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How to paint over a water stain

Leaks, drips and other water damage can leave marks and stains on your walls and/or ceiling. In this guide, we look at how to paint over a water stain and give top tips for dealing with water damage and identifying underlying problems.

Whether it’s a new stain or and old one, it’s important to understand where the water stain has come from and whether it’s a sign of a bigger issue that you need to deal with. Keep reading to find out how to paint over a leak stain.

Before you paint over water stains

1. Find the cause of the water stain

The first thing you need to do before reaching for a paintbrush is to find out why you have a water stain in the first place. There’s no point in painting over a stain if you don’t find and fix the cause because the stain will just keep coming back – as well as posing a risk for more serious electrical and structural damage.

Ceiling with downlight and water damageDepending on the location of the water stain, several common causes could be the problem, including a leaking pipe, damaged roof, cracked exterior wall, or loose door/window seal.

If you need help locating the cause of the water stain, speak to an experienced local painter and decorator or plumber for their professional advice.

You might also want to read our handy tips on how to prevent damp in your home.

2. Make sure the surface is clean and dry

The stained drywall or plaster needs to be dry for two reasons: a) if it’s wet, then it means the water damage is very recent (or still happening), and b) you can’t paint onto a wet wall or ceiling. You can help the drying process by using a dehumidifier in the room. And, if any mould has built up, you’ll need to clean that off too using a special mould cleaning product before you start painting.

If the mould situation is bad, then we recommend hiring a professional to deal with the mould, and you potentially replaster the wall/ceiling. To explore the costs involved in removing mould please ready our mould removal cost guide

Please find out more in our guide on how to treat damp walls before painting.

3. Apply a primer

For the last preparation step before you start painting, add a stain-blocking primer to the wall or ceiling. This will prevent any stain from showing through on the fresh paint you’re about to apply.

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How to paint over water damage

As long as you’ve followed the steps above to fix the underlying problem and prepare the wall before you start painting, you should be able to paint over water stains and give it a new lease of life. You may want to consider hiring a professional painter for the job – it takes years of training and experience to learn the skill of painting.

Here’s how to paint over water damage if you are confident in your decorating ability:

Decorator painting a ceilingIdeally, you want to use high-quality paint, and for the best results, you need to paint the whole wall or ceiling. If you only paint the damaged part of the wall/ceiling, you’ll end up with a patchy effect on your walls which can be almost as noticeable as a water stain.

Apply one coat and then let it dry completely before applying a second coat. In some cases, you may even need a third coat, depending on the quality of the paint you use.

If this is already sounding like more work than you have time or energy for, hiring a local painter and decorator can save you the hassle and stress. And the bonus of hiring a professional is that they’ll have all the necessary tools and equipment to paint over your water stain and finish the job to a high standard.

Water stain on ceilings… how to paint over them

If you’re wondering specifically how to paint over water stains on ceilings, it’s a very similar process to painting over a water stain on a wall. The only real difference is that you need to take a bit more care when applying paint to a ceiling due to the logistics of painting over your head the whole time.

Here’s a quick summary of the process of how to paint over a water stain on a ceiling:

  1. Find and fix any underlying problems
  2. Dry out and clean the ceiling
  3. Apply a stain-blocking primer to the ceiling and leave to dry
  4. Apply a first coat of high-quality ceiling paint to the whole ceiling
  5. Leave to dry before applying a second coat

If you’re wondering how much it will cost to fix your water-damaged ceiling, check out our guide to ceiling water damage repair costs.

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How to stop water marks coming through paint

If you’ve tried to paint over water marks and find that they keep coming back, it’s frustrating. But help is here. We’ve got a couple of tips that should help you rid yourself of persistent water marks.

Here are our top tips for how to stop water marks coming through paint:

  • Address the underlying causes of any water marks to make sure the problem isn’t still happening
  • Make sure the wall or ceiling is dry and clean, and replaster if needed
  • Create a barrier by using a stain-blocking primer or oil-based paint first

Tradesperson replacing water stained drywallTop tip: Don’t use emulsion paint directly on top of a stain; it will simply keep showing through (no matter how many coats you apply)

How to paint over water stained drywall

When drywall becomes severely stained due to water damage, you may need to remove and replace sections of the damaged drywall. It’s typically the most cost-effective way of dealing with the problem and achieving the best results.

Once the new drywall is in place, you can then prime and paint the surface. We recommend painting the whole wall to ensure that you have an even colour across the whole surface.


Can you just paint over a water stain?

We wouldn’t recommend just painting over a water stain. Firstly, because if the water stain is often a symptom of an existing issue. That means, if you don’t fix the problem, your newly painted wall or ceiling will suffer water staining or damage too. You need to identify the source of the problem first, fix it, and then repair the wall or ceiling before you paint over the water stain.

What paint to use to cover water stains?

To create a barrier that stops the water stain from showing through, you’ll need to use either a stain-blocking primer or an oil-based paint first. After that, you can apply an emulsion paint if necessary.

How do you paint over water stains on walls?

Here’s the best way to paint over water stains on walls:

  1. Identify any underlying problems and fix them
  2. Make sure the walls are dry and clean of any dust, debris or mould
  3. Apply a stain-blocking primer to the walls and leave to dry
  4. Apply a first coat of paint to the whole wall
  5. Leave to dry before applying a second coat

Can you paint over condensation stains?

You can, but as with any water staining or damage, you need to identify the cause of the condensation issue in the first place. If in doubt, hire a professional painter and decorator to help you find the source of the problem and advise on the best way of dealing with it before you start painting.

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