Period fireplaces: how to restore a cast iron fireplace to its original glory

Return a painted cast-iron fireplace to its former glory to boost your home’s character

How to restore a period fireplace

If you’re looking to put the charm back into a period property, then checking out the condition of any original fireplaces is a great place to start.

Even if the chimney isn’t in use, you can still make the most of the mantelpiece to display artworks, and the grate  itself to store candles, logs, houseplants or perhaps some sparkling baubles come Christmastime.

As this guide shows, even a small fireplace that’s caked in layers of paint (and a few stickers!) can be brought back to life. It can be a bit of a tough job – if you have bad knees, you may wish to invest in a kneeling pad – but with some hard work and elbow grease, the results will be very impressive.

SHOPPING LIST

  • Protective sheet
  • Strong rubber gloves 
  • Safety goggles 
  • Face mask 
  • Old paintbrushes 
  • Clingfilm 
  • Paint and varnish remover (we used Nitro Mors)
  • Shave hook 
  • Wire scourer 
  • Wire brushes, various sizes 
  • Old sponge or cloth
  • White spirit 
  • Kitchen roll
  • Grate polish (we used Stovax)
  • Soft brush 
  • Toothbrush 
  • Lint-free cloths

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Step 1

How to remove paint from a cast iron fireplace

how to restore a cast iron fireplace

Clear the area and protect your floor and the surrounding walls. Open a window or two for good ventilation. Wearing your goggles and protective gloves, pour some paint remover into a plastic pot – with Nitro Mors, the outer lid doubles up. Take an old paintbrush and apply a generous coat of the gel. Leave for 5-10 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Step 2

How to restore a cast iron fireplace step 2

After this time, the surface of the paint should start to bubble up. Reapply a second thick coat of the removal gel and work it into the surface with the brush. You may see flakes start to come away at this stage.

Now, you can either leave for 30-40 minutes (according to pack instructions) or, for more thickly painted surfaces, cover with clingfilm and leave for a few hours. The trick here is to ensure the gel does not dry out.

How to restore a cast iron fireplace step2b

Step 3

How to restore a cast iron fireplace step2b

While the gel is still wet, carefully remove the clingfilm (if using) and begin to scrape and scrub the paint away. We found it best to start with the shave hook – making use of its many differently shaped edges to get into all of the fireplace’s nooks and crannies, before moving onto a wire brush and a scourer to scrape away the remaining paint and gel.

Repeat steps 1-3 until you have removed as much paint as possible. We had at least four layers of paint to get through and it required three gel applications. The grate polish will cover a modest amount of paint, so don’t worry about removing 100 per cent of the paint.

Step 4

How to restore a cast iron fireplace step 4

Clean any remaining gel from your fireplace using a cloth and white spirit. Dry thoroughly with kitchen roll or an old cloth.

Step 5

How to blacken and polish the fireplace

How to polish a cast iron fireplace

Now apply the grate polish. This is a messy job, so we recommend double checking that your walls and floors are still well protected. Gloves, goggles and scruffy clothes are a must! Squeeze a little grate polish onto a soft brush – we used the sort you would for polishing shoes – and work it into the surface of the fireplace.

Switch to a toothbrush to get into any hard-to-reach spots. Once you have covered all of the fireplace, take a dry cloth and wipe off the polish – the more you buff at this stage the shinier the result will be.

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