Radiating Grays

July 26, 2011   //  Posted in: DIY, Entryway, Living Room   //  By: Emily   //  11 responses

Painting a cast iron radiator is annoying, but inevitable if you want to keep up a not-so-rugged radiator appearance. Fortunately, once you do it, and if you do it right, it’ll be a surface that stands up to the heat, wear, tear, dog tails, and butt resting… for awhile, at least. Last week when I was having my stairwell fit about the how poorly the frame gallery meshed with the painted stairs, I was also in the midst of a new project: painting the entryway radiator. Generally speaking, I’ve seen worse; it wasn’t chipping paint or a completely out-of-place color, but it was still obvious that it hadn’t been refreshed in quite awhile.

Radiator before. Just a few weeks ago, being doused by lily pollen.

I guess you could say that the entryway transformation has been a slow work-in-progress. The front door (and storm door) were replaced, and the vinyl floor was removed to leave a stamped cement surface that I painted gray; the walls, trim, and ceiling were painted, as was the hallway and stairwell that extend from the front door, but the radiator had remained untouched. And there it stood. Staring at me in its chipping, dirty, creamy-ivory-complexion state. From the couch in the living room it’s right within your line of sight, and it taunted me nightly.

My mom and dad had painted the radiators in their old house once or twice as I grew up; Mom insists that the last time she did it, she used straight-from-the-can latex paint. That was back in 1992. I’ll vouch for her that they turned out fine, even having taken a beating with us kids jumping around on them, yet only enduring only a bit of paint wear. But when I started planning what paints to use, everything I read and everyone I spoke to suggested using to an oil-based paint to stand up better to the heat avoid chipping.

A few referrals led me towards Rustoleum’s oil-based paint, which offers enough colors of paint to lend some but not all-out creativity (if you want red or yellow radiators, perhaps, which I’m not writing off), but I wanted to stick with gray. Plain white was an option too, but I wanted to try and make the radiator blend in rather than stand out when it came down to it, and against the venetian gold wall, gray compliments the golds, but still takes a backseat to the colorful striped stairs (which also feature a few shades of gray).

I had cleaned off and vacuumed the radiator prior to painting, but left it in it’s spot hooked to the floor and filled with water because you couldn’t have paid me to disassemble one of those once again. If you ever dare to remove one, go for it, but prepare to have about 4 strong men and maybe an elevator on hand. I felt reasonably confident in my decision to leave it put and paint with smaller brushes back inwards as far as I could.

When it came to picking grays, Rustoleum offered two colors: Aluminum and Gloss Smoke Gray. My gut instinct said to go lighter in color given option, so I bought Aluminum first, albeit not realizing that their product was literally shiny, silver aluminum finish.

Sampling the Aluminum paint. Whoa, shiny pants.

And even though I only tested it on one section of the radiator, I still managed to get the aluminum finish all over my skin, and if you follow me on facebook (which you should), you probably saw that I looked like the tin (wo)man for a brief while post-sample testing.

Tin (Wo)man. A little messy with the first round of oil paints.I should also point out that ventilation’s obviously important. I realized the strength of the oil-based paint with this sample test alone: this is no nice, green low-VOC stuff. In fact, it seemed like 10x VOC toxicity as I was getting the job done; it was intentionally a summertime project because keeping all house windows and doors open was a must, and the warm temperatures coupled with a healthy lake breeze helped to keep the house comfortable and less fume-y. Although I probably did lose some brain cells, I think that’s inevitable. I’d like to think that people have lost many, many more brain cells and still do just fine.

The aluminum paint went back to the store (although just to quick shout-out for it’s best quality – it applied REALLY nicely and had amazing coverage). I exchanged it out for a can of my second choice, the darker Gloss Smoke Gray. I also took this opportunity to test out a little handy tip that I scrolled past once on Pinterest, that being to wrap a rubber band around the paint can to wipe your brush against (as opposed to wiping it along the edge of the can creating a gooky, sloppy mess). Worked well, gotta say, despite a few near paint ricocheting oopsies on my part.

The rubber band test on the quart of paint. Worked like a charm.I had to apply many coats of this, which made me overly conscious about some problems I read about radiator efficiency when too many coats of paint had been applied, but I guess we won’t know about that until wintertime. After just one rough coat along the outermost surface, it looked like this:

One coat in with the glossy dark gray paint.If you want a close-up on my handy, handy paint job, with a traditional paint brush I was able to make it this far:

Radiator paint close-up. One coat on, lots of intricate painting work to go.It’s hard to tell in those photos, but in addition to needing to go deep within the radiator coils with a smaller, fine brush (for I used both a 1″ foam brush and traditional artist’s paintbrush), I also needed to give the whole outer portion another coat to cover up brush strokes and inconsistencies with coverage. It’s taken about a week to get it to this point, because I’ve needed to allow it 24-48 hours between each of the (3) coats to fully dry given the recent humidity.

After making my way through three coats on the outside and two coats on the “inside” (if you want to call it that) it was starting to look A-OK. But you can see a few missed areas inside, which I spied down and tackled with the last coat of paint and a tiny paint brush.

Almost done - just a few more coverups to go.

After the final touch-ups were done and dried, it was looking pretty good. Much improved. The photos don’t do justice to the clean glossiness, which hopefully I will grow to love-love, not just like-love.

Finished radiator!

The presentation of the entryway is much improved now though, with no ivory-off white competing with the fresh trim and striped stairs. The gray really does blend in.

Glossy, glossy radiator.

For $9 in paint (and I only used 1/4 of the quart) and a few hours of painting, it was an easy and affordable update.




  • Ashley @ DesignBuildLove.co
    6 years ago - Reply

    looks much better!

    • Emily
      6 years ago -

      Thanks :) Did I mention how many more I have to paint? Sigh.

  • Sarah @ Freestyle Home and Life
    6 years ago - Reply

    Definitely looks much better! We actually have the exact same thing in our house — radiators with old chipping off-white paint. They are a bit of an eyesore in their present state, and it’d be great if we could spruce them up to look as nice as this one.

  • kate
    5 years ago - Reply

    our radiators have several coats of paint from years past. so many that i wonder if they should be sanded down before painting. is this something people do? will so many layers of paint affect performance?

    • Emily
      5 years ago -

      Unfortunately I have heard that many layers of paint does affect performance. I’ve also heard that sandblasting radiators is the most effective way to remove the paint, although remember to consider the age of the paint and that there could easily be lead paint buried in there. I think it’s the sort of thing that I’d probably pay a pro to do if it came down to it, unless I could rent something to do it in a well ventilated area. Can you rent sand blasters? Now I’m so curious.

  • Kris
    3 years ago - Reply

    Dear Merrypad, I know this post is old, however we tried something similar using the rustoleum high performance protective enamel stops rust paint, a different looking can, it has been nothing but a headache, as months have passed by and it smells every time the heat comes on, a better option is to use a high heat spray cans, by rustoleum and ace. Did you have a similar problem, also it does say not to use if it exceeds 200 degrees, the radiator probably does not get that high, but who knows. Stripping brings up the issue of possible lead paint and who knows what’s underneath, although one cannot speculate, cast irons are usually in older homes.

    • Emily
      3 years ago -

      Hi Kris – the paint that I used smelled during and after the first time the radiators really kicked on for the season, but after that initial burn off (24 hours or so) it was not noticeable. We used the radiators for several seasons after it was painted and I did not continue to notice it. Stripping was a concerning step for me too, and I’m not sure that the radiators get to 200-degrees so I didn’t consider the high-heat spray, but I also didn’t consider latex based paints because I read that it was more apt to promote rust. I hope this is of some help to you!

  • kris
    3 years ago - Reply

    Do you have steam heating or hot water, perhaps maybe that’s the reason? Did you turn off the heat for that radiator for a whole day after painting,? Oftentimes folks usually like a spray because they can get into the nooks and crannys of the radiator rather than a brush, did you have any tips?

    • Emily
      3 years ago -

      Hot water. I painted the radiators in July, so heat wasn’t on and the surface had a lot of time to completely dry and ventilate before wintertime hit. I wouldn’t recommend oil based paint in the house without proper ventilation and a good fan to keep the air moving, that stuff will make your brain melt. A sprayer would have been nice and certainly would have sped up the process, but I wasn’t prepared to seal off the entire part of my house to do that (and removing the whole radiator to do it outside seemed like a ridiculous idea). I was discouraged at first by hand painting because the first coat didn’t cover the base coat perfectly, but it was worth it to do a few coats. In the end, it looked really good and consistent. When it came to the hard to reach places, I just patiently worked with small craft brushes.

  • Kris
    3 years ago - Reply

    You don’t need to seal off an entire part of the house to spray paint a radiator as it drys fast within a few hours or less unless its deep within the house ant not near window i guess, just cover the area with paper.I know folks who have used it without issue without having to remove the radiator or . Since many households have steam heat, and given the hassle of a similar paint, I probably would advise against folks using it, it’s been a nightmare scenario, because you’ll have to end up stripping and removing the radiator if the paint smells for months when the heat comes on. Did you strip the radiator and have you removed lead paint before out of curiosity.

    • Emily
      3 years ago -

      If the radiator was against a wall in a room without any closely surrounding details, maybe. I fear using a paint sprayer indoors without adequate covering on the walls and floor, because anywhere I have used them (multiple brands and qualities) there is some inevitable mist in the air that lightly coats nearby belongings. In this case, there was a window, a staircase, a doorway, and a lot of trim to protect. I did not strip the radiator or do any type of tampering to the existing finish, out of concern that I would be opening a mess of lead paint related issues.

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