Homeowners Professionals

Painting your radiators [A step-by-step guide]

Paint really is a wonderful substance. You can use it to transform the colour of a room, update a piece of furniture, freshen up your fencing and, yes, you can use it on your radiators too. Painting a radiator is certainly a good idea if you want to make it blend into the wall behind it or make it stand out, and it’s a task that you can complete yourself. Whatever you want to do with your radiators, we’ve created this guide that tells you how to strip the old paint away, how to paint them, what colours or paints you could use and whether it affects the efficiency of your heating system.

How to remove paint from radiators

If you’re restoring your radiators, it’s better to start afresh. This means stripping the paint off your radiator before you add a new coat, especially if the paint has begun to come loose and flake off. Stripping is a relatively easy but time-consuming job, particularly if you have multiple radiators to work on.

The best way to remove the paint is to sand the surface using a coarse-grit paper, and then use a paint stripper. You should follow the instructions carefully and use the appropriate eyewear. The paint remover should gently soften the old layers of paint, but remember, the more layers you’re taking off, the more stripper you’ll need. Once the paint is soft enough, you’ll be able to use a scraper to gently remove it without damaging the structure of the radiator underneath, as pictured above. You may need a paintbrush to apply stripper to particularly difficult-to-reach or ornate areas.

How to paint a radiator

Step 1: Make sure the radiator is cold

It’s important that the radiator is off completely and has had time to cool down before you do anything. A radiator that is a bit warm could make the paint drip, and no one wants drip marks, or it could prevent the paint from properly adhering to the surface. When this happens, paint can easily chip off or come away, and you want the paint finish to be superb so that the radiator stays looking fresh for longer.

Step 2: Clean the radiator


Cleaning is a really important step when you’re painting. It removes any dust and grime that may be on the surface you wish to paint, and these things could again prevent the paint from adhering properly. You should give the radiator a wipe down with a damp cloth and soapy water. If you wish, you could use sugar soap to really get the grease off. Use a fresh dry cloth to wipe away any excess water.

You may also want to take the time to prepare the area around you. This could include putting dust sheets down, covering the walls behind the radiator or visible pipes and moving any furniture out of the way. The paint can splash and you don’t want to ruin anything.

Step 3: Lightly sand the radiator

It’s important to remember that you want to do everything you can to make sure the paint sticks to the surface of the radiator properly. By giving it a light sand, you’re roughing up the surface, creating a ‘key’ that the paint can adhere to. Sanding is an important step and not one that should be missed. Use a fine grit sandpaper to gently go over the radiator’s surface and remove any rust as you go, too.

Sanding can create some dust, so be sure to wear a dust mask while you complete this task. When finished, give the radiator another clean. Use a vacuum to remove most of the dust and then use your damp cloth and soapy water solution to clean the surface thoroughly. Check that it’s fully dry before going onto the next step.

Step 4: Start painting

Stir the paint really well and begin to apply a thin coat. You may find it easier to start at one end of the radiator and work over to the other side. Alternatively, you may wish to start at the top and work down to the bottom. Whichever method you choose is down to you, just remember to paint in the same direction as the grooves of the radiator.

You should use a good quality brush to ensure that coverage is good with minimal brush strokes. Alternatively, you could use a roller, though this may not be as good at getting into the smaller nooks and crannies. Spray paint can also be a good option, though this can be more fiddly, as you’d likely need to take the radiator off the wall and spray it outside on a mild day. In our experience, painting with a brush is your best bet

Depending on the colour you’ve chosen for the radiator, apply one or two coats, allowing for plenty of time for the paint to dry in between. If you’re simply giving the surface a freshen up, then one coat is typically enough. However, if you’re painting a white radiator a darker colour or vice versa, multiple coats may be needed. For the best results, lightly sand the paint between coats once it’s dry, then clean the area and apply the second coat.

Step 5: Wait 24 hours

Once your radiator has been painted, you should wait at least 24 hours before turning the radiator back on. It’s important not to rush this, as the paint could become tacky when warmed up and the finish won’t look as neat.

What is the best paint for radiators?

Many people believe that radiators require special radiator paint, however this isn’t always the case. Radiators can be painted in the same paint you use on your walls, however it may not last as long, as it usually isn’t heat resistant. Therefore, it’s up to you to decide whether you do want to use the specialist paint, or if you’re happy to go with anything. The benefit of this is that you only have to buy one type of paint for your entire room. However, if you choose to colour your radiators white, it’s advised that you use a particular kind of paint. This is because standard white paint may yellow over time as the radiator regularly warms up and cools down. A paint that’s made specifically for radiators will remain white for a longer period of time.

A satinwood paint will do a perfectly good job of covering your radiators, and most of them are water-based. Dulux’s Quick Dry Satinwood paint is an excellent choice and comes in a range of colours. If you wish to use a spray paint, Ronseal’s radiator paint comes in a can and should be sprayed onto the surface. It doesn’t require a primer coat, it’s heat resistant, non-yellowing and it’s fast drying.

For added protection, you could apply a heat resistant clear coat to the surface of the radiator. Once the paint is dry, this clear gloss will prevent the paint underneath from chipping and could make the finish last longer. Ronseal offers a clear enamel finish that could do the job nicely.

What is the best colour for a radiator?

White is still the most popular colour for a radiator, but don’t feel like you need to stick to this. Some home interior designers claim that you shouldn’t use white paint in your house at all, and that doors, ceilings, skirting boards and radiators should all be painted in colour. If you’re brave enough to try this, then your radiator can be painted the same colour as your walls.

Alternatively, if you want to make your radiator stand out, you could paint it a different colour to the wall behind it. The options are endless when it comes to choosing which colour to paint your radiators.

The colour you choose to paint your radiator will not have any kind of impact on its heat output or efficiency. When it comes to radiator efficiency, it’s more about the material it’s made from than the colour it’s painted. Shiny, metallic finishes don’t tend to give off as much heat, which is why chrome radiators have a smaller output than, say, a painted finish. But whether you choose to paint your radiator black, white, blue, green or purple won’t make enough of a difference for you to notice it.

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