Learn how to remove water stains from ceilings in 4 steps:
Fix the leak that caused the stain first.
Clean the ceiling stain with a bleach solution.
Apply an oil-based undercoat to keep the stain from bleeding through new paint.
Repaint the ceiling, not just the stain.
Your first priority when you notice a brown stain on the ceiling is fixing the inevitable water leak. Then, it’s time to tackle the lingering ceiling stains.
Before attempting to cover water stains on ceilings with paint, sand the stained area for a smoother finish.
Fixing water stains on ceilings
If you have a water stain on the ceiling, you’ve probably got a leak: a more immediate problem than ceiling stains. You’ll need to find and fix the leak before it can cause more serious damage to your home – here’s a few tips to help you:
Once the stain has been identified, find the cause of the stain before taking futher action.
If the stain gets worse when it rains, it’s probably a roof leak. Phone a builder.
If it gets worse even in dry weather, it’s probably a leaking pipe. Phone a plumber.
Check our article on dealing with a ceiling leak for more tips.
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How to remove water stains from ceilings … without painting
Once the leak has been dealt with, you still have the ‘brown stain on ceiling’ problem to fix. These stains don’t go away on their own and even if you plan to repaint the ceiling later, you should bleach and clean the area first to ensure the best finish.
Cover the floor below the area you’ll be working and put on gloves and goggles. Make sure the room is well ventilated.
Mix 1 part bleach with 3 parts warm water. If you have a coloured ceiling, use oxygen bleach rather than chlorine bleach.
Dip a sponge in the mixture and, standing on a stable stool or stepladder, wipe the stain.
Rinse with a second sponge dipped in clean water, then dry the area with a tea towel.
If the stain is still visible, leave it to dry completely overnight before attempting a cover up.
How to remove water stains from ceilings … with painting
It may be tempting to repaint the ceiling and hope for the best, but water stains will usually start showing through the new layer of paint if they haven’t been treated. This means you’ll need to cover water stains on ceiling with a substance the water won’t dissolve.
Try bleaching the stain with the method above.
If there’s loose or flaking paint around the stain, remove it with a scraper before bleaching.
Once the stain’s been bleached and dried, apply an oil-based undercoat over the stain and leave it to dry overnight.
If necessary, paint a second coat and let that dry as well. This should help to prevent the stain from peeking through.
Pick up a paint or primer designed specifically for the purpose of covering stains to achieve better coverage. This may say ‘stain block’ or ‘stain sealant’ on the packaging. Check beforehand that it’s designed for use with water stains, then follow the product’s instructions when applying.
When you’ve finished treating the stain, repaint the ceiling as normal.
If you’re dealing with water stains on other surfaces, such as glass, metal or wood, take a look at our more general article on how to remove water stains.