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The Home Depot

How to Treat Ceiling Water Stains

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Painting > How to Treat Ceiling Water Stains
How to Treat Ceiling Water Stains

Oh, the horror, when your gaze travels upward and you notice ceiling water stains marring your interior ceiling. When ceiling water stains appear, you know you’ve got moisture or leaking issues somewhere in your home.


Once you know how to treat ceiling water stains, you’ll be ready to execute effective damage control to restore the appearance of your ceiling.

  1. 1.Assess the Damage and Fix the Leaks

    Once you repair the ceiling stains, your interior room will have a fresh and flawless appearance once again.

    While it might be tempting to slap some fresh paint over those ugly ceiling stains, not so fast. If you don’t get to the source of the leaks, you’ll probably have more ceiling stains coming. Check the area above the ceiling – whether it’s the second floor of your home or the attic – to determine where the water leak originates. Common water issues come from cracks or joints that don’t have sufficient caulking or sealing. It’s also possible that flashing isn’t functioning properly, resulting in water seeping through connections or joints. If you have mortar joints, check to make sure your mortar hasn’t failed. Once you get to the source of the leak, fix it to prevent further water problems.

  2. 2.Gather Materials

    To fix the ceiling properly and ensure that your repairs stay beautiful for years, you’ll need a few materials. Grab a wire brush, caulk or spackle and fine sandpaper for surface preparation. You’ll also need pigmented shellac to create a waterproof barrier over the area. Lastly, you’ll be applying primer and paint over the area to finish the project.

  3. 3.Prepare the Surface

    After you’ve fixed the water issue, prepare the surface for new primer and paint. The first step will be to make sure that the surface dries out completely. If you apply new primer and paint to a wet ceiling, it will fail quickly and you’ll end up with a worse mess. Use a wire brush to brush or scrape away any loose or cracking paint. Fill cracks or holes with caulk or spackle and let these repairs dry completely. Sand the areas lightly to make them smooth and then wipe the area one more time with a tack cloth to remove all dust.

  5. 4.Cover the Damage

    Apply the shellac over the ceiling area to cover the stain. Allow it to dry according to the manufacturer instructions and then apply another coat. Always apply each coat of shellac in the same direction with a brush or roller. After the shellac dries completely, move on to the primer and paint. Always allow the previous coat to dry completely before you proceed with another layer.

  6. 5.Concerns

    It’s possible that you may end up repainting the entire ceiling, depending on what type of paint is on your ceiling. If you’re using a paint featuring “high-hide” coverage, you can probably repaint just the stained area without issue. If you’re not using a high-hide paint, you may end up with problems matching coverage, making it necessary to repaint the entire ceiling.


    Once you repair the ceiling stains, your interior room will have a fresh and flawless appearance once again.

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