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How to Paint Behind a Radiator, Into Tight Gaps, or Behind Pipes

Susan enjoys travel, art, writing, and natural products. She lives in Kent, just outside of London.

Using a regular paintbrush can leave an unprofessional finish. Yuck!

Using a regular paintbrush can leave an unprofessional finish. Yuck!

How to Paint Behind a Radiator Without Removing It

A quick way to freshen up a room is to repaint it a new colour. To complete the refresh to a professional standard, you need to make sure that paint is applied behind any radiators or pipes that are in the room. These areas can be awkward, but without finishing them off well, you will be dissatisfied with your work. With these tips, you can paint behind radiators and pipes ensuring a smooth and quality result.

Easy DIY Tool for Hard-to-Reach Spots

To create a professional finish, paint should be put on the wall behind the radiators, pipes and other obstructions, but it isn't easy to do well using conventional paintbrushes or rollers. There are some thin rollers and some angled brushes on the market, but sometimes these are not small enough, or they don't have a long enough handle. And if you need the tool for just one job, you don't want to spend the money buying something special.

To get around the problem of how to paint behind a radiator without taking it off the wall, I make a simple, free tool each time which does the job really well. It takes minutes to put together and is perfect for the job.


  • You need a length of wood that is leftover from another job, something narrow and slightly flexible. I use the same pieces of dowling each time so I make sure I keep hold of it, and this piece of wood is also useful for stirring the paint too. You could use a bamboo cane, floor edging, trim, beading or battening - it just needs to be slim enough to easily slide between gaps. It could even be an old-fashioned wooden ruler if you have one long enough for your particular task. Have a look around the workshop, garage or shed for the right length and shape, but if you don't have anything, purchase a cheap piece of edging or dowling—you don't need anything fancy and could even check the bargain bin for a damaged piece.
  • Piece of sponge. I use an old car sponge but you could also use a kitchen sponge or a bathroom sponge. It doesn't have to be new, just clean and grease-free. You can throw it out after you have used it for painting, and make a new one for the next job.
  • Standard stapler that opens wide and four or five staples
  • Pair of scissors
Make a simple DIY tool to paint into tight spots.

Make a simple DIY tool to paint into tight spots.


Once all the items needed to make the tool are collected, construct it in the following day:

  1. Cut the sponge into a rectangle about 4 cm square, and trim it so it's thin enough to go down the gap you are going to work on. You can cut this in any shape or size you feel you need to get the work done, sometimes a triangular shape is handy to get into really tiny gaps. You can make a different sponge for each job you are going to tackle, you can alter it to suit you. The smaller it is, the longer it will take to paint an area, but the easier it will be to complete a beautiful finish.
  2. Staple the sponge onto the end of the wood. Use 3 or 4 staples to keep it secure. Make sure the staples have gone all the way in and are flat, otherwise you might find the metal scrapes the wall you are painting and leaves an uneven finish. If the staples aren't fully flat, tap them with a small hammer until they are. That’s all there is to it!

Photo Guide

Step 1: Cut the sponge

Step 1: Cut the sponge

Step 2: Staple the sponge onto the wood

Step 2: Staple the sponge onto the wood

Tada! Use your new painting tool to get behind a radiator.

Tada! Use your new painting tool to get behind a radiator.

Tips for Painting Tight Spots

Tips on painting into tiny gaps, behind radiators and between pipes:

  • To get a neat result, take it slowly. Spend a bit of time over it, and you will be pleased with your work. Using a small tool like this will be slow going, but it is much quicker than taking the radiator off the wall and much less stressful.
  • When painting behind a radiator, cover the whole heater in a cheap cling film/plastic food wrapping before you start. If you have one of those rolls of plastic for packing boxes, then that is the perfect stuff but any clingy, film that just sticks to itself is good enough—so you don't have to tape it in place. It is inevitable that you will brush your painting sponge onto the top or side of the radiator - but if it is wrapped in plastic it won’t matter.
  • For painting behind pipes, first, cover pipes in tape. I often use parcel tape because it is wider and will wrap an all-around water pipe in one piece lengthways. Again, taking the time to protect areas you don't want paint on will save you time trying to remove mistakes later. Have a rag handy, though, just in case because wiping paint off immediately is better than trying to get it off once it has dried a little.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What if you didn't use tape or cling film and did get some paint on the radiator? I've tried soapy water and elbow grease but it isn't coming off.

Answer: I can only suggest that you re-paint the radiator. Soapy water should not remove paint once it has dried. A few minutes of prep can save hours of repair.

© 2015 Susan Hambidge


Averil Howitt on October 27, 2018:

I am new to decorating and that is a great help, thanks

Derek Aldred on July 21, 2018:

Brilliant thanks

charles on April 27, 2018:

great help thanks x

Sharon Whittington from Labarque Creek, MO 63069 on November 13, 2017:

Thanks! Good tip:)

Test on September 08, 2017:


Ken on February 26, 2017:

Thanks for your suggestions.

Susan Hambidge (author) from Kent, England on July 22, 2015:

Thanks Larry - I hope you can use it.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 22, 2015:

Very handy idea. I never would have thought of that.

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on June 02, 2015:

Great idea. And one that I will need to use very soon! Thank you :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 19, 2015:

This is a good trick, certainly better than leaving it undone.

Susan Hambidge (author) from Kent, England on May 15, 2015:

Glad I could help Sally - I have just (about an hour ago - it took 3 days) finished my living room which has 3 radiators and as I made my tool yesterday I took photos and thought I'd share. I'm really pleased with mine - one radiator is side on to the door so as you walk in you can see straight down the back - but mine is perfectly painted!

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on May 15, 2015:

Susan Hambidge

Good job and perfect timing for me. I am hoping to do a little painting behind a radiator this weekend:)

Thanks for sharing.