Stinky Radiator Paint

copyright 2000 G.G. Alonzy

Dear NH,
I recently bought a condo that was remodeled before I purchased it. The radiators in the unit were painted white (same as the walls). When the boiler kicked in, and the radiators started spurting to life, my joy was squashed with the smell of burning paint. A few moments later my condo was filled with smoke and I was choking from the fumes. A few questions:

  1. Could this have been caused by using latex paint on the radiators?
  2. Will I have to let the chemicals that were burning to naturally "burn off" before I can enjoy being warm again?
  3. Is there an easy was to strip the layers of paint off the radiators?

SB from Minneapolis, Minnesota

I have never heard of such a thing but there's always a first time for everything! Since most hot water systems don't get hot enough to cause paint to outgas as viciously you've described, I have a feeling that you must either have steam heat or a very high temperature boiler! Anyway, the heat drives off residual solvents and/or moisture that would normally dissipate over a period of weeks and months through normal aging. The heat just speeds the process up... a lot!! It is a fact of life that any painted surface will stink for a while when it is first heated, even fire resistant paints. Most people are blissfully unaware of this until they have an experience like yours. If you had known, you could have run your heating system while it was still comfortable enough to open all the windows and give your place a good airing. After you run the heat for a while, the paint will "bake in" and the odor will dissipate... just get a fan running and keep the windows open until the air is clear. I wouldn't bother to strip the paint, since you will then have to bake off the odor of the stripper. And let me tell you... stripping old radiators is a messy, tedious job and not for the faint of heart!

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