We purchased a home recently and there is a lot of discoloration on the ceiling of the living room. Can someone tell me based on the photo below, if you can tell what would have caused these stains? The prior residents were chain smokers so I'm figuring that's in but I don't understand why the staining wouldn't be consistent. I had planned to just paint over them but wanted to run it by, hopefully someone with more stain experience that could tell me it's not some kind of water stain or mold before I did so. Could someone out there help me based on this photo? Thanks!

enter image description here

  • Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. It's going to be hard for us to tell from an irregularly lit photo; could you try one with better lighting? Apr 30, 2019 at 20:02
  • The ceiling appears to be textured, so it could be the result of an attempt to wash the ceiling. Worse case is that it was a paint job over the staining and its bleeding through; the upper right corner appears to show white paint on the wall joint indicating the ceiling was painted after the walls. However the cup of milk with a tablespoon of coffee color of walls reminds my of an apartment I once had with heavy tobacco staining. If i remember correctly, a strong ammonia solution works to clean the stains.
    – TnTinMn
    Apr 30, 2019 at 22:30
  • 1
    In my experience with cigarette smoke stains, the coating is very uniform. These don't look like any stains I've seen in the past. You might go up into the attic, if that's what's above here, and see if you can determine anything.
    – jwh20
    May 1, 2019 at 1:50

3 Answers 3


My grand parents smoked in there home for years, when my grandfather passed we painted the house so my grandmother could sell it, a long story short washing with tsp trisodium phosphate, and painting the brown tar made it through the paint 3x coated we ended up repainting with a schellac based sealer then repainting this finally solved the bleed through problem. You will want to seal the surface not just prime zinsser makes one that I have used since then many times with no bleed through.


If above it is a roof or a bathroom, I'd wait to see if it gets any worse. Then I'd paint it, after fixing the roof or the bathroom. It doesn't matter what it's from unless it's a continuing issue.

What's up with that far corner...? Bad siding? Roof leak? (clean the gutters while you're up there ;)

If I saw new work on the roof/siding, I'd roll the dice and just go ahead and paint.


The ceiling may not even been painted.Look for that.Seen guys do popcorn ceiling with paint added . Spray on and a second coat never put on. And the old owners let it go.It may never had a good primer and they added sprayed on unprimed drywall. Or if that has a vapor problem. No plastic or insulation upside down paper should be facing heated area.Not paper facing up. Is that a one floor house or attic above?

Does not look like water stains at all, would look much worse. And you seem to post a lot about cigarette smoke. They would be brown or tea stained the whole way. Feel the walls - you can feel the tar on them. Rugs and carpet pad takes on smoke. And they may have put in new carpet and left old pad, seen it done.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.