How to Repair Drywall Ceiling Water Damage

Water damaged drywall ceiling repair options with step by step instructions for replacing the damaged section and finishing the drywall.

Water from the leaky shower drain dripped onto the basement drywall ceiling causing a fair amount of water damage. What appeared to be a simple stain on the finished ceiling is really a hole on the unfinished side of the drywall.

Drywall Ceiling Water Damage cause by Plumbing Leak

Drywall Ceiling Water Damage cause by Plumbing Leak

Drywall Ceiling Water Damage Caused by Plumbing Leak

Water from the leaky shower drain dripped from the shower drain PVC pipe U-bend onto the suspended drywall basement ceiling. The leak caused the drywall paper backing to delaminate and eroded the gypsum drywall material leaving a crater:

Drywall Ceiling Water Damage Caused by Shower Leak

Drywall Ceiling Water Damage Caused by Shower Leak

The basement ceiling is 14 feet high because the house sits on a hillside and has high basement walls. I used a 16 foot extension ladder with a ladder stabilizer to hold the ladder off the wall to better reach the water damaged drywall ceiling. The water stain doesn’t look that bad from this viewpoint, however upon closer inspection the drywall paper is delaminated with a sagging bubble in the center:

Drywall Ceiling Repair: Water Stain

Drywall Ceiling Repair: Water Stain

Drywall Ceiling Water Damage Repair Options

There are several methods to repair damaged drywall. The best option depends the extent of the damage (small or large area) and location (wall or ceiling).

Repair Option 1: Self-Adhesive Mesh Drywall Patch

Drywall patches are widely available at home improvement stores that consist of a thin metal mesh with a sticky backing. The metal mesh provides support for the drywall spackle. The patch is stuck over the hole, spackle, sand and paint. Self-adhesive metal patches work best on walls and small holes, but often sag when used on ceilings. I therefore chose not to use a metal repair patch.

Repair Option 2: Cut Out and Replace with New Drywall

The best way to repair the roughly 5″ by 5″ area of damaged drywall ceiling is to cut out the area and replace it with a new section of drywall by installing a wood reinforcement frame, tape the joints, apply joint compound, sand and paint. The most difficult part was working on the extension ladder to reach the high ceiling.

Repair Option 3: Install a Drywall Access Panel

The problem with Options 1 and 2 are if the leak were to happen again, you’ll be redoing the ceiling repairs. Depending on the nature of the leak, it may be necessary to cut an opening in the ceiling to fix the plumbing. In the 3 years since I made this repair, I’ve been introduced to the bauco drywall access panels. The bauco access panel solves both the repair and plumbing access problems. If I were to do this repair again, I’d use the bauco access panel.

bauco rondo Drywall Access Panel by Access Panel Solutions, Inc.

bauco rondo Drywall Access Panel by Access Panel Solutions, Inc.

How to Repair Drywall Ceiling Water Damage

Drywall Ceiling Repair Tools and Materials

You’ll save yourself a lot of time if you assemble the necessary tools and materials before starting the job. The items needed for this project are:

  1. Drywall Screw Setter – automatically sets the drywall screw the right depth every time. A 4-pack costs $5.
  2. Course Thread 1-1/4″ Drywall Screws
  3. Combination Square
  4. D. Pencil
  5. Utility Knife
  6. Cordless Drill/Driver
  7. Tape measure
  8. 12″ Drywall Taping Blade
  9. 6″ Drywall Taping Blade
  10. Drywall Jab Saw
  11. Drywall Sanding Sponge
  12. Roll of Self-Stick Fiberglass Drywall Tape. Cost is about $8.
  13. Drywall Joint Compound. A 1 gallon bucket cost about $6.
  14. 2ft x 2ft x 1/2in Drywall Repair Panel. Cost about $4 at Home Depot.
Water Damaged Drywall Ceiling Repair - Tools and Materials

Water Damaged Drywall Ceiling Repair – Tools and Materials

A large drop cloth is also needed to keep debris and dust off the floor.

Remove the Damaged Section of Drywall Ceiling

Before you cut out the damaged section of ceiling, know what’s on the other side of the drywall. Are there electrical wires, plumbing, gas lines, HVAC ducts, wood joists or metal support runners? I knew from looking into the ceiling crawlspace the center of the leak was close to the drywall suspended ceiling metal supports. If you can’t see what’s on the other side, cut a small inspection hole in the drywall with a utility knife and look inside with flashlight and small mirror.

I began the drywall repair by tapping drywall jab saw into the ceiling, knowing that I was inside the suspended drywall ceiling metal supports:

Drywall Ceiling Repair: Cut out the Water Damaged Area with Drywall Jab Saw

Drywall Ceiling Repair: Cut out the Water Damaged Area with Drywall Jab Saw

The cut is continued until I was well clear of the water damaged area. You might ask: “How do I know I’m making a straight cut?” because I’ve not marked cut lines on the ceiling with square. Right now it doesn’t matter – I’ll cut out the damaged area first and square up the hole later:

Water Damaged Drywall Ceiling Repair: 1st Cut with the Drywall Jab Saw

Water Damaged Drywall Ceiling Repair: 1st Cut with the Drywall Jab Saw

Knowing the leak was just inside the intersection of two suspended drywall ceiling metal supports, I made the second cut in the other direction:

Water Damaged Drywall Ceiling Repair: Second Cut with the Jab Saw

Water Damaged Drywall Ceiling Repair: Second Cut with the Jab Saw

The water damaged drywall ceiling section cut out with the jab saw. Water from the leaky shower drain dripped and splashed creating the hole. The problem with slow plumbing leaks is it takes time before the damage become apparent:

Water Damaged Section of Drywall Ceiling

Water Damaged Section of Drywall Ceiling

This repair is continued in How to Repair Drywall Ceiling Water Damage – Part 2.

Hope this helps,

Bob Jackson

Copyright © 2015   Reproduction strictly prohibited.

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12 Responses to How to Repair Drywall Ceiling Water Damage

  1. Mike February 21, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

    We recently had our bathroom ceiling repainted, we had not had any peeling problem over the shower, now it is flaking off. Can this be fixed by using another type of paint?

    • Bob Jackson February 22, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

      Paint requires a clean and dry surface, then allowed to fully cure before exposed to the steam & humidity from the shower. The peeling paint will have to be scraped off. What type of paint did you use? I prefer Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore premium interior latex paints. It’s expensive but I’ve never had a problem.

  2. Ralph May 5, 2015 at 9:34 am #

    Hello Bob

    Nice artlcle !

    I recently had a leak in a small area of my family room and I wondering if that would automatically necessitate the need to change the drywall. I am worried about mold though there is no evidence of it being anywhere. All i see is some water staining. Can i just paint it over or do you recommend puncturing the ceiling drywall and looking for mold?


    • Bob Jackson May 5, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

      Hi Ralph,
      Do you know what caused the leak and are you confident the leak is fixed? A slow leak may appear as a minor water stain on the ceiling while causing wood rot and mold. If you haven’t traced the leak source then, yes, drill a small hole in the ceiling and look around with a snake inspection camera for pipes, water trails, mold and wood rot:

      A quick & easy test is to paint the ceiling and if the water stain reappears, you now know the leak is still active and it’s time to open up the ceiling to find and repair the leak.

      • Ralph May 6, 2015 at 8:40 am #

        Hi Bob

        Thanks for replying!

        Yes I am confident that the leak was stopped. There have been many rain storms, for example, since the leak was fixed and all has held up. The leak had occurred under a flat rubber roof.

        My question though please is how would I know if Mold is present after I patch things up? Would the ceiling just get discolored? Can mold live in the ceiling, for example, and not show itself anywhere?
        Anything you can recommend that can test air quality for mold?

        Thanks again,


        • Bob Jackson May 7, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

          The only way to know if mold is present is to visually inspect the area above the drywall ceiling. Mold requires moisture or high humidity to grow. If the roof leak was fixed soon after the ceiling water stain was noticed there may be minimal or no mold.

          > Anything you can recommend that can test air quality for mold?
          The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mold website states:

          Who can test my home or clean, fix and remediate my home for mold?

          There are no established safe levels or regulatory standards for mold, so, although testing can be done, it may be of limited use in helping to understand the problem. Mold assessment is mainly done through visual inspection of areas where there have been moisture problems or water damage”


  3. Emily August 18, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    Hi Bob,
    We recently purchased our first home, and before we actually moved in, we went in & turned on the water line for the refrigerator and went back to our hotel. The next afternoon we came to drop some things off and found puddles of water all over the basement bathroom floor, which happens to be just under the kitchen/fridge area. After cleaning the initial mess of water and stopping the leak, there is obvious water damage to the walls in the downstairs bathroom, as well as a mildew smell from the kitchen sink area (which was not present before the disaster). We are very concerned about mold growth and impatiently waiting for the homeowners insurance company to call us back with someone to come out and inspect. Would you recommend tearing out the entire drywall portion of the bathroom wall where the damage is? Unfortunately it goes across about half of the wall. :( Any suggestions would be great!!

    • Bob Jackson August 18, 2015 at 7:48 pm #

      The first priority is the dry out the basement wall.

      This is usually accomplished by cutting out an 18 inch high strip of drywall above the floor and running fans for several days. A portable dehumidifier in the basement can speed the drying process. See the Hidden Mold Contamination article on InspectAPedia for details about cutting test holes and mold inspection.

      Call your homeowner’s insurance company before cutting away a long strip of drywall to ensure you’re not giving up any policy rights or causing “unrelated” repair costs they may claim are your doing. I’m surprised your insurance didn’t send an adjuster out right away and arrange for a water damage restoration company like SERVPRO. The longer it stays wet the more extensive and expensive the repairs can be.

  4. joelle October 27, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

    Hi bob.

    Today my son open water in the bathroom upstairs and he could not stop it. He called me when it was all over and almost outside in the corridor and carpet . I stopped the water and clean it. The carpet is still wet in some places. Later on I realise water leaking downstairs on the ceiling . The bathroom is just upstairs. From what I see. I will have a stain there. What should I do. Remove the carpet? How To fix the ceiling? Let dry and just paint ?. Please advise. I recently move to this house. Really worried. Thank

    • Bob Jackson October 28, 2015 at 12:04 am #

      Fortunately the overflow was clean water and you caught the problem right away. Pull the carpet and underlayment up so it and the subfloor can dry. A fan will speed drying. Wait at least one week for the ceiling to dry and assess the extent of the water damage. If the drywall ceiling isn’t soft, sagging or the drywall paper puckered and you only see water stains, then painting it should be sufficient.

  5. Nathan November 18, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    Hi Bob,

    My daughter found it fun to pour water out of the bathroom tub upstairs. It seeped through under the toilet, which obviously was not calked properly. Anyways, it’s now showing up on our downstairs ceiling and also poured through our air vent. Its covering a 2ft area. What should I do?

    • Bob Jackson November 20, 2015 at 8:58 am #

      No a lot you can do but wait for the floor and ceiling to dry then paint over any water stains. A one-time, short duration and limited volume water leak isn’t likely cause any real damage.

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