Simple Ways to Remove Water Stains on the Ceiling

There’s no water-stained ceiling these methods can’t fix.

Published May 12, 2023
Woman Looks at the Ceiling While Collecting Water

Nothing sinks in your stomach faster than discovering a water stain on your ceiling and realizing that you have no clue how long water's been leaking. Instead of leaving those distinct discolored patches to deal with another day, follow these easy steps to put your ceiling back in tip-top shape.

New Water Stain on the Ceiling? Deal With the Leak First

Whenever you find a new stain in your house, you're probably ready to attack it with cleaners and scrubbing brushes. But, with water stains on the ceiling, cleaning up the stain is the least of your worries. You need to locate where the water leak came from and if it's still leaking.

Take a ladder and touch the water stain. If it's completely dry, then chances are there's not a current leak and you can wait to schedule a professional. However, if it's actively wet or dripping, head to up wherever your ceiling access point is and use a flashlight to see if you can see the water dripping from the roof. Only try this method if you have ample experience and knowledge of your home's layout.

A moisture condensation stain on the ceiling is another issue that can have a variety of causes, including insulation, attic ventilation, and humidity in the home. Identify and resolve the condensation problem before trying to clean or remove the water stain.

Once you get the condensation issue resolved or the leak fixed up with an adhesive spray, patch, or a more permanent solution, you can turn your attention to the water damage on your ceiling.

How to Treat a Water Stain Using Bleach

Ceiling leak and electric cables

Don't break out the toolbox just yet. Try cleaning up that pesky water-stained ceiling with a custom bleach spray. Before mixing and applying this bleach spray, check that there's no structural damage (like cracking or crumbling) that needs to be addressed first.

Materials You'll Need

To clean up a water stain using bleach, you'll need these materials:

  • Spray bottle
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Water
  • Drop cloth
  • Microfiber towel
  • Ladder


To fix lighter water stains on white ceilings, use this DIY bleach spray:

  1. In a spray bottle, mix 1/3 cup of chlorine bleach and 2/3 cup of water.
  2. Lay a drop cloth underneath the ceiling stain.
  3. Set up a ladder and take your cloth and spray bottle.
  4. Lightly spritz the entire stain with the bleach mixture. Leave it for about a minute or two and repeat the process. Do so for a few rounds and leave it overnight.
  5. If you've sprayed too much, use the microfiber towel to blot at the spray. Don't rub or wipe as this can mess up your paint.
  6. Check the next morning and repeat the process again if it's not improved.
Helpful Hack

If you've got popcorn ceilings, spray the mixture and dab it in with a soft sponge. Leave it overnight and check on the results.

Swap Out the Bleach for Vinegar if You've Got Colored Ceilings

An alternative to bleach that you can use is distilled white vinegar. Dilute the vinegar in a spray bottle and follow the same instructions you would if you were using the bleach mixture. And unlike bleach, you can use vinegar on colored ceiling paint without worrying about it stripping everything away.

How to Clean Structural Water Stains from Your Ceiling

Water leak from the cracked ceiling

Unfortunately, if you didn't catch the leak early enough, then your ceiling might have structural damage. If you see that the ceiling's crumbling, cracking, or falling off in sections, then it's time to do a little at-home repair.

Never fear, so long as the entire ceiling hasn't been ruined but just a few spots, you can repair the drywall yourself.

Materials You'll Need

To clean and repair a ceiling stain with structural water damage, you'll need:

  • Goggles
  • Keyhole saw
  • Drywall patch (for larger sections)
  • Joint compound
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Paint


Ready to do a little DIY on your ceiling's water stain? Follow these steps:

  1. Make sure the ceiling's 100% dry before cutting out any drywall.
  2. Locate the areas of your ceiling that have damage and use a keyhole saw to cut them out. Don't forget to wear the proper safety gear while doing so.
  3. Replace the holes with joint compound (for tiny ones) or drywall patches (for larger sections).
  4. In the case of joint compound, sand down the excess with sandpaper.

Once you've repaired, you can easily learn how to cover water stains on ceiling with primer and paint in the steps below.

Cover Up Water Spots with Stain-Blocking Primer and Paint

You can also use store-bought stain blocking primer and a coat of paint to cover up those pesky water spots. This is a great alternative for non-white ceilings since you can cover up the primer with any color you'd like.

Materials You'll Need

When covering up water stains with primer and paint, you'll need:

  • Paint brush (or roller depending on the size)
  • Stain-blocking primer
  • Color-matched paint can
  • Drop cloth
  • Ladder


When covering up water stains with painting methods, follow these quick instructions:

  1. Set down a drop cloth underneath the section of your ceiling that you're going to paint over.
  2. To cover the water stains, take a ladder and a paintbrush to paint over the spot with stain-blocking primer.
  3. Allow an hour or two to fully dry and come back with a clean brush to coat the area in the fresh paint.
  4. Let sit until it's completely dry before adding more coats as needed.
Quick Tip

Color matching faded ceilings can be really hard (you can't exactly take a piece of your ceiling to the hardware store). So, purchase a tester can of a darker shade in the same color alongside the original to mix if the original paint's way too light.

Ways to Prevent Getting a Water-Stained Ceiling

Of course, the best way to get rid of water stains is to not get them in the first place. While Mother Nature has a warped sense of humor sometimes, there are things you can do to prevent these water stains.

  • Do a monthly check on your ceilings. Inspect every room in your house once a month for any new stains. If you catch them early, you can get rid of them faster.
  • Have someone inspect your roof and HVAC systems annually. These are two of the biggest water stain perpetrators, and it's best to find leaks before they become a problem.
  • Check your attic when a storm system rolls through to see if you can locate any water that's coming in. This is a great alternative to hiring someone to check your roof every year if it's not in your budget.

Don't Put Off Fixing Those Water Stains Any Longer

There are so many easy solutions to common household problems that we never grow up learning. Thanks to the internet and our ability to share information with each other, there's no cleaning situation you can't find a solution to. So, stop putting off dealing with those water stains on your ceilings. It's as easy as these two methods.

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Simple Ways to Remove Water Stains on the Ceiling