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Brown Spots on Bathroom Ceiling: Let’s Fix It!

If you’ve noticed a few brown spots on your ceiling, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean there are dead bodies in your attic. As it turns out, there’s no need to call the Ghostbusters just yet. 

These spots could be a result of several different factors and problems that you can easily fix after doing a bit of investigating yourself. So what causes brown spots on a bathroom ceiling? And how can you fix them? Let’s take a look.

Brown Spots on Bathroom Ceiling

What Causes Brown Spots on a Ceiling?

When I first saw brown spots on my bathroom ceiling, I was floored. I thought they might be mold, but I didn’t realize there was more to it than that! There are several potential causes of brown spots on the ceiling in your bathroom. When it comes to the problem at hand, there are two main culprits: poor ventilation and water damage.

If you live in a home with poor ventilation and don’t have a fan in your bathroom, this could cause moisture build-up, which leads to mold growth. If you’re seeing brown spots on your ceiling, check your bathroom fans first! 

If they’re not working or haven’t been used in a while (or ever), then it’s time for an upgrade!

Poor Bathroom Ventilation

Have you ever noticed how moisture condenses on the fan and ceiling after a hot shower? That’s because the water vapor in the air is so thick that it can’t get out of the room fast enough. This causes condensation on your bathroom fan and ceiling, which then drips onto your walls. Those drops leave brown spots when they evaporate.

When there is no place for moisture to go, it seeps into the walls and onto the ceiling. If you have a bathroom fan, it should work to pull air out of the room to prevent moisture build-up. 

If your bathroom has no exhaust fan, you likely have a problem with moisture buildup in your bathroom. Moisture buildup can cause serious damage to your home, including mold and mildew. Both scenarios will cause health problems for the people who live in your home, so you must take action as soon as possible to prevent further damage!

If you notice brown spots on your ceiling, try installing a bathroom fan or improving ventilation in some other way (such as opening windows).

Water Heater Burst

A water heater burst causes brown spots on the ceiling. If your water heater bursts, it can cause extensive damage to your ceilings. The water that spills onto the ceiling can seep through the drywall and plaster, causing brown spots on your bathroom ceiling

The water can also cause mold to grow, which will make your bathroom smell (see also ‘bathroom smells like poop’). If you don’t notice the damage right away, you may find yourself with a mold problem in addition to a damaged ceiling!

Paint Quality and Leeching

Does your bathroom ceiling have brown spots that weren’t there before you painted? The paint may not have dried completely before you used the shower. This is what happened to me, and it’s the reason why I now always invest in quality paints (applied by professionals).

The steam from a shower can cause the oil in paint to seep through newly painted walls and leave brown spots.

If you use cheap, low-quality paint on your bathroom ceiling, it may not dry properly and could leach onto the surface, causing brown spots.

Paint that is not mixed well or has not dried properly can also cause brown spots on a ceiling. If you notice that your bathroom walls are covered with brown spots after painting them, the paint may be cheap or poorly mixed. A professional painter should be able to tell you if this is true and help you fix the problem.

Paint Quality and Leeching

Indoor Smoking

If you or someone else in your home smokes, it can cause brown spots on your ceiling. Tobacco smoke contains nicotine and tar, which can seep through the drywall and plaster of your bathroom ceiling (read here for more information on drywall bathroom ceilings). The nicotine and tar can also discolor the paint on top of the plaster.

Old Water Damage

Old water damage causes brown spots on the bathroom ceiling. If you notice brown spots on your bathroom ceiling, it could signify water damage. Water damage can come from many sources. Leaks in the roof or plumbing, an improper installation by a contractor, or even old age (if you’ve lived in your home for a while).

Leaking Water Pipes

If you’ve noticed brown spots on your bathroom ceiling, chances are it’s a sign of leaking water pipes. The discoloration can be caused by either the ceiling or the walls being wet for an extended period. In either case, it’s a clear sign that there is a leak somewhere in your plumbing system.

Damaging leaks can range from minor cracks in your plumbing system to major ones like burst pipes that have gone undetected for some time. If you notice brown spots on your bathroom ceiling, act fast! Identify the problem as quickly as possible so repairs can be made before any more damage is done to your home.

Hard Water

Mineral deposits from hard water can cause brown spots on the bathroom ceiling. When steam condenses and evaporates on your ceiling, those mineral deposits remain. 

Brown stains may be from iron buildup in your hard water. Iron buildup can be a problem in older homes that have well water, as well as newer homes with old plumbing systems.

Attic Waterproofing

I find one easy area to overlook is actually the attic. One common mistake during remodels is installing a waterproof barrier along the attic floor. This should go on the bathroom ceiling instead.

If the waterproof barrier is put in the attic, moisture seeps between the floors and into the bathroom ceiling. This moisture can cause brown spots and other damage to your ceiling. 

If you’ve got this problem, it’s best to hire a professional plumber as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may end up with more expensive problems like mold or rot in your attic later.

How To Fix Brown Spots on the Ceiling

The brown spots on your bathroom ceiling can be frustrating. This is especially true when they’re right above where you’re trying to brush your teeth. No one needs that staring back at them in the mirror! Fortunately, there are a few different ways you can get rid of them.

First, check to make sure that the problem isn’t coming from a water heater burst or leaking pipes. These are two common reasons for brown spots on your bathroom ceiling. If you’re not sure if this is what’s causing the problem, call a professional.

If it turns out that your brown spots aren’t caused by leaking water or pipes, then you should be able to take care of them yourself. Here are some tips for how to handle those pesky brown spots.

How To Fix Brown Spots on the Ceiling

Ceiling Fan

Seeing brown spots in your bathroom? The very first thing you should do is check that your ceiling fan is working. Flick it on and see if it spins freely. You may need to clean it or replace the parts that are damaged. You should also check that the blades aren’t clogged with dust or debris, as this can prevent them from spinning freely.

If your ceiling fan is dirty, you will want to clean it. You can use a sponge and mildew remover to clean your fan’s blades, but make sure that you don’t get any chemicals on the motor or wiring of your ceiling fan.

If the fan doesn’t work properly, consider getting a new one. In the meantime, open a door or window to allow moisture in the bathroom to escape.

Oxygen Bleach

Removing stains from the ceiling is like removing them from your clothing. The process of removing stains from a shirt is called “bleaching.” Both involve using an oxidizing agent (such as hydrogen peroxide) to break down the stain into its parts.

In this case, you can use oxygen bleach on your bathroom ceiling with similar results. Sodium carbonate (also known as soda ash) and hydrogen peroxide create a mild acid. This acid will break down any stains you might have on your ceiling without harming the paint or plaster underneath. 

Oxygen bleach is different from chlorine bleach. Chlorine may discolor or damage the paint finish on your walls depending on how often you use it. 


Vinegar is another natural cleaning solution! It works great on bathroom surfaces like floors and countertops. Vinegar works well for removing stains in the bathroom, like rust from metal fixtures like faucets or toilets. 

Dilute some vinegar with water in a spray bottle. Spray it onto the stained area until it dries completely before wiping away any residue with a clean cloth or paper towel. Repeat the step as needed until the stain lightens up.

Zinsser Mold Killing Primer

Zinsser handles mold and conceals water damage. Zinsser’s water-based primer and paint are easy to apply and dry within an hour. 

Once the ceiling is dry, you can paint right over it with the color of your choice. The sealant will protect your paint job from the mold while helping to hide any remaining stains.

Brown Spots on Bathroom Ceiling, Final Thoughts

If you have brown spots on your ceiling, there are a few ways to get rid of them. After you’re sure there are no serious leaks in your bathroom, try cleaning the area with stain remover. If that doesn’t work, you can try to repaint it. Finally, if all else fails and you have brown spots on your ceiling, call in a professional for help.

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