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How to address ceiling stains

Many stains are instantly noticeable. But while a wine stain on a light-colored carpet or a gravy stain on a white shirt tend to jump out right away, other stains sneak past our radars every day. Ceiling stains are one type of stain that tend to go unnoticed for long periods of time. But ceiling stains can be unsightly, and some are even indicative of a larger problem, so it pays for homeowners to address stains on their ceilings as soon as possible.

• Start with the source. Low kitchen ceilings tend to fall victim to oil stains, which are an unfortunate side effect of cooking. But not all stains can be so easily traced to their origins. Some ceiling stains, such as those in bathrooms, may be a byproduct of mold, while others may be indicative of plumbing problems. Identifying the source of a stain is often the first step toward eradicating it.

• Fix the problem. Once you have identified what's causing the stain, fix the problem as soon as possible. Ceiling stains are often indicative of much larger problems, and the longer those problems are allowed to fester, the bigger they become. Some water stains on ceilings result from cracks or joints that have not been adequately sealed or caulked. Reseal or recaulk any cracks you suspect are leading to ceiling stains. If you have determined a leaky roof is behind your stained ceilings, then have the roof inspected for damage, and prepare yourself to finance a new roof if the inspector determines that's the best solution.

• Cover nearby furniture. If you find ceiling stains above living areas, then be sure to cover the furniture below such ceilings with a tarp. Even if your stain solution will be made primarily of water, you don't want to risk compounding your ceiling stain problem by staining your furniture as well.

• Remove the stains. Different stains require different treatments. A solution made of water and bleach may be effective at removing ceiling stains, but only apply such solutions on days when you can open the windows and air out your home. Larger stains may require the application of a stain blocker, which may need to be applied with a roller and brush. No matter the stain, you need to leave time for the ceiling to dry before you can move on. Opening the windows can prevent your home from being overcome by the smell of bleach and also speed up the time it takes the ceiling to dry.

• Cover the ceiling with primer. Once the ceiling has completely dried, you can apply a stain-blocking primer to prevent future stains. Allow the primer ample time to dry.

• Apply a fresh coat of paint. After the primer has dried completely, you can then repaint the ceiling. Some paints may blend in even if you only paint the affected areas of the ceiling, but others will require a complete repainting of the ceiling. The eye test will help you determine how much work you have to do in that regard.