How to paint over water stains.

The main difference between water stains on ceilings and smoke stained ceilings is that water stains are usually found in one or two areas but smoke staining usually covers the entire ceiling, or at least most of it.

paint over water stains

Water stains.

Water stains appearing on your ceiling is quite common and easily fixed. For the uninitiated the answer to dealing with a water stain is usually to just paint straight over it with some regular ceiling paint or water based emulsion. Anyone that has ever tried this can tell you it won’t work, the water satin will bleed through your nice new paint and make it look like you haven’t attempted to deal with it at all.

Others will treat a water stain with some good old fashioned oil based undercoat, the logic here is sound because the oil based paint will block the water stain. That’s it then you say? Just use some undercoat and be on your way? No, not quite. The oil based undercoat does stop the stain but then what usually happens is the undercoat is over coated with emulsion, for a nice clean new ceiling. This can cause problems because the undercoat needs several days to cure properly if it is to be painted over with a water based paint. The emulsion can react with the undercoat causing the paint to flake away, this can take weeks to months to appear.

What’s the best way for dealing with water stains then? First things first, make sure that whatever caused the leak in the first place has been resolved, whether it was a loose tile on your roof or an over flowing shower tray make sure there’s no more water coming through your ceiling otherwise you will be back up that ladder in no time.

Once the water stain is dry (if it’s still wet come back when it’s dry), open up a tin of Zinsser B-I-N Primer and using a disposable brush apply the primer completely over coating the stain. Leave the B-I-N Primer to dry and then come back and see if the water stain has been blocked. For really bad stains it can take 2 or 3 applications of B-I-N Primer. B-I-N Primer is made with shellac and is alcohol based, this means that it will dry and cure within an hour or so leaving the perfect surface for emulsion.

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Smoke stains.

Smoke stains on the ceiling can be caused by cigarette smoke or something catching fire. If you have had a fire or a live in chain smoker and would like a nice fresh new look to your ceiling and maybe walls then the first thing you need to do is clean. Using some sugar soap clean down the ceiling and walls as best you can. Once the area has been cleaned go back over it with clean water to neutralise the sugar soap.


The goal here is to remove as much of the smoky residue as possible, not all of it. Once the ceiling is nice and dry you can apply your primer. You have a couple of options here.

The first option is to use our old friend B-I-N Primer to completely paint the entire ceiling. It may take 2 coats of B-I-N. Once dry you can paint over with a water based emulsion for a lovely clean new ceiling.

Your second option is to use another product from Zinsser called Allcoat.

Zinsser Allcoat is a solvent based stain blocking primer and finish all in one. It’s not cheap but it is worth it. Once your ceiling has been cleaned you simply apply 2 coats of Zinsser Allcoat and that’s it, job done! It saves time and leaves a great finish, not only that but it is low odour too unlike the B-I-N primer.

Where can you buy Zinsser B-I-N Primer & Zinsser Allcoat? The best place to find these paints is at your local paint shop, if you are in Dublin then Stillorgan Decor will have everything that you need. Stillorgan Decor is a great one stop shop for everything to do with painting and decorating.

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