Old House Reno – Painting the Radiators

Our 130 year old house is heated with a boiler and radiators. The boiler heats the water and circulates it through pipes in our house to radiators in (most) rooms. This all seems scary to newer home owners, but so far it’s actually pretty simple. We replaced the boiler in March of this year with a new small unit and the radiators generate a lovely warm heat throughout the house.

(So far so good and definitely knock on wood)

In October, we had some lovely warm weather and didn’t need to turn on the boiler until later than usual. This is good, because we suddenly realized that we had meant to paint the radiators before it was time to turn on the heat.

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Inspiring, but not me!

Radiators are kind of funky looking, and I was thinking of painting them in bright colours, as I had seen in many other blogs and Pinterest boards. Painting radiators in bright and funky colours would certainly be a statement, but I was just wanting my statement to be clean and fresh and functional. So glossy white it was. They were previously painted in matte burgundy, mustard yellow and off white – and were chipped, full of cat hair (and we don’t have a cat), and just generally dust magnets. I thought the gloss would make them easier to clean and keep dust and hair free.

Max and a mustard coloured radiator – we are stripping the floor upstairs too!

Many of the sites we read suggested we use spray paint on the radiators, but I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of all the possible overspray, and the spray paint in the air, which can’t be good for us. We opted to paint with a standard 2″ paintbrush and used a Tremclad Oil based Rust Paint in White Gloss.

The radiators and pipes are cast iron and all working and all had many layers of paint already, so didn’t need a prime. I had read some advice to sand down the paint chips, prior to painting, but I opted not to, as I assumed there was likely lead in some of the paint layers. First I vacuumed the radiators as well as I could. Then I wiped them down with water and Mr. Clean. The really nasty work was in using a scrub brush with a handle to scrub up and down between the ridges and underneath – to scrub out the cat hair, dust and spider webs.

Another mustard coloured radiator

After the radiators were cleaned up I taped newspaper and drop cloths under and all around each radiator to catch the inevitably spilled paint. I applied the paint with a 2 inch brush – top down, slowly, one rung at a time, doing my very best to keep drips from accumulating. (I went through several paint brushes, as they got all sticky squishing between the rungs of the radiators). This was just a messy job – not difficult at all, but the paint was smelly and drippy and sticky. I gave each radiator 3 coats – allowing the paint to dry in between coats. The job was just tedious.

A burgundy radiator hiding in the living room

One important thing to remember was not to paint the taps at the tops of the radiator shut (like all the windows I painted shut in the past), and I don’t think I did!

My hands were covered with paint and there were was paint all over the newspapers. I had no paint thinner of course, as I am trying to stay out of stores due to the pandemic – but the really good news is that my collection of hand sanitizers seemed to dissolve alot of the paint on my hands and clothes! Who knew?

A fair bit of the spilled paint bled through the newspapers and drop cloths – but no worries – I was able to clean it up with paper towels and then chip away any dried paint with my beautifully manicured (not really) nails.

A clean white radiator was mustard yellow before

All in all this was just a messy, tedious job – but guess what? It’s really satisfying to have shiny clean radiators. The heat turned on the next day, and although there had been paint odour during the painting project, the radiators worked perfectly and there was no more paint odour!

The previously burgundy radiator is now scrubable white

After I’d painted the 5 downstairs radiators, I realized that I hadn’t painted any of the upstairs radiators. For now, I’m procrastinating on that until the spring. In the meantime we are working on the upstairs floors!

All Set for Gifting

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