How to Paint Behind a Toilet—Without Removing the Tank

Give your bathroom a new coat of paint without worrying about moving 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 sent there. Fortunately, keeping your bathroom looking updated doesn't have to entail a major bathroom upgrade: Often a completely new paint color is enough to revitalize a room, making it look refreshing and exciting. Unlike paint projects in other rooms, though, in the bathroom you must consider the fact that you have to figure out how to paint behind the toilet.

Unlike a counter or hanging cupboards, a toilet is a fixed object that isn't fastened directly to the wall, so there is typically a space behind the toilet that is difficult to reach with a standard roller or even a paintbrush. This awkward gap is even sometimes completely ignored during a bathroom paint job because it is so hard to reach, and not many people will notice the patch of unpainted wall 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 toilet 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 to for the right tools and steps to do it.

Safety Considerations

Any time that you are working with paint, consider the powerful chemical fumes that paint produces, particularly indoors, and make sure you're not inhaling paint 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 toilet tank. The first is the easier 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)

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

Step 2: Prepare the Area

If you are 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 are 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, like behind a toilet. These tools are only about one inch in diameter and can sometimes be called mini hot dog rollers due to the 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 work 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 are satisfied that the mini roller fits and you know from which angle to enter with the roller, you can dip the roller in the paint tray or use a paintbrush to add paint to the roller. If the roller is dripping paint when you lift it from the paint tray, roll it a few times in the flat part of the tray to remove excess paint.

Slide the paint roller into the gap between the toilet and the wall, then begin painting the wall in even strokes. Don't rush the process. If possible, methodically work your way from the top to the bottom of the patch of wall behind the toilet to help 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 adequately dry that 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 smaller 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 DIY 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 are 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 odors. Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan, if you have one installed.

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 on it) and that you can move freely in. 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 odors while you paint.

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 edge 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 toilet tank lid and slide a garbage bag over the toilet tank. Use tape to secure the garbage bag to the toilet. Wrap it tightly to prevent the garbage bag 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 a DIY paint pad at home. You can make a paint pad by taping or gluing 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 in behind the toilet.

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

Dip the paint pad into the bucket of paint or paint tray to get a small amount of paint on the pad. You can also put paint on the paint pad with a paintbrush, which makes it easier to control how much paint is on the pad. If the paint pad is dripping, then there is too much paint, 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 to ensure that you don't miss any spots. Also, 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 or 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 ensure the first coat is completely dry to avoid 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 of paint in the same way.

Choosing the Right Type of Paint for the Bathroom

When it comes to selecting paint for the bathroom, keep in mind that the moisture and humidity in the bathroom is typically significantly greater than in any other rooms 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 bathroom before deciding. Oil-based paint tends to be high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have a powerful odor that make it hard to use in a small space, like a bathroom. 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. Bathroom paints that are marketed as washable, mold-resistant, and low-VOC tend to have increased durability, possess anti-microbial properties, and be safer to use than paints with powerful chemical fumes.

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