How To Dry Out Walls After Water Damage

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 07/07/24 •  10 min read

It is usually easy to identify water-damaged drywall as it is usually discolored, bubbled, flaked, or molded where water has gotten into it (though not always).

Leaving water damage to sit and soak into your walls can cause costly and dangerous structural damage as well as mold and mildew growth, which is hazardous to your health.

In this post, I’ll quickly cover how to dry out your walls after water damage, how to access the damage, and how to make any drywall repairs necessary.

How to Dry Out Walls After Water Damage (A 10-Step Process)

You’ve probably already done at least a few of the steps in this list of actions; but just in case you missed something in the panic of discovering a leak, here’s the full list of steps to take after your water has gotten onto your walls:

1. Shut Down the Water Supply

If the leak is due to water coming in from your roof, there’s not a whole lot that you can do until the rain or melting ice stops and gravity is no longer pulling it down and into your wall.

If it’s a burst pipe, toilet, faucet or appliance causing the problem, however, you can locate your main water valve and shut off the water supply.  Here’s a quick video showing you how to shut off the water supply to your home:

2. Shut Off the Power (if an Outlet or Light Is Wet)

If there is a power outlet or light within the wet area, play it safe and shut the power off at the source (the breaker in your electrical panel).

Electricity and water don’t mix so it’s best to play it safe here.

3. Clear the Walls and Surrounding Area

Once the immediate dangers of flooding water and electrical damage are addressed as best as possible, it’s time to clear the area of anything that can get damaged or hold onto the water.

Remove all of the picture frames, wall hangings, etc. off of the wall. Move any furniture, clothing or other personal items out of the area as well.

4. Remove Baseboards and Any Crown Molding

This one sucks, I know, but once the area is clear you’ll want to remove any baseboards and/or crown molding on the wall that’s sustained damage, even if they aren’t yet damaged. This is so that no moisture will remain trapped between the wall and trim and air can get in everywhere to dry out the wall.

Luckily, it is possible to repair water-damaged trim, so remove it all carefully and set it aside. For instructions on how to carefully remove and repair water-damaged MDF trim click here.

5. Investigate the Damage Inside the Wall

Once you remove all the trim, it’s a good idea to take a look inside the wall and see if there’s any mold growing, soaked insulation, or other problems.

To do so, pick the most obvious water-damaged spot on the wall and open up a fair-sized investigation hole. Here’s a quick video showing you how to cut out a hole you can replace easily later if it turns out everything is ok inside the wall.

Note: This video tells you to use a small oscilating saw. These are great, but if you don’t have all the tools a utility knife or a drywall saw work just fine (and are much cheaper).

6. Check the Insulation (and Remove it if Necessary)

If the water-damaged has insulation in it of some kind (exterior walls will, but walls that are simply designed for dividing rooms may not have any insulation) you’ll need to determine— by touch—if the insulation within is soaked.

If there is soaked insulation inside, you’ll have to cut the wall out enough to get to it and pull it out. If you have to cut out most of the wall, I recommend leaving at least about three or four inches from the top, bottom and sides of the wall you’re opening up if possible, as this will allow you to repair the wall later on without needing any corner drywall joints.

Once you’ve started, the most important thing is to get the wet insulation out. If it’s damp or moderately wet, it may be salvageable after a drying-out period. If it is saturated, go ahead and toss it in the garbage. 

7. Get the Air Flowing

Once everything is out of room, any walls and insulation are open and ready to dry, open all windows, turn on fans, and add any additional air circulation methods you can find. Dehumidifiers are also great!

Renting out a commercial dehumidifier from your local Home Depot would be a great idea if you’re dealing with a lot of moisture and don’t have access to many fans or a dehumidifier yourself. Commercial dehumidifiers just circulate more air and can hold more removed water in their tank before having to be emptied.

8. Allow Everything to Dry for 24 Hours and Assess the Situation

Mold and mildew start to grow after about 24 hours, so that’s about how long you can leave it and see the progress you’re making.

If after 24 hours you come back and everything is drying, you’re good to go!

But if things don’t look like they are progressing at all it’s time to throw out any remaining insulation that isn’t dry yet, and either consider opening up more wall space, checking the leak is under control, getting better fans and dehumidifiers, and/or calling in a professional.

9. Get the Leak Fixed

This article is not about fixing any of the many causes of leaks that could have wet your walls, but it’s important to fix the leak before sealing your walls back up to avoid having to do this all over again if the fix didn’t work and you don’t know until you turn the water back on.

10. Repair the Drywall

Finally, it’s time to repair the drywall.

How To Repair Water Damaged Drywall

If you’ve taken the time to cut out the damaged drywall properly then you should be left with easy to patch area. If this is the case, scroll back up to the Home Depot video above for the patch instructions.

However, if the patch is being put in an area of existing drywall that has nothing to attach to, you may need to add a backing piece that you can screw the replacement part onto.

Once the drywall is attached, you will need to tape it, apply mud, and sand it smooth once it has dried. A fibreglass tape might be a better option if you haven’t worked with drywall before since it’s adhesive and a little easier to use.

Here’s another quick video showing that type of repair:

Repairs of this sort aren’t terribly difficult to do, with the hardest part likely being taping and mudding.  I hate mudding myself, but can still pull off a small repair like this.

Deciding if it’s Best to Call In A Professional and/or Your Insurance Company for Water Damage

Most homeowners can handle simple or even moderate water damage in a wall, even with just the most basic skills. You can determine whether or not calling in a specialist is the best course of action by evaluating your own skills and limitations and the extent of the damage.

If the damage is extensive and affects load-bearing walls, it may also be a reasonable move to contact your home insurance company and see if it’s covered. Calling your insurance makes sense if the time, money, and/or expertise required for the job is higher than you feel comfortable with.

When To Call In A Professional

If you’re looking at the damage and thinking it’s going to take you days just to open things up, or if you see significant mold, call in the professionals right away. In these situations, don’t bother opening up your walls to dry them out first as a professional water damage specialist will have a team that will come in and do all that quickly and cleanly.

Benefits of Calling A Professional

The number one benefit of having a professional come in and evaluate the wall is the fact that they will have industrial-level tools to do the job, including: 

Where you will have to cut chunks out of your sheetrock to visibly and tangibly check the insulation, professionals have tools that can tell them exactly where the water is located without causing additional damage to the sheetrock. 

Once the moisture is maped out, they can then go about drying it—if possible considering the insulation type—by placing industrial-grade dehumidifiers and “high capacity air mover” along the length of the wall to both air-dry the water within and suck the moisture from the air. 

If necessary, they can apply an inner-wall drying method which involves pushing air directly into the inside of the wall. They won’t need to physically inspect the inside of the wall once it is complete because their instruments can keep them informed of existing moisture. 

If mold is present, they will also remove dispose of it safely.

Where to Find a Water Damage Specialist

If your damage is at the level where you’re considering a specialist, here are some to contact and ask questions.

As with any home repair specialist, be sure to ask for references before you hire a professional.

United States

Canada

All Things Considered

Whether you decide to dry the walls yourself or hire a professional to come in and do the job for you, it’s one of those necessary jobs. Water damage is a problem that doesn’t go away on its own and can’t be put off for another day.

The greatest threat is mold and mildew, but if the damage is small and you spot the damage and act quickly, that threat is largely diminished and things can be fixed quickly.

FAQ

How Long Does It Take for Water Damage to Dry Completely?

It depends on the extent of the water damage, but in general, you can expect areas in your home exposed to water or moisture to dry in about five days.

Depending on the area, drying can take as little as two days or as long as several weeks to completely dry. 

As mentioned, if you don’t see any improvement at all after 24 hours, it may be time to call a professional or get better drying equipment as mold and mildew can become an issue.

Can You Use Drywall After Its Been Wet?

In general, if the drywall was allowed to remain heavily soaked for over 48 hours, then it needs to be removed and replaced immediately. The same rule applies to wet insulation.

Drywall that’s bubbled or separating should also be discarded.

However, if the drywall was only exposed to light moisture and attended to in less than 48 hours, it can be dried out and saved.

thewriteDuffy

At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.