Water Stains: Causes and Solutions

By HomeAdvisor

Updated March 29, 2017

Ceiling Stains

There it is: the dreaded ceiling stain. Go ahead, be annoyed. Do a little cursing. It’s warranted, but when you’re ready to work the problem, treat the problem rationally. Knowing what type of contractor you need can save you precious time and money. You need to understand what’s going on. If you’re able to identify the cause, you may find that you’re able to deal with the problem yourself.

If you do need to hire a pro, at least you’ll be reasonably certain of which type of contractor to contact, whether it’s a ceiling repair company or roofing pro.

Common Sources of Water Stains

It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out from what area of the home the water is coming. Whether it’s the roof or an upstairs bathroom, whatever is above the ceiling is usually the source of your moisture problem. If you can’t identify a possible water source above the ceiling stain, you may have a leaky pipe. It’s also not uncommon for water to run along rafters or piping before dropping onto your ceiling, obfuscating the true source of the problem.

Old caulking is a common source of water seepage. Piping or a shower pan that has come into disrepair is also a possibility. Bad piping can mean you have a leak or it can mean your pipe is sweating from inadequate insulation. You may also need to figure out whether your pipes are old and need to be replaced or, if other circumstances, like hard water, is causing premature damage to your pipes.

For water stains coming from your roof, you’ll need to identify the nature of the disrepair. There can be other sources of water seepage from your roof other than a leak. If the water stain occurs after a period of snow, for example, this can indicate the formation of an ice dam, which requires upgrading your insulation, not your roofing. You may still end up contacting a roofing contractor, but knowing this information will help your contractor fix the problem in the most efficient manner possible.

The Water Stain Comes Last

Don’t try to fix the stain or any damaged drywall or plaster until you’re sure you have the moisture problem licked. If the water continues to seep or leak, all your work will have been for nothing. When you’re sure you’ve solved the problem, you may need to tear out the portion of the wall or ceiling if it has been irreparably damaged. If the water stain is purely cosmetic, get some stain-killing primer before repainting. Otherwise, you may find the stain bleeding through the new paint.

A professional handyman can help you with this project if you feel it’s beyond your command. He or she can also provide an estimate of the cost, typically, free of charge.

Deal with Your Water Stain Now and Do it Right

The worst thing you can do is ignore your water stain. Dealing with the stain promptly can enable you to simply stop the source of the water and repaint the ceiling. Letting the problem go for any period of time will cause irreparable damage to the ceiling, forcing you to tear the damaged section out and replace it.

Along with taking appropriate measures to keep the stain from bleeding through the new paint, you should take care to truly fix the source of your moisture problem. Get a water softening system if you have hard water in your pipes. Remove the old caulking before putting on the new layer. Make sure your entire roof is inspected for possible damage.

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How do you handle water stains? Do you have some DIY methods that work better than a professional? 



  1. Don, June 3:

    I have a water stain on my first floor ceiling that seems to be coming from a leaking window or area around it on the second floor.

  2. Ron, August 18:

    I noticed two yellow lines in the kitchen ceiling about a foot long and theya re parallel to each other. the other day notice a water spot in the vicinity of the two lines. Directly above this is the master bathroom, I checked at it looks like somehow water was leaking at the corner of the shower. Assume I should call a plumber first?

  3. George, August 21:

    Looked at a couple units in an apt complex, all had a ring around the perimeter of the ceiling. One unit the ring extended maybe 5 -6 inches. In a different unit (in a different building) same ring but only a couple of inches wide. Seemed moist but had no odor in the unit with the thicker ring. The ceiling is the popcorn ceiling, and the darkest areas are the areas which stick out the most. But I’m quite sure the dark ring was not a lighting issue. If I get a dehumidifier will this do the trick or is it likely the attic is a hot mess of mold? Thanks

  4. Sally, October 10:

    I have a water stain that stayed small but has got bigger and the ceiling looks like its bulging out i have a outline off the bulging. How long woul it take for the ceiling to fall?

  5. Mrs. I. Gimenez, October 11:

    Hurricane Matthew damaged my kitchen roof. It had a big stain around a recess light. A roofer came in said there’s part of roof that has little holes that prevent water damage? But a strong wind would make water filtrate through them… Said I should leave light on until spot dries & spray it with KILZ when dry. Why are there “little holes on roofs? Please advise. Thank you. Mrs. G.

  6. DB, October 26:

    Roof is being replaced it rained all day closet is bulging large water stains beds and clothes are wet yellow/brown water stains pls advise

  7. Marcela, February 13:

    I have a leak in my garage. I have a two story house. My washer and dry are located downstairs in the laundry room. It seems that every time i use the washer the water starts to drip. Can that be possible its coming from the washer? I also have a bathroom upstairs i have flushed it but no water drips. Can you help please

  8. steinmetz,susie, May 15:

    will your product work on the water stains of the motor home ceiling.

  9. Luz ortiz, October 17:

    After hurricane IRMA I have water stains on the ceilings of my home in just about every room. I truly believe I would need a new roof. I have already contacted my home ins, they addressed everything but replacing my roof. What can I do. I requested a re-inspection.

  10. Tom, January 13:

    I have 3 – 4 water lines on my cathedral ceiling, my roof is 7 months old. The pitch is relatively steep.. What may cause this? Thanks

  11. Ressie, January 13:

    Replaced shake with fibreglas shingles & installed ventilation ridge at crown…house built ’75, popcorn latex painted ceilings. About 30 days later stains started appearing on second floor ceilings….no drips from anything discerned. Ideas?

  12. Ruth kelner, January 20:

    We live in a Mobil home. We been getting water stains on the ceilings in every room. My husband was on roof and patched where he thought was a leak but still getting more of them in random places. It’s been very cold here in Wisconsin , we have a humidifier because sir was dry in here could that cause a problem.? What can we do for this problem? We have lived in Mobil homes before here in Wisconsin and had no problem like this.

  13. Elizabeth Merritt, July 24:

    I rent a condo in Florida and I had water stains in the bedroom. They have been repaired but there is one fairly large stain that reappeared in the same spot after raining. It is not wet but now the ceiling has fallen. Did the repairman not do a good job in repairing it the first time? The condo association wants to blame indoor humidity and says my owner is responsible for this repair. Any information would be helpful as to why a stain would reappear in the same spot. Thank you!

  14. Mary, December 22:

    Torrential rain last night. A small wetness center of bedroom ceiling about 1.5″ (did not drip). This am about 5″. Was it because wind was so strong… a once in a life-time event? New roof 2015. Can I wait until it dries and spray stain sealer? Or do I need to tear down the whole ceiling? Thank you.

  15. Diego, June 22:

    I have a water on the first floor ceiling. Above it is the kitchen. Who do i call? Do I need a plumber?

  16. Donna Shultz, July 7:

    My ceiling above my air condition has 2 small water stains. An air conditioning company says my duct work needs to be completely replaced because its sweating on the
    insulation. The cost is almost $4700. Can duct work be cleaned out to help the problem before a complete replacement is needed? They didn’t offer that first.

    Any advice would be helpful.

  17. huggz, July 11:

    bought a house and it had been smoked in for 30 years. how do inremove severe nicotine stains from ceilingings and walls? should i clean it first then paint it with kilz paint? anything else i could use since Kilz is so toxic?

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