How to Paint A Radiator – An Easy Guide

Not the most exciting or glamorous decorating task! But one that definitely needs doing from time to time. For some reason the people who used to live in our house seemingly decided at some point to paint all of the radiators nicotine yellow…so as I’ve been slowly decorating each room, I’ve also had to paint each radiator. When I first started painting them I didn’t know if I was doing it right – but I think I’ve got it down now! Painting a radiator can make it look brand new – with very little cost and effort. There are also times when you want your radiators to blend seamlessly with the walls or indeed to make them stand out. Therefore painting the radiator is often the quickest and easiest way to do this. Whatever your reason for painting a radiator, getting a good finish is key so it’s worth spending a bit of time on it. So today I thought I would talk about how to paint a radiator.

Before You Paint – Preparation is Key!

As with most decorating, preparation really is key when painting a radiator. While you could just paint straight on to the radiator, if you want a really nice finish, it’s better to prepare the radiator first.

The first step is ensure that you have the radiator you are about to paint switched off and it’s cold – you can’t paint a warm radiator. Next you’ll want to wash the radiator down – preferably with some sugar-soap solution, to remove all the surface dirt and grease that might have gathered on it over time. Once you’ve done that, dry it off with an old rag or an old towel.

Now you’ll need to give the radiator a light sand. This is to help give the surface of the radiator a ‘key’ that the paint can stick to. If you skip this step you won’t get as good a finish. If there are any rusty spots on the radiator it might be worth giving them a bit more of an intense sand, so that you can remove any flaking paint and get a smooth finish between the rusty part and the painted part.

Finally it’s best to wipe down the radiator with a damp cloth to make sure that any dust from sanding has been removed, and also clean up and hoover the area around the radiator for the same reason.

The video below shows my prep process for painting the radiator in my son’s bedroom. Even not sped up it really didn’t take very long! The radiator was in pretty good condition so I gave it a really quick sand with 200 grit sandpaper:

Prime Before You Paint The Radiator

Having done your basic prep, the next step is to prime the radiator ready for paint. Again, this helps prepare the surface of the radiator. In addition if there is any rust on the radiator a specialist radiator / metal primer can help to treat this and stop it getting worse. This is the primer that I used:

Johnstones Any Surface Primer

I left this for about 4 hours to dry.

What Kind Of Paint Can You Use to Paint A Radiator?

Once you’ve primed the radiator, the good new is it can be painted with pretty much any paint you like! It just depends what kind of finish you want on your radiator. Emulsion paint is fine to use (I have used it many times) but it does give a matt finish, so it depends whether you like your radiators to look like this. Also, if you use your radiators to dry clothes on, Emulsion paint may not be so durable over time as other more traditional paints.

Gloss paint is very durable – but personally I hate painting with gloss paint! You can also use satin finish, or eggshell. There are also specialist radiator paints that you can buy – I’m not sure what’s so great about them though as I’ve never tried one!

For my son’s bedroom I used eggshell paint in the same colour as the walls.

Applying the Paint to the Radiator

How you actually paint the radiator depends to some degree on the kind of radiator you have. I find a brush is the best way to go as it can get into the indentations in the radiator surface. But if you had a particularly flat radiator, you could also use a roller.

Personally I only paint the parts of the radiator that are easily visible – so the front, sides and the top area to maybe 5cm below the top on the back.

Don’t worry if after the first coat the paint looks awful – it will all look much better with another coat!

Don’t panic if it looks streaky after the first coat!

Make sure you give the paint plenty of time to fully dry before you turn the radiator back on. And that’s pretty much it – how to paint a radiator in a nutshell.

images showing the radiator before and after painting.