Radiator rust: Preparation is the key


Ronnie Kite, Meadowbrook Hardware

Q: I keep painting my radiators, but rust spots keeping coming through the paint. How can I avoid getting these pesky rust spots?


A: Of course, since water circulates through the radiator, condensation and water spots on the metal surface are bound to get trapped beneath the paint and lead to corrosion, which is what rust is. Eventually that dark rust is going to work through the paint.

The best way to fix and prevent this problem is to prepare the surface. First, it's important to scrub the radiator thoroughly with a wire brush to remove any loose paint or rust. Secondly, you'll want to sand down the rust spots to the metal. If the old paint is sticking good, just scrub and sand the spots where the rust is coming through or where paint is chipping or peeling. There's really no need to strip the entire radiator unless rust is a problem all over. Next, clean the surface so that it's free of dust and grime.

To seal off the rust spots, use an oil-based white or red oxide anti-rust primer before painting. These primers are available in most hardware stores, and are also available in spray cans. And don't worry: you can go ahead and use latex paint on top of the primer to match your room colors.

When it comes to painting your radiators, preparing them just might be the easy part. Trying to get a paintbrush into those nooks and crannies can be a real hassle. I recommend using an angled radiator brush to get inside, and a six-and-a-half-inch handle skinny roller to get behind the radiator, both of which are available at your local hardware store.

Of course, some people think that radiators look best unpainted, which would certainly solve the rust problem! Another option, which isn't a bad idea if you have kids (those radiators can be real hot to the touch!) or just don't want the hassle of painting your radiators, is to get radiator covers. In fact, a lot of older homes still have these covers, but they seem to have fallen out of fashion. Still, a quick search online turns up an array of cover styles and prices.

Ronnie Kite