How to paint a radiator – the best paint to use for pro results

Painting radiators properly is all about choosing the right paint and the best process. Get interior designer-worthy results with our how-to.

radiator in green hallway
(Image credit: Soak.com)

Painting radiators has become a must when giving your space a makeover. Perfect to add a pop more color to a hallway, or to help yours blend in seamlessly with your surroundings ... Plus, it's a totally achievable DIY job that won't cost you the earth.

As easy as it may be to learn how to paint a radiator yourself, you need to get some key details right including: what paint to use, what paint not to use and the best working conditions for safety. Accounting for everything will not only ensure a pro finish but it will also keep your radiators, old or new, in the best condition also.

Is it a good idea to paint radiators?

It's a great idea decor-wise, so long as you pick the right paint for the job and that you prime your radiators properly if they need it, to protect their efficiency. Daniel Nezhad, director at UK Radiators, says 'It may sound hard to believe but painting your radiator can affect its heat output. The main relationship between painting your radiator and its efficiency is to do with the type of radiator paint rather than the colour. Some studies show that darker colours can increase your radiator’s efficiency but this is only by an extremely small amount (we’re talking around 1 percent).  The real factor to consider is the kind of radiator paint you use.'

What paint do you use on a radiator?

Crown Paints recommend to 'Look for any paint designed for wood or metal such as gloss, satin or eggshell.' 

'It has been shown that a radiator coated with metallic paint will emit less heat, under otherwise identical conditions, than a similar radiator coated with non-metallic paint. It can affect the efficiency of your radiator to the point where using a metallic-based paint is the same as removing 1/6th of the radiator!' Continues Nezhad.

How to paint a radiator

When it comes to actually painting radiators properly, there are quite a few steps. The key again is to not skip on prep and priming. You will need the following materials:

  • Dust sheets
  • Cardboard
  • Painters tape
  • Screwdriver (if removing)
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint
  • Primer (if using)
  • Sandpaper (if using take two grades: 40/60-grit then move on to a finer, 80/120-grit)

1. Choose the right paint for the job

Decide on the look you want and then choose the most suitable paint. 'You need to opt for a specially formulated radiator paint that will be able to withstand constant temperature changes without damaging the integrity or quality of the paint.' Says Nezhad.

2. Turn off your radiator

For safety and for better painting conditions, you need to switch off your radiator completely and ideally leave it to cool down overnight. '...if your radiator is still warm, the paint will drip and not adhere to the radiator’s surface very well.' Notes Nezhad.

3. Prepare the area

If you're a savvy DIYer you may want to take your radiator off the wall completely. But you can paint your radiator while it's still attached to the wall. You just need to protect the wall behind it with a cardboard sheet and you should lay dust sheets down for both methods also to protect the floor.

4. Prepare and repair the radiator

You'll need to wipe your radiator down completely with a sponge, warm water and mild detergent to get rid of dust (we know you you have some) and dirt.

If you're painting an old radiator with flaking paint, you may have to strip and sand it down. 'When it comes to stripping your radiator, any paint stripper is fine to use, and the aim is to remove any layers of paint that are currently on your radiator. Be careful when scraping the paint off that you don’t damage the original structure of your radiator. This step will make the application of your new paint easy and smooth.' Notes Nezhad. 'The radiator needs to be sanded down to ensure that the surface is smooth and ready to be painted on. It’s recommended to use two different grades of sandpaper so that you can achieve a smooth finish that removes bumps and imperfections of any size.'

5. Prime the radiator for painting

For a professional finish on anything, using a primer is really wise. 'The last stage of preparation is priming. You will need to prime the surface of your radiator too, to protect the structure of it and to help the paint be applied in the most effective way.'

6. Paint the radiator

Don't overload your brush and start with the inner edges, moving onto the face of the radiator. By working in smaller sections you'll get a more precise finish. Take your time, painting the front moldings from the top, then from the bottom before pulling your paintwork together. Finish off with the front edges, working your way across the entire radiator. You can paint into and from already painted sections using sweeping actions to ensure it's even.

7. Let it dry

You need to let your paint fully dry before moving onto a second coat of paint if needed and especially before turning the heating on. Nezhad recommends waiting at least a day for precise results, 'Once painted do not turn your radiator straight back on, you will need to leave it to dry for at least 24 hours to avoid peeling or dripping.'

DIY done!

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Camille Dubuis-Welch

Camille is Digital Editor at Realhomes.com and joined the team in January 2020. As an interior design aficionado, when she’s not developing evergreen content and furiously researching keywords, she is most definitely finding new ways to spruce up her rented space, usually involving a houseplant or two. She loves the challenge that comes with making a room look stylish and feel homely, and her ultimate goal is to renovate the house of dreams, somewhere marvellously sunny with a wild and lavish garden, of course.