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Can you paint radiators?

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If you’re redecorating your home, you might be wondering whether you can paint radiators. The colour of a radiator can drastically alter the appearance of a room, therefore it makes sense to include it in your home décor.

In this guide to painting your radiators, we’ll take a look at whether paint affects the efficiency of a radiator, what colour and type of paint to choose, and how to prepare them for painting.

Does painting a radiator affect its heat output?

Technically speaking, by adding another layer between the heat source and the air, painting a radiator will reduce its heat output. However, the difference is so small that it will not affect the efficiency of your radiators in any noticeable way.

The one important factor to bear in mind is the finish, as shiny surfaces radiate less heat. Chrome or stainless steel radiators can put out 15% less heat than the same model with a painted finish. Therefore, you can actually improve the efficiency of a radiator by painting it.

When should you paint radiators?

As the radiator needs to be turned off for you to safely paint it, we suggest carrying out this take during the summer when you're not likely to need it. The warmer weather will also help to speed up the drying time.

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Do you need to remove paint before repainting a radiator?

If your radiator has already been painted, you might consider sanding off the initial paint layer instead of just adding a new coat on top.

This is a pretty time-consuming process that won’t make much of a difference to the efficiency of the heat output unless the radiator has been painted many times over the years. One thing that this will affect is the final finish of the paint, so it could be worth doing if the painted surface is cracked or uneven.

Can you paint radiators in place?

The best way to ensure complete coverage on the radiator and avoid paint splashes on your wall is to drain and remove the radiator first. However, as this is a pretty big undertaking if you don’t have the right tools, you’ll be happy to hear that you can paint radiators in place and still end up with a great result.

When it comes to the back of the radiator, there are two options; firstly, you can simply leave it unpainted, as it may not be seen anyway. The second option is to use a combination of care and special radiator paint brushes with an angled head to reach the awkward spots.

Can you paint over rust on a radiator?

A fresh coat of paint is a great way to fix up an old radiator and leave it looking brand new. It will also help to protect the surface from more rust in the future.

While you can paint over rust on a radiator, it’s best to remove it first to ensure a smooth finish. One of the best ways to remove rust from a radiator is using ordinary kitchen foil with a little water for lubrication.

A chemical reaction between the rust and the aluminium foil breaks down the rust, removing it quickly and easily without any scrubbing. After getting rid of the rust, make sure to clean and thoroughly dry the surface.

Do you need to prime radiators before painting them?

Using a radiator primer is an important step that will help to protect the surface and keep your paint job looking great for longer.

Radiator primer is available in DIY stores and serves to create a strong bond between the radiator and the paint, as well as offering anti-corrosive properties to protect against rust. It’s best not to skip this step, otherwise you run the risk of having to repaint your radiators much sooner.

Can you use standard paint on radiators?

Because radiators are constantly being heated and cooled, standard types of paint aren’t always up to the job. This continual change of temperature can cause paint to crack and flake off over time, ruining all your hard work.

To keep the finish looking great, it’s best to use paint that has been specifically designed for radiators. As well as having the flexibility to expand and contract with heat, radiator paint is durable to withstand bumps and knocks, and formulated to minimise the yellowing that standard paint is susceptible to.

Which paint is best for radiators? There are lots of different options available for painting your radiators, giving you a variety of aesthetic results. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of different types of paint for radiators.

  • Can you paint radiators with gloss paint?

    Thanks to its durable nature and attractive shine, gloss paint is a common choice for accent pieces in the home, such as handrails, skirting boards and radiators. However, there are a few negatives to painting radiators with gloss that should be considered.

    Cheaper gloss paints are susceptible to cracking, peeling or yellowing over time. If you’re after a shiny finish, make sure to choose high-quality gloss radiator paint to keep your handiwork looking great for longer.

    The shininess of a gloss finish also draws attention to any surface imperfections such as dents and scratches. If your radiator is a little banged up, you might want to avoid gloss and opt for satin paint instead, which offers a more subtle shine.

    Finally, oil-based gloss paints take a long time to dry, so you’ll need to leave your radiator switched off and avoid touching it for up to 24 hours. For quicker results, opt for water-based gloss paints, which tend to dry in 6–8 hours.

  • Can you paint radiators with matte paint?

    Matte paint has become a popular choice for radiators over recent years. The subtlety of the finish makes it a versatile option, and imperfections on the surface are less noticeable compared to radiators painted with gloss.

    If you’ve got matte emulsion left over from another DIY project, it can be tempting to use this up on your radiators. However, it’s best to avoid standard emulsion when painting your radiators to avoid cracking and discolouration from the heat. Opt for a matte paint designed for radiators instead or, at the very least, use a proper radiator primer before applying the paint.

  • Can you paint radiators with metallic paint?

    Metallic paint is an attractive choice to turn a radiator into an eye-catching focal point. However, as the shininess of the surface affects its heat output, using metallic paint on a radiator can make it less efficient than using matte paint.

    If you’ve got your heart set on a metallic painted radiator then go ahead, although you might struggle to find radiator-specific paint in a metallic finish.

  • Can you spray paint radiators?

    Spray paint is a quick and easy option to ensure even coverage and avoid brush streaks when painting a radiator. The flexibility of the spray can also makes this a great method for painting radiators without removing them from the wall.

    Before painting, cover the wall behind the radiator and the floor beneath it with paper, plastic or cloth to avoid getting paint on the wall. It can be a good idea to protect the pipes and radiator fixtures with masking tape. Make sure to select a spray paint that is suitable for radiators for the best long-term results.

  • Does paint colour affect radiator efficiency?

    You might expect certain colours to have significantly better or worse qualities for distributing heat throughout your home.

    However, the difference in heat output between colours is actually pretty minimal, and not worth worrying about. This is because radiators use convection rather than conduction to heat a room. The hot water inside the radiator heats up the air around it, which is then circulated around the room.

    This gives you plenty of freedom to choose whichever colour best suits your interior design vision. Whether you’d like your radiators to blend into the background or stand out as a vibrant focal piece, there are lots of paint options available.

How do you paint radiators? Now you know which colour and type of paint to use, let’s look at painting a radiator step by step.

  1. 1

    Turn off the radiator and let it cool

    The first thing you need to do is turn off the radiator and wait until it has completely cooled before starting. Make sure to turn off your thermostat for your central heating so the radiator does not come back on while you’re working.

    As well as stopping you from burning yourself on the hot metal, this will prevent the paint from getting warm, which can make it drip more easily and ruin the finish of the surface.

  2. 2

    Prepare the area

    If you’re painting the radiator in place, cover the wall and floor with paper or a dust sheet to prevent splashes, and open a window to ventilate the room. If you’re removing the radiator from the wall, you might choose to take it outside. Remember to protect the surface you place it on with paper or a dust sheet.

  3. 3

    Clean the radiator

    Make sure to remove any dust or grime from the radiator before you start, otherwise they will get mixed into the paint. Pay particular attention to the insides of grilles and any gaps behind the radiator where cobwebs may have accumulated. You might need to use a feather duster, vacuum cleaner attachment or can of compressed air to get into all the nooks and crannies.

    For the surface of the radiator, sugar soap helps to quickly break down grease and dirt. To remove patches of rust, use a piece of aluminium foil dampened with a little water. Once your radiator is clean, it needs to be thoroughly dried so it can be prepared for sanding.

  4. 4

    Sand the surface

    Use a combination of coarse and fine sandpaper to remove any debris and leave an even surface. As well as removing any debris, sanding the radiator helps to create a rougher texture for the paint to stick to, helping it to last longer.

    Any lumps, bumps and imperfections will be highlighted by the paint, so getting rid of them first will help to ensure a smooth, beautiful finish. This may be a quick or complex job, depending on your radiator. If there is a lot of old peeling paint, spend extra time on sanding to make the surface as even as possible.

    Once you’ve finished sanding, use a vacuum cleaner and a damp cloth to remove any dust and give everything a final dry.

  5. 5

    Prime the radiator

    Radiator primer helps the paint to adhere to the surface and also serves as an additional protective barrier against rust. Particularly if your radiator has already become rusty, a good coat of anti-corrosive primer is essential to prevent it from worsening over time.

    You can use a regular paint brush to apply the primer, or pick up an angled radiator brush for hard-to-reach areas. Radiator primer is also available as a spray, which is quick and easy to apply. Whichever option you choose, make sure the primer is totally dry before you start painting.

  6. 6

    Paint the radiator

    Finally, you’re ready to apply your first coat of paint but remember to ensure adequate ventilation and wear protective clothing before you start.

    For spray cans, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and avoid spraying too close to the radiator to avoid drips. Work section by section until the entire radiator has been coated. If you’re using a brush, start with the top and sides of the radiator before applying paint to the front. To avoid drips and visible brush strokes, be careful not to overload your brush, and always follow the direction of the mouldings when you paint.

    If you’ve taken the radiator off the wall, paint one side first and leave it to dry completely before turning it over to paint the back. For radiators that are being painted in place, you can either leave the back unpainted or use an angled radiator brush to carefully apply paint to the other side.

    Depending on the paint you use, you may need to apply a second or third coat. Make sure the first coat is completely dry to ensure a smooth finish. Allow the final layer of paint to completely dry before putting the radiator back on the wall and turning your heating on.