Painting a Steam Radiator


Dear NH,
I want to paint my steam radiator and I do not want it to peel. Is it necessary to first prime it and what type of paint do I use, both for priming and finishing, latex or oil?

I can appreciate the overload of questions that you receive. But if you don't answer my lame question then who or whom can I turn to in my time of need? Better hurry, winter is closing in and I'll have to wait till next spring to paint. And if I don't get an answer then this can go on and on indefinitely and it'll be on your head that this little old radiator (well, it's not that little) will never see a fresh coat of paint.

Aren't you glad you started this web site and have to deal with wackos like me? Just kidding. If you can't get to my question , fine. I'll just have to ask my wife; she knows everything.
SR from Glen Ridge, NJ

SR,
I received both your messages. I honestly wish I received lots of lame questions... it would be less painful to have to skip over many of them. Unfortunately, just about all the questions I receive are important! Given the limited time I have to answer them (not being an Internet "wonk" and still working for a living), I try to give emphasis to the ones that seem to have the most universal import... such as yours!

If the existing finish is sound, you don't have much of a job. First, clean all dust and dirt from the radiator. Then, use sandpaper to roughen the surface slightly to give the new paint a better grip. Wipe the radiator down with Wilbond deglosser (whether the radiator has been painted or not)... this will remove any oils and help the paint to adhere. If the radiator is raw metal, you should use a bare metal primer before painting. If the radiator is already painted, use an oil primer if you want... it can't hurt but if your other preparation is done properly it may not be necessary.

Apply a finish coat of a quality oil-based interior paint. I don't approve of using latex paint because it is less heat resistant and less durable than an oil-based paint.

High temperature paint is not necessary... these are meant for really high temperatures such as industrial or automotive engine applications, far above the 200 or so degrees that a residential steam radiator reaches.

You could also use canned spray paint. Depending on the brand, you may not even need a primer over bare metal. Of course, using spray paint inside a home requires quite a bit of masking to protect objects from the spray.

Earlier I said "if the finish is sound". If your radiator is covered in chipping or lifting paint, you must remove all loose paint or the new finish will fail. This can be accomplished by sanding, scraping or even the use of a chemical paint remover. If the radiator has old paint that might contain lead, the safest method of paint removal is chemical, since this does not release lead into the air to the extent that sanding would. There are lead testing kits available at any hardware or paint store. If the radiator can be disconnected and taken outside, even better... though I know this is impractical for most situations.

I am not an expert in lead abatement, so my advise is limited to common sense... 1) use an appropriate respirator or dust mask for personal protection and 2) keep the dust down or contained through masking and/or "tenting" the radiator to keep the spread of lead dust within a controlled area. Because local codes vary as to lead issues, it's up to you to find out the laws in your area. Some codes are quite strict and the penalties can be quite severe... especially if you have young children in your home!

Because of the stress on the paint from the constant heating and cooling, don't expect your paint job to last forever. However, your care to preparation detail will extend its life by years!
NH


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