How to remove a ceiling water stain

How to remove a ceiling water stain

Nigel Higgins – DIY Daddy

One of the most difficult tasks when decorating is finding a brown stain on your ceiling that emulsion will not cover. Every time you paint it the brown stain re-emerges within a couple of hours, which can be quite baffling. 

Invariably that brown stain has been caused by a water leak which could be due to a water leak on the roof or the heating system where the pipes run through the attic. Of course, a lot of heating systems require a cold-water tank which is usually situated in the attic of a property. If it is a two storey property with a bathroom shower room upstairs, there could also be a leak from the shower that is finding its way onto a downstairs ceiling. 

Frustratingly, when you try to paint the water stain with emulsion paint it re-appears within a couple of hours. The reason for this is quite simple. Emulsion paint is water-based so it is like painting water on water and the water stain is stronger than the paint so for this reason it comes back every time you paint it. 

So how can you conceal a water stain? 

In this tutorial I will go through the steps that are required to make water stains disappear forever. Follow the steps below and you will have success every time a water stain appears on your ceilings or walls in your home. 

When purchasing products for this task, it’s particularly important that you buy the cover stain paint in metal packaging. This is the most environmentally friendly and sustainable way to buy. It is also much better for storage. The reasons behind this are simple:

  • Metal recycles forever and it is a permanently available material 
  • It has a high recycling rate and can be upcycled and reused in many different and creative ways 
  • Buying your paint in metal packaging is completely sustainable 

For this tutorial, you will need:

  • 1 litre pot of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer Paint which comes in a metal tin
  • A mini gloss roller
  • 2 inch paintbrush 
  • 120 grade sandpaper

Let’s get on with the tutorial. 

How to deal with a ceiling water stain

Step 1 

Before you start painting over the water stain, it’s important to find out why it has happened and if the water that is dripping on the ceiling is still leaking. Then you will need to get that fixed by a professional. If it’s a roof leak you will need a roofing company but if it is a heating pipe that is leaking you will need to call a plumber. 

Once the leak has been sorted you will need to give the affected area a period to dry out before sealing the water stain and re-painting. 

Step 2 

Once the area has dried out completely you can then start to prepare the area for covering the water stain. The first thing to do is clean the area with a bleach based cleaner. This will remove any grime or grease that may be there. This is particularly relevant if the water stain is in the kitchen. It will also help the Zinsser Cover Stain adhere to the affected area better. Once you have cleaned the area and allowed it to dry for approximately 24 hours you can then sand down the area with a 120 grade sandpaper. This will help diminish the water stain and give a smooth finish for painting. 

Step 3 

Once you have completed steps 1 & 2 it’s time to apply the Zinsser cover stain primer paint. This can be applied with either a roller or brush, I have always found a roller is better as it is applied more evenly and will give a smooth finish. The Zinsser cover stain primer paint is solvent based which means it will cover a water stain easily, simply because it is stronger than water. It may need a second coat of paint, allow at least 2 hours between coats. 

Step 4 

Once you have painted the water stain in Zinsser cover stain primer paint you are ready to complete the process by painting the affected area with emulsion paint. A couple of options to consider here; You can paint the entire ceiling or just the area where the water stain was. If the ceiling had been painted in the last few months, then you can just paint the affected area. In my experience, I have found that if you JUST paint the affected area, and if you are using pure brilliant white, then by just doing a patch of the ceiling it will show up the rest of the ceiling. I have always re-painted the entire ceiling to give it a perfect finish. 

So, there is your step-by-step guide to removing a water stain on a ceiling. I have personally used these techniques many times in my career as a painter and decorator.

If you attempt this step-by-step guide, we would love to see your results – just use the hashtag #DoItWithCans on social media. 


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