How to Remove Water Stains on a Ceiling

Water stains on a ceiling

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Yield: Clean a 2-foot-diameter water stain on ceiling
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $25 to $50

Water stains on a ceiling are unsightly and will degrade a room's look, even after the cause of the stains has been eliminated. Removing water stains on a ceiling requires more than just painting over the stains. Cleaning, priming, and painting the stain take only a little longer, but the ceiling will be clean and fresh again and with no bleed-through. 

When to Remove Water Stains on a Ceiling

Remove water stains on a ceiling only after the cause of the water stains has been eliminated. Wait until the stain is completely dry before removing it.

Safety Considerations

Chlorine bleach can be hazardous to your eyes and to your breathing. Wear safety glasses and gloves. Open doors and windows for ventilation. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Ladder
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Clean sponges
  • Paint roller
  • Paint roller covers
  • Paint tray
  • Extension pole
  • Long waterproof gloves
  • Safety glasses


  • Stain-blocking primer
  • Ceiling paint
  • Chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide
  • Plastic dropcloth
  • Paint tray liners


How to Remove Water Stains on a Ceiling

  1. Identify and Repair the Water Stain's Cause

    Identify the origin of the water stains and fix or eliminate it. Water that stains a ceiling can come from the roof, from the floor above, or from within the room.

    • Outside leaks: Fix a leaky roof, clean overflowing gutters, or repair ridges, seals, and flashing. 
    • Upper-floor leaks: Fix water or steam radiators, caulk windows, caulk shower and tub stalls, or repair leaky supply and drainage pipes.
    • Within the room: Increase ventilation or add dehumidifiers to poorly ventilated bathrooms, kitchens, or laundry rooms.
  2. Mix the Bleach Solution

    Mix 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Use unscented household bleach with a concentration of 5- to 9-percent. Mix well.


    Hydrogen peroxide can be used instead of chlorine bleach. Hydrogen peroxide works much like bleach but more slowly and without the fumes.

  3. Clean the Water Stain

    Clean the water stains with the bleach mixture. Wear waterproof gloves and use a clean sponge. Cleaning should lighten the color of the water stain and soften or eliminate the stain's outlines. Clean a second time if needed.

  4. Rinse the Bleach Solution

    Rinse the ceiling with a new sponge dipped in clean water. Allow the ceiling to air dry.

  5. Texture the Ceiling (Optional)

    Replace missing popcorn ceiling texture on a ceiling with stipple ceiling texture applied with a paint roller or with pre-mixed texture product in a pressurized can.

  6. Prime With a Stain Blocker

    Apply a water- or oil-based stain-blocking primer to the ceiling. Apply the primer to the ceiling with a 3/8-inch nap roller cover on a paint roller. For textured ceilings, use a thicker 3/4-inch nap roller cover. Smooth ceilings can use a foam roller cover. 

    An extension pole screws into the end of the roller and extends your reach. This is especially helpful when you are priming and painting the entire ceiling.

  7. Assess the Stain

    Wait 24 hours for oil-based primers to fully dry. Water-based primer's recoat time is about two hours. During this time, observe the stain. The stain may still show through or the mineral content in the stain may cause bleed-through. If so, prime the stain again until the stain disappears.


    The job of the ceiling paint is to match the repair area with the rest of the ceiling, not to block the stain. Add as many primer coats as necessary to block the stain before painting the ceiling.

  8. Paint the Ceiling

    Paint the ceiling with paint that matches the rest of the ceiling paint. Ceiling paint typically is matte or flat white latex paint. Not all flat white ceiling paints are the same color. Slight differences in pigments can glaringly show as a patch. Consider painting the entire ceiling for a perfectly blended ceiling repair.

When to Call a Professional

Ceiling stains that damage large portions of the ceiling may require drywall removal and re-installation. Large sections of ceiling texture are difficult to replace with can-based texture product or by stippling. For ceiling drywall repair and texturing, call drywall professionals.

  • Do water stains come out of a ceiling?

    Water stains typically do not come out of a ceiling just by cleaning. It is usually necessary to follow cleaning by priming over and painting the stain.

  • Is it OK to paint over a water-stained ceiling?

    Painting over a water-stained ceiling may not cover the stains. Cleaning the stain and applying primer are the two most important steps for reducing and eliminating the appearance of the water stains. Painting the ceiling is the last step that blends the primer with the rest of the ceiling color.

Article Sources
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  1. Cleaning and Sanitizing with Bleach after an Emergency. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention