if you attempted the first method and realized you have to paint after all—here’s what to do:

  1. Apply the bleach solution to the stain using a sponge.
  2. After wiping the saturated sponge over the stain, rinse that part of the ceiling by spritzing it with clean water from a spray bottle.
  3. Use a clean, dry cloth to wipe the area.
  4. When it’s dry, section off the part of the ceiling you’re going to paint, using painter’s tape.
  5. Using a paint roller for smooth ceilings, or nap roller cover for textured ceilings, apply an oil-based, mold-resistant, stain-blocking primer in a shade that matches your existing ceiling as closely as possible.
  6. Finally, apply the color-matched ceiling paint.

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