Radiator painting is an increasingly popular pastime on the home heating landscape.
But why should a radiator be painted and can you complete the work yourself?
Why Paint a Radiator?
By painting a radiator, you can help to create an eye-catching focal point in your chosen room, or blend them into the background to complement the space. It’s all down to personal preference and what you’re hoping to do with the room overall.
No matter if you want the radiator to mesh with your existing decor, or have it stand out as a centerpiece item, you’ll have to make sure the job is completed properly. Thankfully, this is a task you can get done on your own.
In this guide, we’ll explain how to paint a radiator, what type of radiator paint you can use, and equip you with all the expert tips and tricks required to finish the work in great style.
Essentially, your ultimate guide to radiator painting…
Steps to follow for Painting a Radiator
What you’ll need:
- This radiator painting guide, of course!
- An ultra-clean radiator
- Floor protection materials – newspaper, flattened cardboard, old sheets etc.
- Old threads – you don’t want to ruin your best clothes with splatters of paint
- Sandpaper sheets, of contrasting grit grades
- Radiator primer
- Radiator paint (tinned or spray) in your preferred color
- Paintbrushes – different sizes will likely be required for different parts of the job
If you are planning to paint your pipework as well, it is sensible to keep a bit of extra cardboard handy for positioning between the radiator and the wall. This will combat unwanted splashes that might affect the appearance. There’s more on painting your radiator pipes later in the article.
Step 1 – Switch off your Radiator and Crack a Window
Although it might sound obvious, you need to ensure your radiator is properly switched off and completely cold before you start to paint it.
Should the radiator be even just a bit warm, the paint could go a touch ‘drippy’ and fail to properly take to the radiator surface. So be careful to ensure it is turned off, and won’t come back on, until the paint has had time to dry.
It is also imperative that the room is properly ventilated.
Crack a window or two to make sure you aren’t inhaling paint fumes. That is more vital still if you opt for spray paint.
Step 2 – Clear the Space
Use a vacuum to clear the space, ridding it of as much dirt and dust as possible.
Move furniture away, as well as anything that might get stuck to the paint. That includes pets!
Regardless of how careful you are, paint will always get splashed one way or another. So be sure to clear the space and lay down cardboard, old sheets or newspaper to protect the floor and surrounding fixtures and fittings to the greatest extent possible.
Step 3 – Clean the Radiator Surface
Even if you don’t realize, your radiator will collect a decent amount of grime, dirt and grease over its lifespan.
It doesn’t matter how clean your house might be. There’s bound to be a build-up of dirt that needs to be sorted before you can begin painting your radiator.
Just wipe down the radiator surface using a sponge or damp cloth, with some warm water and washing up liquid or mild detergent.
When the radiator has been cleaned, you can dry it off and start to sand it down.
Step 4 – Sand down the Radiator
By sanding down your radiator, you will roughen the surface slightly. That will make it a lot easier for the paint to stay in place.
Use sandpaper of contrasting grit levels to remove unwanted surface debris. Be particularly attentive to any rough spots you encounter, and start to sand the radiator surface.
If you take your time and do this properly, you’ll be able to operate with a nicely even surface. Otherwise, the job is sure to look rough and rushed if you go gung-ho and just throw the paint straight on.
When all the rust marks and rough edges have been removed, you can dust the radiator down again, ensuring it is properly and thoroughly clean.
At this stage, it’s probably wise to use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of any fine bits of dust and dirt. Then, wipe it down again with a damp cloth, and let the radiator properly dry out prior to the application of paint.
Step 5 – Add a Radiator Primer
Before you can add your wonderful new top coat of paint to your radiator, a metal primer or specialist radiator primer must be applied first.
It’s vital that this is done to protect any rusty or bare parts of the radiator. Also, to offer a good, solid base for the remainder of the paint to attach to.
If you noticed some rust spots while sanding the radiator down, an anti-corrosive primer is probably the best solution. That will stop the rust from worsening over a longer length of time.
To add the primer coat, a standard paintbrush is usually fine. If your radiator is unusually shaped though, then an angled radiator brush might be necessary.
In the instance that you use a metal primer spray, be sure to keep the nozzle around six to eight inches away from the radiator surface to prevent spraying too heavily.
Use smooth up and down motions when gliding the can to stop the paint from dripping and achieve a lovely even finish.
No matter which type of primer you opt for, make sure it is left to dry completely before you begin your painting work.
If you aren’t certain how long the primer will take to dry, check out the manufacturer instructions for a better idea.
Step 6 – Apply the top coat of Radiator Paint
Once your radiator primer is completely dry and you can be sure the room is well ventilated, wipe the radiator down one final time before you begin painting.
If tinned paint is the order of the day, make sure you shake the tin before opening it. When you have got it open, use a stick to mix the paint.
Use your chosen paintbrush to start painting the radiator surface. Be careful not to overload the brush.
Please note: Paint in the same direction as the radiator grooves to ensure a neat finish.
Paint the radiator in stages to achieve the best results possible. First paint the edges, before progressing to the face of the component.
This will involve progressing across the top and bottom of the radiator. Use long, sweeping brush strokes and pay close attention to the individual radiator ridges specifically.
Work from one side of the radiator to the other, briefly overlapping all sections as you do so.
By neatly knitting each section together, you’ll produce a lovely even finish.
Step 7 – Put your feet up for a while!
Your radiator will very most likely require an extra coat of paint. But for now, you can leave the initial coat to dry and put your feet up for a while.
Whether or not another coat is needed will be dependent on the paint you use, as well as your personal preference and feelings regarding the work done so far.
If possible, allow the paint to dry overnight. Applying the next coat of paint while the first is still a touch damp will only lead to an underwhelming result.
Which Paint to use for Painting a Radiator?
With a vast heating collection to offer in an array of premium quality designs, it would be reasonable for us to advise that ‘proper’ radiator paints should be invested in.
However, that’s not necessarily what we recommend.
If you’d prefer to use normal emulsion paint or a satinwood alternative, there actually isn’t much reason not to.
Of course, some of the more competitively priced paints might peel and chip in time, but most good quality emulsion paints are suitable for painting a radiator.
Just make sure you cover over it using a clear radiator overcoat once the emulsion has been applied.
So, what radiator paint options do you have?
A Variety of Radiator Paint options
1. Specialist Radiator Paint
If your radiator is being painted white, a specialist radiator paint is pretty much a necessity.
Specialist radiator paint is less likely to deteriorate over time when the radiator warms up and cools down. It is also heat resistant, which is favorable for obvious reasons.
Bear in mind that paint of this type is only supplied in a limited choice of colors. So if you are looking to make an eye-catching style statement with your radiator, you could be better served looking elsewhere. But if your heart is set on specialist radiator paint, we’d recommend choosing a prominent brand such as Krylon.
2. Solvent-based or Satinwood Paints
Solvent-based or satinwood paints have long proven popular radiator painting products. Nowadays though, more modern water-based paints can also complete the work. They are less likely to emit a smell when the time comes to switch the radiators back on as well.
It’s very likely that you’ll identify a paint to match your wall colors and complement the room as well, given that non-drip gloss and satinwood paints come supplied in a variety of shades and colors.
As a specific recommendation, you should find that the Dulux selection of satinwood paints take very well to radiator surfaces and help to provide a smooth, clean finish.
3. Radiator Overcoat (Clear)
Another option is to use a standard emulsion paint to paint your radiator. This needs to be done after the application of primer, then covered with a protective clear radiator paint.
This isn’t so far removed from a varnish that you may apply to wood for protection of the surface. It is resistant to heat and makes sure your radiator surface is adequately protected from bumps and scuffs.
Out of all the overcoat options we studied, we found Ronseal’s clear enamel radiator gloss to be the most hardwearing and durable. An ideal option to add a splash of color to your radiator, the overcoat is quick to dry and relatively cheap to purchase. Furthermore, a liter tin should comfortably cover two standard-size radiators.
4. Spray Paint
Alternatively, you could decide to use spray paint. There are a few good spray paints that are specially formulated for radiators, but you might be a touch limited with regards to colors.
If you are hoping to spray paint your radiators, it’s definitely a good idea to completely remove them from the wall on which they’re attached. It’s best to do the job outside or perhaps in a garage area.
You can do it inside if you insist, but be sure that the surrounding area is well protected if you do. Cover your furniture, protect the wall, nearby curtains and any other fixtures and fittings. Spray paint is difficult to direct and tends to drift around.
Wear a face mask too and make sure the room has been properly ventilated.
It’s also a good idea to wear gloves when applying spray paint to your radiator. The nozzle is susceptible to dripping and it can be a tough task cleaning your hands properly when the spray paint has found its way onto your skin.
What Paint can I use to achieve an Anthracite Radiator?
Anthracite gray is an extremely popular radiator finish, and its ultra-stylish aesthetics make it easy to see why. It will mesh well with pretty much any color scheme or decor and deliver a calm and contemporary quality that is ideal for any home.
If you want to upgrade your radiator with a lick of anthracite without having to all-out invest in a new radiator, the following shades come with our recommendation.
Can your color choice affect the performance of the Radiator?
That’s quite a loaded question.
For some time, it’s been somewhat of a hot topic within the heating industry. But it’s probably fair to say that it’s a query not properly understood.
Well, a radiator doesn’t definitively perform as its name suggests.
Most of the heat that a designer radiator delivers to a room is produced via convection. This occurs as cold air combines with the radiator’s warm air to be ‘convected’ or transported throughout the room.
A relatively small amount – in between a quarter to a third of the heat a radiator emits is done so via radiation – or radiant heat.
To begin with then, we can accept that your radiator color choice is unlikely to have a significant effect on its ability to convect heat around a space. But could the paint influence the radiating quality of your radiator?
Thanks to a study conducted by the United States National Bureau of Standards way back in 1935, we can shed a bit of further light on this.
Basically the study, detailed in this article, looks into the contrasting effects that different paint types will have on a radiator’s ability to provide radiant heat.
It details that the sole coat of paint that could affect the radiator’s overall heat output is the final coat to be applied and what it consists of.
The study suggests that if you were to take two radiators – of identical size and heat output – and applied standard white paint to one and a metallic-based alternative to the other, the one painted with standard paint would emit more heat.
This is because of a reduction in the radiator surface’s radiating power caused by metallic paint.
The article even compares the effect of coating a radiator with metallic-based paint to removing 1/6 of the appliance.
That might not seem like too much. But in reality, it’s actually almost 12 inches removed from the top of this Edifice designer radiator.
Can Radiator Pipes be Painted?
They can indeed. If you’ve made a concerted effort to paint your radiator, it is likely you’ll want some attractive coordinating pipes to match.
To achieve this, you follow a similar method to painting a radiator. Below are some quick step-by-step instructions regarding how to paint radiator pipes.
- Let the radiator pipes cool down properly before starting the work.
- Use masking tape to cover the base of the pipes or newspaper to provide the floor with protection from dripping.
- Position a piece of cardboard or a large sheet onto the wall behind the pipe, creating a protective barrier.
- Remove any dirt or grease from the pipes with a damp cloth and mild detergent.
- Take sandpaper to sand down the pipes in one direction and assist the paint to stick. Use a dry paintbrush to dust off any excess.
- Stir your metal primer thoroughly and paint a coat onto the pipes evenly. You might notice that two coats of primer are required to achieve a nice even finish.
- Leave the primer to dry for an hour minimum. If you can, let it set overnight.
- Then you can move onto the top coat. Use light up and down brush strokes to provide your pipes with two coats of paint. You can use the same paint as you did to paint your radiator.
- Take special care not to paint over your radiator valves to ensure you don’t seal them permanently.
- If possible, leave your radiator switched off for a few days to allow it to dry, and let the paint surface solidify.
If you want to update your radiator pipes but aren’t keen on painting them, you might have alternate options. Copper radiator pipes can be easily transformed to chrome via the use of adhesive metal tape, chrome pipe covers and multi-surface polish. This represents an ideal cost-effective solution for towel warmer pipes especially.
Can Radiators be Re-Painted?
They can. So fear not if you’re bored of the color of your radiator or feel like you made a mistake with your initial color choice.
You might even just want to quickly upgrade the radiator to mesh better with your home interior color scheme.
It might be a touch more difficult than the initial process and require a little more work, but it’s entirely possible.
Initially, you’ll have to sand down the radiator using coarse sandpaper to get rid of as much paint as possible.
You’ll need some protective goggles and gloves for the next part. Once you’re wearing these, apply a quality paint remover such as Blue Bear. Allow the paint to soften by leaving it for around an hour or so.
When the paint is eventually softened, it should be easy to scrape off with a thin scraper. Depending on the thickness of the original paint, you might have to repeat the process to make sure you’ve got rid of every last speck.
Make sure the radiator is properly dry and free from rust before beginning your re-painting work.
If this sounds like a lot more work than you’re willing to commit to, you have the option to send the radiator out to be sandblasted before re-painting it yourself.
And your radiator will now perfectly complement the aesthetics you want, at least when first completed.
Can you Paint a Towel Warmer?
The notion of painting a towel warmer is a somewhat alien concept. And we would do little to suggest it shouldn’t stay that way.
Given that the majority of towel warmers are designed for bathroom areas, most models incorporate a chrome finish that is hardly susceptible for paint sticking.
Even if it is sanded down initially, you are still likely to cause damage to the chrome surface. So the end result is likely to be an angry looking and uneven towel warmer that looked a lot better before your meddling!
If you do want to take the plunge and indulge in towel warmer painting though, we’d strongly recommend taking the appliance off the wall and spray painting it outside.
Spray metal primer and paint should provide a more even finish to the rails. Just ensure it is prepared and cleaned using the methods mentioned regarding how to paint a radiator.
What to Remember when Painting a Radiator
- Double check that the radiator you want to paint is switched off.
- Be sure to wash and dry the radiator before applying paint.
- Always apply a good-quality primer before painting.
- Make sure the room is well ventilated and conceal furniture, carpets and other fixtures to prevent any damage to them.
- Avoid unsightly brush marks by keeping a ‘wet edge’.
- Leave the paint to dry for more than 24 hours before adding an extra coat of paint.
- Once done, leave the radiator for a day or two before switching it back on.
- You’ll notice a smell for a few days, which is completely normal. Keep the room well ventilated.
And don’t forget that if all else fails, or you don’t fancy committing to the work that painting a radiator involves, there’s a superb selection of home heating options available to buy online from Hudson Reed USA. Our Ultimate Guide to Radiators can provide the inspiration you need to find your perfect radiator or towel warmer.