How to Paint a Radiator in Place? (Without Removing it)

painting radiator without removing it

Is your radiator looking past its prime? Then it may be time to repaint it!

Painting radiators is a common practice that dates back several decades. But is it even safe to paint your radiator? No worries—the answer is YES.

Painting your old radiator can be a safe and fun way to update the vibe of your room and improve your home’s décor and color scheme.

Adding to this, painting your radiator is surprisingly easy. Though it may not be the most thrilling thing you’ll do all week, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding process when done correctly.

In this guide, I’ll cover the basics of painting radiators without removing them with a sprayer and a brush, including safety measures you want to know before starting the job.

Keep reading to find out more…

Spray Painting a Radiator

One of the most popular ways to paint a radiator in place is by using a sprayer can.

Spray painting allows you to cover larger distances in quicker amounts of time (even in those hard-to-reach places) so that you can get the job done more efficiently.

In order to spray paint your radiator, you will need the following:

  • Face mask
  • Disposable gloves
  • High-heat enamel primer
  • Rust-Oleum high-heat enamel spray paint
  • Fan (it’s optional but generally recommended)

Step 1- Ventilate and prep yourself

Before you begin painting your radiator, ensure that the windows in the room you are working in are open to allow the paint fumes to leave as you spray.

For best results, place a fan in one of the windows to help draw the air out.

At this time, you’ll also want to ensure that the walls and floor around your radiator are protected from overspray by masking tapes, a plastic sheet, or some old newspapers.

Once your room is well-ventilated and your area is ready, it’s time to take care of yourself – don your dust mask and gloves.

Step 2- Prepare your old radiator

Turn off the unit and allow it to cool down.

Then consider removing the dust and debris using a soft brush. If needed, get them washed and dried properly.

Keep in mind that, depending on the condition, you’ll likely need to clean the rust flakes or old paint off your old radiator before painting.

If that’s the case, rub it down with sandpaper or use paint strippers like Nitromors if your radiator has several layers of old paint to get rid of.

Step 3- Spray the radiator with primer

Grab the can of primer, and shake it for around a minute to get it ready to use.

When ready, remove the lid, hold your spray can between ten and fourteen inches away from the radiator’s surface, and spray.

Starting just beyond the end of your radiator, spray the primer in a horizontal motion, stopping just past the opposite end of the device.

You’ll likely need to do this several times until the entire surface is evenly covered.

Remember, spraying too close can lead to excess priming and uneven application, and spraying too far away will waste it while making it harder to cover the target area. So, maintain proper distance when spraying.

Step 4- Spray Paint Your Old Radiator in Place

After allowing the primer time to dry (which can take up to 24 hours, depending on volume and primer type), you’ll next want to spray paint your radiator.

Remember to wear your same protective gear and shake your Rust-Oleum high-heat enamel spray paint can as directed on the outside label.

Spray with similar motions you used to prime, being sure not to remain in one place too long, as this could cause the paint to thicken more in some areas.

You’ll likely need to apply several layers of paint to get the finish you want. Once done, allow the paint to dry for about 24 hours before you turn it back on.

Tips and Warnings

Never paint your radiator when it is on or while you are still using it. It’s best to wait until the warmer months, so you don’t need the radiator for heat.

Radiators are susceptible to corrosion and can go rusty even at the bottom due to the condensed drops running down.

So, make sure that you prep, primer, and paint the radiator from the bottom as well.

Paint type

The type of paint you should choose for your radiator will matter most when you plan to refinish it.  

And your choice should depend on whether your radiator is operational.

For radiators that are still in good working condition, it’s best to go with Rust-Oleum High Heat Enamel Spray Paint 7751830.

It provides a rich satin finish to prevent rust, corrosion, and chipping. The best thing about this radiator pant is its fast drying and will require no primer if your radiator is still in good condition.

Painting Behind a Radiator with a Brush?

If it’s decades since you haven’t painted behind radiators, I recommend removing it to paint behind it.

Based on the article I found at homeserve, you can do that by following the easy steps

  • Turn off the central heating
  • Turn off both radiator valves on either side of your radiator
  • Drain the radiator and loosen the nuts between each valve and the radiator itself using a spanner

If you need to paint behind a radiator without removing it, a paintbrush can be your friend.

The paintbrush will obviously require a bit more work but offers you more control over the final look of your project.

Also, unlike spraying, painting with a brush means you’ll have zero oversprays, so you don’t have to worry as much about messing up the surrounding area.

Things you’ll need for painting behind the radiator:

  • Paint tray
  • Paint stirrer
  • High-heat primer and paint
  • Long-handled radiator brush

Step 1- Stir the primer

Start by opening your can of primer and stirring it with your paint stirrer.

Keep doing so until the primer has reached proper color and consistency (this could take a few minutes).

Once done, pour primer into a paint tray and put the lid back onto the primer so it isn’t knocked onto the floor by mistake.

Step 2- Brush the primer behind the radiator

Old cast iron radiators are typically 1-2 inches from walls, so you’ll need to be precise when painting around the perimeter of a radiator.

Begin by using your paintbrush and gently wiggle it down into all gaps on top and sides. Pull the brush along in order to cover as much area as possible.

You may find it easier to use more than one brush to do so.

A simple one-inch brush is good for those smaller areas and grooves, while a two-inch brush is perfect for painting the broader areas of the radiator.

In case you have a modern radiator in place, you could also consider using a long-handled mini roller that will ease the task.

Step 3- Apply the paint behind the radiator with a brush

Once the primer has completely dried, it will be time to paint the radiator from behind.

Use the brush with the same motions as before, applying at least two coats until you are satisfied with the look. Keep a ‘wet edge’ so that you can avoid unsightly brush marks if needed.

Remember not to turn on the heat until the paint has dried completely.

Also, be aware that the radiator paint’s smell for a few days after painting it fresh is normal in most cases. The best you can do is to keep your room well-ventilated.

If the spray paint odor doesn’t go away after a few days, you can consider placing a bowl of vinegar (a natural odor neutralizer) in your room, which will help absorb the paint odors.

Can Chalk Paint Be Used on Old Radiators?

Chalk Paint™ is a decorative paint that isn’t just for wooden furniture; you can use it on metal too.

Since there’s just a little preparation required, it’s the ideal option for rejuvenating your old metal radiators and storage heaters.

If you’re considering using chalk paint on your metal radiator, there are a few Annie-approved tips and instructions.

Check them out before you do that because if you do it wrong, you could be stuck with a sticky, chippy mess.

Alternatively, an oil-based alkyd paint can also be used as a topcoat for radiators.

For finishes, you can choose between gloss, satin, or eggshell as per your liking; there isn’t an issue.

Just be sure that glossy paint finishes will not be as good for hiding imperfections if you have some. To fix the problem areas, you can use an alternative, like satinwood paint, that gives a softer finish with a slight sheen.

You may also choose to use a cheaper one, like latex paint or emulsion, if your radiator is not operational.

But applying water-based emulsion paints on radiators, which are in working condition, is a big NO because they can disperse a lot of heat which can eventually dry, crack and peel the paint fast.

painting radiator pipes

Can I Paint Over My Radiator Pipes and Hoses?

Yes, I strongly recommend painting the pipes as well when you are painting your radiator, as this will give you a nice overall look.

The method and steps you use to paint the pipes are much similar to the radiator. The only difference is in using a sprayer or brush.

Since the pipes are thin and need proper care, when painting them, it’s best to use a paintbrush rather than a sprayer or a roller.

Even if you use a sprayer for painting radiators and do not intend to paint the behind, getting a quality brush for painting the radiator pipes is recommended.

Let’s have a look at quick steps on how to paint your radiator pipes…

  1. Allow the pipes on your radiator to cool down completely
  2. Use masking tape or an old newspaper to cover the base of the pipes and floors to protect them from drips.
  3. Add a protective layer on the wall behind the radiator pipe by placing a piece of cardboard or a large sheet of paper.
  4. Clean and remove any dirt or dust particles from the pipes using a dry paintbrush
  5. After a quick cleaning, sand down the radiator pipes using sandpaper to remove any rust or old paint that needs to be removed.
  6. Using a damp cloth (in warm soapy water solution), clean the pipes once again to remove any grease or heavy dirt accumulated.
  7. After cleaning your radiator pipes, apply the primer and paint them.

While applying the primer and topcoat on the radiator pipes, you will need to wait for at least 1-2 hours between the coats. Also, make sure you apply at least two coats of paint to get a desirable finish.

Be careful not to paint over the radiator valves. If painted, they can get sealed.

Can You Paint a Heated Towel Rail?

Since most heated towel rails or towel radiators are designed for bathrooms, these are covered with a chrome finish which is difficult for paint to stick to.

However, if you want to paint them, it’s good to pick a high-quality spray metal primer and paint that’s designed to provide an even finish on metals.

Make sure you clean your heated towel rails and prep them before painting to get a perfect finish.

Will Paint or the Color Affect My Radiator’s Output?

While applying paint color to your radiator will give it an added aesthetic, there is the possibility that it will reduce heat output.

The result was verified in a 1935 study by the US government, which found that painting radiators were effective at preventing overheating in more well-insulated rooms.

This means that before painting your radiator, you should ask yourself whether or not you can afford to lose your heat.

Depending on the level of insulation in your house (or hotel or any other location), you may be able to get away with it without sacrificing any vital heat.

In fact, doing so could even improve conditions in the room, as the paint will work against overheating.

Final Thoughts

Painting your radiator or an old storage heater can be safe, fun, and highly effective at bringing up the ambiance of your room.

Especially when using a sprayer (rather than a brush or a roller), it’s not a problem, but super easy to paint a radiator without removing it.

Just make sure to use the steps in this guide as your ultimate reference for getting your radiators painted and looking better than ever!

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