How to Paint Behind a Toilet—Without Removing the Tank

Give your bathroom a new coat of paint without having to move the toilet—or worse, leaving huge unpainted patches behind—by following these steps.

The bathroom is probably one of the most-used rooms in your home—even your guests make frequent use of your bathroom—so it's important to keep it clean and updated, at least so you don't resent all the time spent there. Fortunately, keeping things looking up to date doesn't have to entail a major bathroom upgrade. Often, a completely new color of paint is enough to revitalize a room, making it look refreshed and exciting. Unlike paint projects in other rooms, though, in the bathroom you must consider how to paint behind the toilet.

While a counter or hanging cupboard can be moved, a toilet is a fixed object that isn't fastened directly to the wall, so there's typically a space behind it that's difficult to reach with a standard roller, or even a paintbrush. This awkward gap is sometimes completely ignored during a bathroom paint job, just because it's so hard to reach, and not many people will notice an unpainted patch behind the toilet.

four open paint cans with paintbrush on top
Blaine Moats

Fortunately for anyone who can't stand the idea of leaving a patch of unpainted wall, there are ways to paint behind a toilet. Some experienced DIYers may remove the tank, or even the entire toilet, to access the wall, but this is an extra step that you may not have the time, desire, or knowledge to complete. Good news: You can learn how to paint behind a toilet without removing the tank. Keep reading for the right tools and steps to do it.

Safety Considerations

Any time that you're working with paint, consider the powerful chemical fumes that it produces, particularly indoors, and make sure you're not inhaling fumes. You can properly ventilate your space by opening windows, setting up fans, and wearing appropriate breathing protection. Also, consider investing in a low- or zero-VOC paint.

Paint splatter isn't a huge issue as long as you are wearing long paints, closed-toe shoes, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, and safety glasses. Protective clothing prevents the paint from getting on your skin and makes clean up a bit easier, but safety glasses can block paint drops and splatter from entering your eyes.

How to Paint Behind a Toilet Using a Mini Roller

There are two main methods for painting behind a toilet without removing the tank. The first is the easiet of the two, though there needs to be enough space between the toilet and the wall for a mini paint roller. This means the gap should be greater than one inch in size for the mini roller to comfortably fit within this space.

What You'll Need

  • Fan
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Mask
  • Painters tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Garbage bag
  • Screwdriver
  • Mini paint roller
  • Paint tray
  • Rag or cloth
  • Paintbrush

Step 1: Ventilate the Space and Put on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Before you start, open any windows and set up one or more fans to ensure that the bathroom is properly ventilated. If the bathroom has an exhaust fan, turn it on to vent any chemical odors trapped near the ceiling. While you work, wear closed-toe shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, a mask, and safety glasses.

Step 2: Prepare the Area

If you're painting the entire bathroom, use painters tape to cover the edges of any areas you don't want painted, like the bathroom counter, mirror, or baseboards. Even if you're only touching up the space behind the toilet, it's a good idea to apply painters tape to the baseboard behind the toilet and to any pipes that are coming out of the wall.

Use one or more drop cloths to protect the floor of the bathroom, then take the lid off the toilet and slide a garbage bag over the tank. Tape the garbage bag tight around the toilet to prevent it from getting in the way while you work. This bag will keep the toilet protected from paint without taking up a lot of space between the wall and the toilet.

Step 3: Insert the Mini Roller Behind the Toilet

Mini paint rollers are designed for tight spaces, even behind a toilet. These tools are only about one inch in diameter and are sometimes be called mini hot dog rollers due to their small size. Before applying paint to the mini roller, slide it behind the toilet to test which angle will be the most convenient for you to use, and to ensure the roller fits without painting the toilet. Try sliding the mini roller in from the sides or from the top to figure out which entry point is easiest to work with.

Step 4: Apply Paint in Even Strokes

Once you're satisfied that the mini roller fits and you know from which angle to enter to apply the paint, you can dip the roller into the paint tray, or use a paintbrush to add paint to the roller. If, when you lift it from the tray, the roller is dripping paint, roll it a few times over the flat part of the tray to remove the excess.

Slide the paint roller into the gap between the toilet and the wall, then begin painting in even strokes. Don't rush the process. If possible, work your way methodically from the top to the bottom to avoid missing any spots.

Step 5: Apply a Second Coat, If Necessary

After applying the first coat, inspect the paint job and wait about four to six hours for the paint to dry. While it will likely take at least 24 hours for the paint to fully cure, giving it four to six hours will allow the paint enough time to dry adequately so you can apply a second coat. Keep in mind that a second coat of paint isn't always necessary. If you check the paint job and conclude that the patch of wall is properly covered, then you won't need to worry about a second or third coat. Simply allow the paint to fully cure before resuming regular use of the bathroom.

How to Paint Behind a Toilet Using a Paint Pad

If the gap between the toilet and the wall is narrower than one inch, then you will need to resort to using a paint pad. There are some commercially made paint pads available, but making a paint pad is also relatively easy, as long as you have a long, thin stick, like a paint stir stick.

What You'll Need

  • Fan
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Mask
  • Painters tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Garbage bag
  • Screwdriver
  • Paint pad
  • Paint stir stick
  • Rag or cloth
  • Tape or hot glue
  • Paintbrush

Step 1: Ventilate the Space and Put on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Regardless of whether you're using a mini roller or a paint pad, it's important to ensure the space is well ventilated. Open windows, doors, and set up one or more fans to help vent harmful chemicals. Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan.

Put on personal protective equipment (PPE) to stay safe while you work, including closed-toe shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, a mask, and safety glasses. Choose clothing that you don't care too much about (it will likely get paint splattered) and that you can move about in freely. The safety glasses will help to protect your eyes from stray paint drips and splatters, while a proper mask should help prevent the inhalation of toxic fumes.

Step 2: Prepare the Area

Painting is messy. Put down one or more drop cloths to protect the floor, then apply painters tape to the edges of any objects you don't want painted, like the bathroom counter, mirror, door trim, or baseboards. Specifically, while painting behind the toilet, apply a strip of painters tape to the baseboards behind the toilet. Additionally, you need to remove the tank lid and slide a garbage bag over the tank. Use tape to secure the garbage bag, and wrap it tightly to prevent it from touching the wall.

Step 3: Purchase or Make a DIY Paint Pad

If the gap between the toilet and the wall is less than one inch, a mini roller won't fit. You will need to either buy a paint pad from a home improvement store or make your own paint pad at home. You can tape or glue a piece of thin, microfiber rag to the end of a long, thin piece of wood, like a paint stir stick. The piece of rag will act as the paint pad, while the thin stick will make it possible to slide the paint pad behind the toilet.

Step 4: Slide the Paint Pad Behind the Toilet and Apply Paint

Dip the paint pad into the paint bucket or tray to absorb a small amount. You can also apply paint to the pad with a paintbrush, which makes it easier to control how much paint is on the pad. If the pad is dripping, there's too much paint on it, and some will need to be removed before you can start.

Once the paint pad has just enough paint loaded on it, slide the pad down behind the toilet tank from the top. Gradually work the paint pad side to side to cover the unpainted patch of wall. Take your time and proceed with patience, so you don't miss any spots. Keep in mind that this process, while effective, won't leave the smoothest texture behind. (Though, with a gap of less than one inch, the texture isn't likely to matter much or even be noticed.)

Step 5: Apply Additional Coats, If Necessary

You will likely need to apply at least one extra coat to get complete coverage, but the first coat should be completely dry, or you might be rubbing off the first layer of paint when you attempt to apply the second. Wait at least four to six hours, then apply a second coat. Inspect the paint job and, if necessary, wait another four to six hours, then apply a third coat in the same way.

Choosing the Right Type of Paint for the Bathroom

When it comes to selecting paint, keep in mind that the moisture and humidity in the bathroom is typically significantly greater than in any other room in the home. This means that the walls are vulnerable to water damage, mold growth, and rot, if you don't seal out the moisture with the right type of paint.

You can choose an oil-based or latex water-based paint for the bathroom, though you will want to consider the ventilation in the room before deciding. Oil-based paint tends to be high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and has powerful fumes that makes it hard to use in a small space. Latex water-based paint is a better option for bathrooms with poor ventilation.

For the best results—and to stay safe while you work—look for paints that are specifically made for the bathroom. Paints that are marketed as washable, mold-resistant, and low-VOC tend to have increased durability, possess anti-microbial properties, and are safer to use than paints that emit powerful chemical fumes.

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