How to paint a radiator

Here's how to paint your radiator, plus how to prime the surface and what paint to use

Radiator painted in quick dry satinwood in Pepper Red, around £16.50 for 500ml, Dulux
Radiator painted in quick dry satinwood in Pepper Red, around £16.50 for 500ml, Dulux

With the winter chill well and truly set in, we’re all very glad of our central heating, but what if your radiators are a bit of an eyesore? Replacing them is one option, but if you’d like to save your budget to spend elsewhere, then we recommend a refresh instead. With the right preparation, it’s a simple job which will give your radiator a brand-new look at very little expense.

DIY painted wall arches

Is painting a radiator a good idea?

For a radiator that’s in an odd place or not very attractive, painting it the same colour as the wall will help it to blend in and give your wall a slick, modern look. Alternatively, choosing a contrasting colour can highlight a good-looking radiator that’s just in need of a little TLC. Making a feature of your radiator is a quick and affordable way to add a pop of colour to a dark corner or give a plain wall a vibrant look.

What kind of paint do you use on a radiator?

It’s important to ensure that the paint you choose is suitable for use on radiators as this means it’s less likely to chip or peel, or release nasty chemicals when you turn your radiator back on. Paints designed for use on wood or metal are generally suitable and your options include gloss, satin and eggshell. Some emulsions are suitable but check the can first. You could also go for a specialist formula such as Ronseal’s Stays White satin radiator paint, priced at around £11 per 250ml. It has a one-coat application, dries quickly and is guaranteed to resist yellowing over time. You’ll find some brands are also available as a spray for easy application: Rust-Oleum satin radiator enamel spray paint in White costs £3 for 400ml from B&Q. Always check the label to see if the paint is suitable for use on metal and if a primer is needed.

Wall painted in absolute matt emulsion in Light Gold; radiator painted in Urbane Grey, both from £23.50 per litre, Little Greene
Wall painted in absolute matt emulsion in Light Gold; radiator painted in Urbane Grey, both from £23.50 per litre, Little Greene

How to paint a radiator

To paint a radiator, you will need:

  • Wood/metal paint or radiator paint in your choice of colour
  • Primer (optional)
  • Fine grade sandpaper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Solvent or brush cleaner
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Step 1

Make sure your radiator is completely cold and clean off any dirt, grease and rust spots. Give your radiator a sand with fine grain sandpaper to create a ‘keyed’ surface – this helps the paint to stick. Be sure to sand off any rust so you have an even surface to paint. Once you have sanded, vacuum and then wipe your radiator with a damp cloth to remove any dust.

Wall and radiator painted in pure flat emulsion in Pontefract, £25 for 750ml, Paint & Paper Library
Wall and radiator painted in pure flat emulsion in Pontefract, £25 for 750ml, Paint & Paper Library

Step 2

Apply your primer, if you are using one – check your top coat to see whether you need one. If you have removed any rust or have patches of bare metal then a primer is a must to seal the surface. Allow your primer to dry completely before moving on to your top coat; check the tin for timings.

Step 3

Once your primer is dry, give your radiator another wipe and allow to dry. Apply your top coat in thin, even strokes, or follow the instructions on the tin if you are using spray paint. An angled brush is handy to get into any awkward bits. You may need to apply a second coat to achieve an even coverage. It’s best to leave 24 hours between coats to ensure the paint is fully dry.

Step 4

Once you are happy with the colour, let the paint cure for 2-3 days (up to a week if you can) before you turn the radiator back on. There may be a bit of a smell for a day or two, so keep windows open and the room well aired.

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