Painting Radiators Problems (a what NOT to do guide)

Painting Radiators Problems (a what NOT to do guide)

It's that time again when you have spent time and energy decorating a room to within an inch of its life, only to realise something glaringly obvious that you can’t quite put your finger on.

Without playing a game of hot and cold to pinpoint exactly where you should be looking, I can tell you that the hotter you get, the hotter your room will be !

Yes, it’s the humble radiator, which is usually the last part of your room needing work to give it the perfect finishing touch.

In most rooms, a traditional style white radiator will quietly work away to help a room feel nice and toasty. Decorate the room in a certain way though, and that radiator can stick out like a sore thumb.

The most obvious way to rectify this is to get some paint out and change the look of your radiator. Unlike your walls though, you can’t just pop open any old tin of paint and apply it to your radiator's surface.

So if your wondering ' can I paint my radiators', what the best way of properly painting radiators, or how to repaint an old radiator, here are some great tips for what you should do to achieve this, and just as importantly, what not to do !

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Don’t forget to turn the radiator off !


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Radiator paint will bubble and crack if it isn’t allowed to dry correctly. If you’re applying paint to a surface which gets hotter than 30°C, it can’t adhere properly. Paint needs moisture to set and stick on a surface.

If you apply radiator paint on a surface which wants to repel moisture, and you’ll end up with a radiator that has bubbles and cracks all over the surface. This is definitely not the best way to paint a radiator !

How long after painting a radiator can you turn it on?

Once radiator painting is complete, allow the newly painted radiator to completely dry for at least 24 hours before turning it back on again.

It is important not to rush, as the paint could become tacky when warmed up and the finish could potentially not look as neat and tidy, undoing all the had work that you have done.

What paint to use on radiators?


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When deciding what paint to paint a radiator with, It is important to bear in mind that the enamel coating added in the factory during manufacture is designed for the radiator to run at the optimal temperature.

Unfortunately, the more non-enamel paint that is layered on top, the less performance and efficiency you will get from them.

Can you paint radiators with satinwood?

Yes you can. But before considering painting radiators with satinwood (solvent-based), use a metal primer on any areas of bare metal to give the satinwood a good base to adhere to.

A good quality satinwood is a good option to paint a radiator as it is well suited to temperature changes and has a nice finish to it once applied.

Can you paint radiators with gloss?

As with satinwood, gloss is also suitable for painting onto metal, and because of its durable nature is certainly suitable for painting radiators.

A couple of downsides to using standard gloss though, is that each time the radiators are turned on it can sometimes smell for a while. Secondly, white gloss has a tendency to yellow and discolour over time as it is not as heat resistant as radiator specific alternatives, so you wouldn't get this issue with specialist radiator paints.

Can you paint radiators with emulsion?

Yes you can, but it is not advised, and here is why...

As radiators create a lot of heat when in use, standard emulsion paint can dry, crack and even peel. This is why we would always advise using a specialist radiator paint, not emulsion.

It is possible to paint over the emulsion layer with a clear overcoat to seal it and prevent this from happening, but this will create more work and extra expense for you.

It makes more sense to avoid this by simply buying the correct radiator paint in the first place, in the knowledge that you will have the best finish that will last.

So don't simply grab a can of standard white emulsion and expect it to work well on your radiator.

What paint to use on radiators includes, but is not limited to:

Radiator primer paint (standard or anti corrosive primer)

Spray paint (matte, gloss or metallic radiator spray paint)

● Gloss or matte radiator paint

Solvent-based paints

Clear radiator overcoat

Regarding a clear radiator overcoat, you’d want to use this if you do decide on using an emulsion type paint. You need the radiator to have a protective coating, to help protect it from everyday marks and scratches that can occur.

If required, you may consider adding a second and final coat for extra protection.

If it all sounds too confusing and you would rather get a more bespoke service, I recommend visiting trade radiators to see their range of custom painted radiators.

If the DIY side of updating your radiators is not for you then this option will inevitably save you a lot of time and hassle. Simply get a professional to do the work and deliver a ready to fit new radiator (in your preferred colour) directly to your front door.

Don’t forget to clean the radiator first


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Before you even consider to paint a radiator, for best results preparation is vital. Never start painting a radiator without giving it a thorough clean first.

All you need to start is some soapy warm water, using a mild detergent, and a damp cloth. Simply give the radiator a good scrub with your soapy damp cloth, this will quickly highlight just how much dirt has gathered on your radiator over time, even if you’re someone who religiously dusts it down when cleaning the house !

Dry off each section with a lint free cloth, so that any bits of fluff and cloth that get into the paint are kept to a minimum. Nobody likes a bitty paint surface !

Don’t paint over existing paint


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If you are repainting a radiator that has previously been painted, you may think it is ok to dive right in after giving it a quick clean. Don’t!

Get up close and personal by meticulously checking the surface of the radiator for any small bubbles, marks or bumps.

Use fine sandpaper on these areas to create a smoother surface to paint onto, this will help the paint grab much better and result in a neater finish.

Think of it like painting wood; sanding a radiator is just as important, as the more time you take smoothing it out, the more even a finish you will have.

Don't use just any old paint on rust

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Due to external factures radiators are susceptible to surface corrosion, especially in rooms with more moisture, such as kitchens, bathrooms and toilets.

The best defence from rust is to try and prevent it from appearing in the first place. This can be done by making sure that it is well coated and has a solid base, either in its original enamel state, or with a rust preventative radiator paint.

How to remove rust from radiators

There a few ways to remove rust from a radiators surface using products you can find around your home.

White vinegar, lemon with salt, and baking soda are all products that are capable of removing rust. For the worst of the rusty areas you can also use a chemical rust remover and metallic pad, such as the ones made by Brillo.

How to paint a rusty radiator

Once you have used the aforementioned rust-busting methods, a gentle rub down with a fine sandpaper, followed by a couple of coats of either radiator primer* (if required), enamel paint, or specialist radiator paint, and your radiator will be ready to serve you for a few more years.

*We recommend using Hammerite Red Oxide Primer which is specially formulated for use on both bare and rusty iron and steel and is an anti corrosive primer.

Don’t forget to prime your radiators


Always follow the groove

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That little bit extra time spent applying a layer of radiator paint primer can be the difference between an easy paint job that will coat evenly and having to sand it all off and start over.

Purchase specialist radiator primer, as opposed to any old metal primer. Remember that your radiator already has a coating on it, and unless you have rust on the edges or paint chipped away on the surface, a metal primer won’t be of much use.

You’ll want to be liberal with brush strokes but reserved with how much paint you have on the brush, to produce an even coat of paint.

Always paint a radiator in the same direction of the radiator grooves (i.e. up and down) or else you may not end up with the nice smooth finish you are after. What can happen, in this instance, is that the fresh coat you have applied can tend to look patchy and uneven.

How to paint behind a radiator


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Last but by no means least... I hear you ask, but how do I paint behind a radiator? Well, it very much depends on the gap that you have to work with and the type of radiator that is attached to your wall.

For many modern homes, they are now fitted with flexible plastic pipes. This makes it really easy to remove the radiator from the wall, rest it on your legs (or other suitable object) and merrily paint away. Smug in the knowledge that you have saved a great deal of time and money not having to fully remove it.

Once completed, carefully align it back onto the brackets and it's job done.

If you prefer not to remove the radiator at all, regardless of whether you are using a paint brush or spray painting your radiators, you will need to cover and mask the wall behind it with brown packing paper and masking tape.

Not forgetting to also put a dust sheet down to protect the floor and skirting board (if you haven't already) and cover any radiator pipes, caps and thermostats with masking tape to protect them.

For older copper pipe fittings, where this can't be done, there are a few other options. Some more complicated and troublesome than others !

Where space allows, the simplest option is to use one of the various specialised painting tools available on the market. Here are some of the most common you can purchase:

Long handled mini roller

Angled radiator brush

Foam brush sponge

If the space behind the radiator doesn't allow for this, there is only one option left available to you. Unfortunately, you will need to get a professional in to remove it for you !

Depending on the way that your system is configured, they may get away with simply shutting off the water supply to the single radiator affected, this would be the cheapest option. Otherwise, a large part of your homes supply may need to be drained down before the radiator can be removed.

Obviously the only person that will know this, is the plumber that you employ. The cost of the work will ultimately be dictated by which route they need to take.

Get more tips for improving your walls

I hope that you found our article on radiator painting helpful and wish you good luck in your decorating exploits. If you’re planning, or in the middle of decorating your walls, make sure you check out our painting walls for beginners blog. You will find some great tips and advice.

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