Is it Safe to Paint an Old Radiator?

Updated: Apr. 28, 2023

The short answer is yes. But there are some tips to know, such as how to prep the radiator for paint and what's the best type of radiator paint to use.

Nothing can bring down the look of a room faster than a dingy looking radiator. While radiators have hidden crevices and can be a challenge to paint, painting them is possible. Here are some tricks to paint an old radiator so you’ll be happy with the finished product.

Hide ugly radiators with these 12 clever radiator cover ideas.

Be Aware of Lead in Existing Radiator Paint

If you believe the paint on your radiator was applied before 1978, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said you should assume it contains lead. If this is the case, purchase a lead test kit and don’t disturb the radiator paint until you know if it contains lead or not. If lead is detected, don’t be discouraged. You can handle it safely. Follow the guidelines at or call your local health department.

Learn more about testing for lead in paint here.

Prepare for Painting

If your radiator is operational, turn the control valve to off and let it cool completely before you start the project. Use masking tape to cover the control valve, along with the air bleeder valve.

Make sure the radiator is clean, dry, free of rust and peeling paint. Remove any existing radiator paint and clean it with warm water and a mild detergent and then just wipe clean. When the radiator is dry and cold, use two coats of an oil-based primer which is safe and formulated to use on metal.

Use the Right Radiator Paint

Look for a paint designed for interior use on metal, in a gloss, eggshell or satin finish. If you still use your radiator, be sure to select a radiator paint that is rated for high-heat. Use a 2-inch brush and paint the edges first. Then, move to the front and work in small sections on the top and bottom, and meet in the middle. Paint into the previous section to make sure you get an even finish. Let the first coat dry for eight hours and follow with a second coat.

The radiator can be put back into service when the paint is dry (after about two hours).

Follow these professional tips for successful painting.