How to Paint a Radiator – a Simple Guide

Updated May 16, 2024 | Posted Jan 10, 2024 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 0 comments

Painting a radiator isn’t rocket science, but there are a few things you should consider. That’s why I thought I’d sit down and write a quick guide on how to paint a radiator. I hope you find it useful.

Most radiators are metal and they’re usually powder coated at the factory. This helps, because it means you often don’t need a separate primer when painting them unless it has degraded.

In this blog, I’m going to explain how to paint a radiator. I’ll start by giving you a list of things you’ll need, then quickly run through each step, before going into more detail and explaining which paints you should use and why.


Shopping List


  • Sandpaper
  • Cleaning agent
  • Clean water
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • A paintbrush
  • A dust sheet


How to Paint a Radiator


Step 1 – Clean The Surface

The surface needs to be clean before you can paint. Otherwise, contaminants can react with the paint or cause adhesion issues.


Step 2 – Abrade The Surface

Sanding helps create ‘a key’, which in turn helps paint to adhere. Loose paint needs to be removed at this point.


Step 3 – Prime

Bare metal, such as copper pipes need to be primed with an oil-based primer. Rust patches should be treated with rust primer.


Step 4 – Paint

You should choose a suitable paint and then apply two coats, allowing time to dry between each.


What Primers Should You Use on a Radiator


You only need a primer if you have patches of bare metal, rust, or you’re painting the radiator in the same paint as your wall (I’ll get into that further down the blog).

Let’s deal with bare metal and rust first.


Priming Bare Metal

A lot of Decorators would just use an oil-based undercoat for something like this. Mostly because it’s cheap and we usually have some in the van anyway. You’re only ever going to find small patches of exposed bare metal on a radiator, so a tin of Cover Stain Aerosol is another good option.

This dries nice and quick, acts as a barrier coat on copper pipes, and adheres well to metal. Click here to see online prices.


Priming Rust

If you have patches of rust, then I advise you treat these before you paint. Oxide Primer is all you need. It works by starving the rust of oxygen. Click here to see online prices.


The Best Paint for a Radiator


Speak to most Decorators, and they will tell you the type of paint you use for a radiator isn’t important. Often, they will use the same paint as they did for the woodwork in the rest of the room, so any good satinwood, eggshell or gloss is fine (I’ll get into more detail in a little bit).

However, if you were to ask a Heating Engineer, they would tell you that it’s a bad idea to paint a radiator with normal trim paint because it effects its efficiency. This makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

The purpose of a radiator is to transfer heat from water inside it, to the room outside it. If you were to paint a radiator in, say oil-based satinwood, you’re essentially coating it in an insulating film. This means your heating system will need to work a little harder to warm your house, and your heating bill is likely to rise.

For this reason, the correct product to use is radiator enamel, and the best I have used is Hammerite. Radiator enamel is thin, and it doesn’t insulate like standard paints do. You’ll find it easy to use, quick drying, and available as an aerosol or standard paint.

Hammerite Radiator Enamel, which is the best paint to use to paint a radiator.

However, there are a couple of issues with using radiator enamel. Firstly, you’re restricted in terms of colour and finish (which isn’t too bad if you just want a standard white satin or gloss). Also, the opacity is poor, so it tends to take a few coats to get it to cover. This is fine if you’re just giving your radiator a ‘quick freshen up’, but if it is rusty, or you’re going for a colour change, then you’re likely to struggle.


Do You Really Need to Use Radiator Enamel to Paint a Radiator?


I’m not entirely sure how much difference using radiator enamel really makes, but energy prices seem high, and I don’t think they’re coming down anytime soon. So, I would suggest that if you desire a white gloss or satin finish, then the best paint for a radiator is radiator enamel.

However, if you want to paint your radiator the same colour as the wall, or you need it to match the woodwork in the room, then it might be worth deviating. After all, most Decorators do say that normal satinwood or gloss is fine.

I would suggest water-based is better, as it means your room won’t be filled with an unpleasant smell when you first put the heating on. Click here for information on the best satinwood paints.

Can you Paint a Radiator the Same Colour as the Wall?


The vast majority of radiators aren’t exactly decorative. You have radiators around your home because they’re an integral part of your heating system, but they can stand out a little bit.

One way around this is to paint your radiator the same colour as your walls. This essentially stops it from standing out and ruining your décor. It can be done without issue. You will need to use a durable emulsion for it to match your walls perfectly. That way you can use the same paint on your walls as you do the radiator.

You will also need to apply an adhesion primer to your radiator before you can paint it with your wall colour. This will stop your paint from peeling further down the line. My recommendation would be Bedec All Prime, simply because it contains rust inhibitors and is capable of blocking stains.

You’ll find it easy to apply, great opacity, and leaves no brush marks. The adhesion qualities of this paint are fantastic too! I trust this to stick hard and it will last.

Bedec All Prime Water-Based Primer and Undercoat

Once your adhesion primer is on, you’re free to paint the radiator with your durable emulsion to match the walls.


How to Paint a Radiator

Let’s finally talk about how to paint a radiator. If your radiator is in good nick, it’s rather easy. Turn it off, give it a wipe down, then give it a ‘key’. This basically means you rub it with light sandpaper, and then dust it off.

If you’re using enamel, you’re good to apply two coats and the job is done. Same if you’re applying a ‘self-undercoating’ oil-based finish like satinwood. Just give it two coats and it should look mint. If you’re using a water-based finish, I’d suggest applying a coat of Bedec All Prime first.

Radiator painted with enamel and looking brand-new.

How to Paint a Radiator Pipes


Radiator pipes are easy to paint. Your first coat of paint needs to be oil-based. Otherwise, the copper will oxidise, and your paint will turn green. I use an oil-based undercoat or Zinsser Cover Stain. This acts as a barrier coat, then you’re free to apply any topcoat you like.

One great tip for decorating radiator pipes is pipe covers. These are thin pieces of plastic that you cut to length and wrap around the pipe. They look great and are easier than painting. Click here to see online prices.


Final Thoughts


I hope that’s helped. I’ve explained all there is to know about how to paint a radiator and the best paint to use on a radiator.

There’s no great tip to applying the paint. Just do your prep, remove any dust, then start on one side, and work your way along.

Updated May 16, 2024 | Posted Jan 10, 2024 | 0 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.
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