How to Paint Over Water Stains in 2022 (5 Easy Steps)

Updated 3/11/23

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Learning how to paint over water stains is one of the most uncomplicated DIY home repairs a homeowner can do in 5 easy steps.

Follow along, and you’ll see the 5 easy steps to complete this project in very little time and save a ton of money.

Let’s jump right in!

What causes water stains?

Determining the cause of a water stain is crucial.

Here are examples of things that could be causing the water stain;

A damaged roof

Worn and old roof shingles are among the most common causes of leaks and water stains.

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A clogged gutter

Gutters filled with leaves and sticks can block the path of rainwater to the downspout, which diverts water away from the house. Water build-up creates a backflow or “belly” in the gutter, resulting in water getting behind the fascia and into the home.

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A leaky toilet

A toilet with a failed wax ring is the most common cause of water leaks, creating water stains on the ceiling below.

Plumbing leak

Water line fittings deteriorate over time and could cause leaks. Check shut-off valves under sinks and behind tubs and showers and inspect for leaks.

Shower/Tub caulking

Caulking around tubs and shower stalls may have eroded, leaving gaps that lead to leaks.

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HVAC vents and pipes

Improperly insulated HVAC vents and pipes can create condensation, leading to leaks and water stains.

A leaky appliance

A second-floor in-law apartment or, kitchen with an ice-making fridge or freezer could be the culprit that causes water stains.

Exterior sidewall damage

Issues with damaged exterior sidewalls or flashing could result in water penetrating walls and basement ceilings.

Why is the water stain brown?

Drywall consists of gypsum sandwiched between layers of paper.

When the paper layers get wet, the tannin in the paper mixes with the water and minerals, creating a brown-colored stain.

Plus, when water leaks down from structural lumber, the tannins from the wood result in the brown color

Does my Drywall need to be replaced?

If a leak has persisted for an extended period, it may be necessary to replace the water-stained Drywall or plaster.

If the surface of the stained area is soft and “mushy,” the Drywall or plaster will need to be repaired.

You can follow the instructions in this article; How to Repair Drywall in 2022 (2 Things Not to Do)

The 5 easy steps on how to paint over water stains in 2022?

1. Locate and repair the cause of the leak

Do not repair roofs and plumbing if you are inexperienced or not a professional. Trying to repair a roof by yourself is not only dangerous but can result in voiding a warranty. Consult a pro before attempting repairs.

There’s no sense in following the other steps if the cause of the leak is not located and repaired.

It may be necessary to hire a professional to inspect the roof to determine if shingles are damaged or if additional flashing is needed.

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Check and unclog gutters and downspouts to ensure rainwater is diverted away from the house.

Check out this article on cleaning gutters; How to Clean Gutters in 2022 ( And Not BreakYour Neck)

Inspect water shut-off valves, pipes, and plumbing areas above the water stain to locate and repair water leaks. Feel the bottom of the bathroom vanity to see if it’s wet.

Check around the toilet, tub, and shower for leaks and gaps in caulking and grout. Apply caulk as needed.

Replace the wax ring on the toilet to prevent future leaks.

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Inspect water lines on refrigerators for leaks. A freezer may need to be thawed and cleaned due to an ice build-up that can leak.

If you’re not sure why there is a water stain in a specific location, you may need to consult an HVAC contractor to inspect and determine if there’s a leak in your system.

2. Inspect the surface of the water stain

Determine if the surface of the Drywall or plaster is sound and in good condition.

The Drywall should be OK if a leak is detected and repaired in a reasonable amount of time.

3. Clean the water stain

Clean the water stain before applying primer and paint.

Use household cleaners with bleach and wipe down the stain to remove dirt and mold and lighten the brown color of the stain.

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**Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection**

Allow the stained area to dry completely before moving on to step 4.

4. Prime the water stain

The water stain must be primed before the application of the ceiling or wall paint.

Kilz oil-based primer/sealer is an excellent stain sealer that blocks tannin bleed and prohibits mold and mildew growth.

Pro Tip: Zinsser Cover-Up is a spray-can primer/sealer. It’s designed to deliver the product vertically from the top of the can for easy application. Make sure you brush or roll the primer after application for better penetration.

Place a drop cloth on the floor below the work area. Use a step stool or ladder to reach the stain.

Use a paintbrush or mini roller to cover the stain with Kilz primer. Be sure to cover an area that extends one foot beyond the border of the stain.

Allow the primer to dry and apply a second coat.

5. Paint over the water stain

Pro tip: Depending on where the water stain is located, if you have leftover paint (wall/ceiling), you can use it to cover the stained area only. If you don’t have or don’t know the paint product applied to the surface, you will need to paint the entire wall or ceiling to cover the repair so it’s not noticeable.

Cover surrounding furniture with plastic or old sheets to protect it from paint spatters.

Use a 3/8-inch nap paint roller to paint over the primed water stain (a 3/8-inch nap is fine for smooth surfaces).

If the water stain was on a textured ceiling, you should use a 1/2 or 3/4-inch nap roller to ensure complete paint coverage.

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If you’ve never painted an entire ceiling before, read this; How to Paint a Ceiling for Beginners (10 Easy Steps)

Add up the savings

Now that you’ve learned how to paint over water stains in 2022 in 5 easy steps, it’s time to add up the savings.

When you factor in the cost to hire a pro plus the paint, primer, and materials (not to mention the mark-up %) you’ve saved a ton of money by doing it yourself.

Saving money in a recession is a big deal. You can use that money towards other DIY home repairs or filling up the gas tank!

Great job!

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Do you want to save more money?

Find more helpful Pro Tips and how-tos at Home Improvements DIY

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