How to Paint a Radiator

Many older homes and buildings still have cast iron radiators in them. Whether they are operational or not, you can give them a quick facelift with paint to make them blend in better or become focal points in your rooms. You simply need the right paint and know-how to brighten them up with lasting results. These tips and techniques will show you how to paint a radiator.

Step 1: Turn Off the Radiator

If your radiators no longer work, but have never been removed from your home, you’re in luck—you can skip to Step 2.

Turn off the radiator and let it cool down before painting. Applying paint to a hot radiator will result in improper paint adhesion. You should be able to easily find the valve that controls the steam that heats the radiator and turn it to the off position. Generally, a radiator will cool down in approximately 30 minutes to an hour. When the radiator is still warm or close to room temperature, you should be able to start painting without affecting your finished results.

Step 2: Prepare to Paint

Prepare the area for painting. Cover the floor with a drop cloth and secure it with painter’s tape so it doesn’t get moved around and expose the floor while you’re working. Be sure you push the drop cloth underneath the radiator to avoid getting paint on the floor. Use painter’s tape to mask baseboards on which you don’t want paint. If you will be using aerosol paint, you need to protect the wall behind and around the radiator to avoid spraying paint on surrounding surfaces. Place a large piece of cardboard or poster board behind the radiator to protect the area.

Step 3: Remove Dust, Dirt and Rust

Clean the radiator surface with mild detergent, water and a scrub brush and rag. Remove all dust, dirt and grime. Let the surface dry. Paint will not adhere well over rust, so the rust must be removed along with any existing, flaking paint. Remove both rust and flaking paint using a stiff wire brush. Use a shop vacuum to clean up debris.

Safety Alert!

Wear a dust mask and safety glasses when removing rust and any old paint.

Step 4: Choose the Right Paint

Use paint formulated for metal surfaces, such as X-O Rust® Paint & Primer in One, if your radiator is non-functioning. A working radiator should be covered with paint that can withstand high temperatures, such as Premium Décor® high-heat aerosol enamel or Premium Décor® non-aerosol oil-based, high-heat enamel.

Step 5: Paint the Radiator

Spray on a coat of True Value® X-O Rust Paint & Primer in One, Premium Décor high-heat aerosol enamel or apply non-aerosol high-heat enamel using a small- to medium-sized paintbrush. Spray painting gets the job done fast and provides excellent coverage and a smooth finish. Hold the can about 10” to 16” from the radiator and keep the can moving in a sweeping motion to avoid excess paint from dripping. Apply several thin coats (within an hour time frame) to avoid dripping.

If using a brush, start at the top and work your way down, getting in between the pipes for full coverage. Remember not to paint the valves, as they may stick and be difficult to open. Follow manufacturer instructions for dry times. Add a second coat if necessary.

Safety Alert!

Ventilate the room by opening a window while painting.

Great job! Your radiator has been painted and made to look new again.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.