Yellow Stain Coming Through White Paint: How to Fix

White paint is a timeless choice for any paint job. It brightens up walls and furniture and it compliments practically any type of home decor. 

However, white paint and other lighter paints tend to be susceptible to bleed-through. Bleed-through from unsealed wood underneath can turn a good looking paint job into a disappointment. 

In this post, we’ll share how to fix yellow stain coming through white paint and how to prevent it from happening in your future projects.


To fix the yellow stain coming through white paint, lightly sand the tainted area, apply a coat of shellac-based stain-blocking primer in the yellow area, then repaint. 

If the yellow stains are prevalent, you may need to prep the entire surface with primer before painting.

Why is a yellow stain coming through the paint?

Multiple spots of yellow stains or bleed-through are annoying problems that painters and DIYers face when using white paint. Why does this happen?

These stains coming through paint are often a surface problem and not a paint problem. Although, some low-quality paints can also cause bleed-through. Other reasons include:

  • Tannins: Tannin bleed-through in white paint is very noticeable and the most common reason for yellow stains that permeate from under the paint. Tannins are essentially acids found in sap from natural wood. These acid chemicals undergo chemical changes when exposed to water, causing yellow, brownish stains. Certain types of wood tend to be high in tannins such as mahogany, pine, cherry, red oak, walnut. Chances are that if you see yellow or brown splotches bleeding through your white paint, you are painting one of these types of wood.

  • Moisture: Stains may also appear in walls affected by water damage. If you begin to notice yellow spots in the ceiling for instance, you may want to check to make sure a pipe isn’t dripping. 
  • Contamination: Painting over contaminated surfaces causes yellow stains. These contaminants include dust, molds, mildew, and even grease. Likewise, nicotine and tar from cigarette smoking are absorbed by your walls, causing discoloration. Certain active areas of the house like in kitchens and bathrooms are more prone to contamination from cooking oils, or dirt. 
  • Rust: If painting on metals, rust may also seep through the paint, causing bleed-through.

If there is a yellow stain coming through your paint, there is a high probability that it’s a tannin stain or stain from contamination. However, stains aren’t the only way that white paint can turn yellow. Other reasons why white paint can yellow over time include: 

  • Overexposure to UV rays: UV rays can make the paint appear amber, causing stains on your painted surface. This discoloration occurs when a wall or furniture is overexposed to sunlight.
  • Type of topcoat: Oil-based finishes such as oil-based polyurethane show can yellow over time as they age. Under these circumstances, it’s not the paint that’s yellowing but rather the top coat that’s ambering. 

How to fix paint bleed through?

Tannin stain coming through layer of white paint

Yellow stains coming through white paint and lighter paints can be frustrating, especially if you only notice the stain after sealing the surface. Fortunately, with a little more time and work, you can fix any stains coming through the paint.

For an unsealed painted surface, locate all the areas of yellow stain. If there are just a few spots, sand down those areas until you have removed the tainted paint. Wipe off any paint dust and apply a coat of stain-blocking shellac-based primer.

Check the label of the primer for its dry time. Once the primer has sufficiently dried, cover the surface with two more layers of white paint. Then, seal with a non-yellowing clear coating (a water-based polyurethane works great).

If the yellow stains completely cover the furniture or surface you’re painting, you may need to sand down your furniture or apply paint remover to remove all the paint. In this scenario, repriming and painting your furniture makes the most sense. 

For future projects: How to prevent wood bleeding through paint 

It is time-consuming and stressful to fix any stains coming through the paint. So, we recommend taking extra precautions in future projects to prevent this problem and protect your painted surface.

Step 1: Clean your surface thoroughly

The first step for any paint job is cleaning.

Paint or stain will not adhere properly to the surface if there is dust, oil, or grease. Moreover, it causes pesky yellow stains, affecting your project’s aesthetic.

There are a few ways to clean surfaces before painting, but a warm water solution with a splash of dish soap works great. Soak a rag or sponge in the solution and scrub the surface you’re painting. If painting over extremely grimy surfaces, go a bit heavier on the dish soap, but be sure to clean the surface again a second time with just water to remove any residual dish soap.

Dry with a clean, lint-free cloth, or leave to air dry.

Step 2: Sand the surface

Sanding your surface is generally a good idea no matter what to ensure the best paint adhesion. Scuff the sandpaper back and forth along the surface you’re painting or use a palm sander for greater efficiency. Once you have sufficiently sanded the surface, be sure to wipe it down with a damp cloth or tack cloth to remove the dust. 

Step 3: Apply stain-blocking primer

To prevent the yellow stains caused by tannins, use a stain-blocking shellac-based primer on your surface. Zinsser BIN Stain Blocking Primer is a great choice (available here on Amazon).

Never skip this step when painting mahogany furniture or other wood surfaces made of pine, cherry, red oak, and walnut. These woods have high levels of tannic acid and are more prone to bleed through.

With a shellac-based primer, one coat should be enough to stop the bleed-through. Always read the label for specific drying times to avoid painting prematurely. 

Step 4: Apply water-based paint

Choosing the right paint can also prevent discoloration.

Water-based paints are less prone to discoloration as they age. They tend to be fast drying and less toxic as well. 

In contrast, oil-based paints are more prone to yellowing over time by nature. This isn’t so much of an issue with dark hues but with light paints like white, this is something to be wary of with oil-based paints. 

Ultimately, it is always best to choose high-quality paints over low-quality paints for better coverage, less coatings, and durability.

Step 5: Apply sealant (optional)

Depending on what paint you use, and the surface you’re painting, you may want to sue a sealant. For instance, if you are using chalk paint, a sealant is a must. Alternatively, if you are painting a piece of furniture that will get a lot of traffic in your house, a sealant might be needed to make it extra durable. 

Opt for a water-based sealant rather than an oil-based sealant. Oil-based sealants can yellow over time so it’s best to avoid them altogether. A water-based polyurethane or polyacrylic will work great.

Step 6: Keep your painted surface clean

Finally, prevent any stain or discoloration on your painted surface by keeping it clean. Regularly wipe the surface with a lint-free cloth and warm water with a touch of dish soap. If you spill something on your painted surface that could stain it, tend to the spill right away. 

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