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Best paint for radiators 2023: Freshen up your household heat-makers with the perfect paint job

Looking to give your radiators some TLC? We've got you covered with our collection of the best paint for radiators

There comes a time in every adult life where you can no longer avoid those most mundane of tasks: painting something as fiddly as a radiator. But radiators need love too. After all, once your walls and door frames are looking bright from a recently applied coat or two, the radiators will look all the more shoddy and dilapidated by comparison.

So, clean your brushes. It’s time to put away those tins of emulsion and turn your attention to a very specialised area of the world of domestic decoration: paint specifically made for radiators. Having to be able to withstand tremendous temperatures, heating and cooling on a regular basis without cracking and flaking away, and not turning yellow within record time, radiator painting is both a precise and slapdash art. How can it be both? Read on.

Best paint for radiators: At a glance

How to choose the best radiator paint for you

Painting radiators – what do I need to know?

As with any decorating job, preparation is the key to getting it right the first time and not having to fix any problems or, indeed, having to stare at your mistakes years down the line. So, day one, clean your radiator. It may sound obvious, but there will be many out there who will slap a paint-loaded brush on their radiator without making sure it’s not covered in dust and dirt. There are even those who will attempt it without first considering Captain Obvious’ first rule of painting a radiator: make sure it’s off.

Okay, so you’re not that daft and you’ve let your radiators cool. Then, you’ve gone at it with a duster, removing as much dirt and dust as possible, and given it a good wipe down with a damp cloth to ensure every last dab of dirt and grease smear is removed. And just to be absolutely certain, you’ve dried it well and given it a good rub down with some sandpaper.

That done, prepare your space by moving any nearby furniture out of the way and banishing cats and dogs from the area. Put down old newspaper or cardboard on the floor to protect it from any errant drips and – importantly – open all the windows you can to avoid inhaling fumes from your paint. Right, you’re almost ready to roll.

Is there a specific rule on how to paint a radiator?

You begin by applying a coat of specialist radiator primer. This can be purchased from all the usual DIY stores. Options are many and largely unvaried, and to help you through the primer jungle, we’ve our own recommendation on that score coming up shortly.

Your primer not only creates a vital, stable base for your paint, it also ensures any rusted or exposed areas are protected. To apply, just use a simple paintbrush, making sure you cover every inch. If your radiator is of a more elaborate design, it will probably be worth investing in an angled brush to avoid missing areas too.

Primer paint is also widely available in aerosol format. If that’s your tool of choice, you’ll want to pop on a mask and spray in upwards and downwards strokes at a distance of around 8in. Once fully coated, wait for the primer to dry completely.

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Okay, the primer is dry to the touch. Can I start painting now?

Yes, you can. But first, stir your paint and start with the outside edges. Give any fiddly areas of the sides or top a good tickle with your paintbrush before turning your attention to the moulded ridges of the face. Here you’ll want to work your brush in vertical strokes, moving from one side of the radiator to the other, overlapping as you go to guarantee a nice even finish.

Now let it dry. Of course, a second coat may be needed, but that’s all dependent on how well you fared with the first coat. If everything is well covered and evenly finished, consider your job done. Take a small break. Enjoy that? Good, now it’s time to crack on with the next radiator.

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The best radiator paint to buy

1. Johnstone’s Interior Wood & Metal Quick Dry Satin: The best radiator paint for a proper job

Price: £9 | Buy now from Amazon

A radiator-covering classic, Johnstone’s Quick Dry Satin states its intent clearly on the tin. It’s a water-based, low-odour, self-undercoating traditional satin white that gives a mid-sheen, non-yellowing finish.

Naturally, this ease of use comes at a chemical cost, so you’re going to want to make sure the area you’re in is very well ventilated to avoid any unfortunate allergic reactions to this potent paint cocktail. Johnstone’s itself is at pains to point out the product safety warning, so be sure to heed it.

Available in 13 subtle colours, your first – and possibly only – coat should be touch-dry within a couple of hours. If you judge a second coat necessary, leave at least three to four hours to ensure ideal conditions.

Key specs – Finishes available: Satin, gloss; Size: 1.25 litres; Drying time: 1-2 hours; Coverage: 12m²/litre; Coats required: 1-2; Colours available: 13

2. Rust-Oleum Universal Paint-Matt: The easiest radiator paint to use

Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re the kind of person who a) doesn’t want to bother themselves with priming, and b) also has drying time in abundance, there’s a less labour-intensive route to radiator-painting perfection: Rust-Oleum’s Universal All Surface paint.

One or two coats of Rust-Oleum will be ample to get your heat-throwers looking like new, and there’s no need to apply primer first as this paint has primer mixed in. This means you skip an entire stage of the painting process, but the trade-off is that it will take longer to dry. Depending on how much paint you use, the average job will be touch-dry in one to two hours and fully dry in eight. But if a second coat is required, you’ll need to wait a whole 16 hours before it’s ready. In total, then, Rust-Oleum recommends waiting seven days for true dryness. But, if you can wait, why not?

Key specs – Finishes available: Matt, gloss, satin; Size: 250ml; Drying time: 1-2 hours; Coverage: 9m²/litre; Coats required: 1-2; Colours available: 16

3. Rust-Oleum Surface Primer: The best aerosol primer paint

Price: £8 | Buy now from Amazon

An aerosol primer option, using Rust-Oleum’s Surface Primer is going to get the priming work done in record time, but you’ll have to make sure your space is as well ventilated as possible. Surfaces should have protective covers over them and you should ensure you’re protected. For this, we recommend a mask and goggles.

Providing a base that helps with adhesion, the Surface Primer both protects from rust and works to fill shallow scratches, helping to achieve an even, flat finish once paint is applied. Relatively idiot-proof in operation, simply block off anything you don’t want accidentally coated with masking tape and then spray smoothly up and down, in overlapping strokes, working gently from side to side. Apply several coats minutes apart for a uniform result. And there it is: your rusty old radiator, ready to be revived.

Key specs – Finishes available: Matt; Size: 400ml; Drying time: 24 hours; Coverage: 2m²; Coats required: 1-2; Colours available: 3

4. Zinsser 123 Bulls Eye Primer/Sealer: The best primer paint for ruined radiators

Price: £17 | Buy now from Amazon

If your radiator looks almost beyond saving, if the stains on it are themselves heavily stained and if it would look much more at home in a skip than in your home, you need Zinsser 123 Bulls Eye.

A miracle primer that will adhere to the face of your radiator without the need for sanding (but do heed what we said about preparation), the Zinsser blocks stains permanently, sees off grease spots and any other enduring marks with ease, and even contains a biocide to protect against fungal growth.

Once ready to paint, apply as you would a top-coat, covering the sides and top before using overlapping strokes to work the primer across the face. Dry in 30 minutes, you can recoat in 60, or if you’re happy with your work and all stains are hidden, move straight to painting – radiator saved.

Key specs – Finishes available: Matt; Size: 1 litre; Drying time: 30 minutes; Coverage: 10m²/litre; Coats required: 1-2; Colours available: White

5. Hammerite Radiator Enamel Aerosol: The best budget radiator paint

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

Paintbrushes down, primer pushed aside – you want a quick and cheap way to rejuvenate your radiator that involves as little faff as possible? Then you’ll be wanting to get your hands on Radiator Enamel Aerosol from Hammerite.

Formulated to provide a heat-resistant brilliant white finish on radiators, Radiator Enamel prevents both yellowing and rust, and creates a tough, long-lasting finish. As it’s an aerosol, make sure ventilation is ample and, as there’s also a strong element of “spray ‘n’ pray”, ensure walls and floors are copiously covered in newspaper so that the fine mist of paint you’re generating doesn’t ruin your house and your day.

Apply with smooth strokes from around 8in away to ensure an even coating, and as it’s quick-drying, you can recoat after just 15 minutes, so a couple of coats later, your quick, cheap solution is sorted.

Key specs – Finishes available: Satin; Size: 400ml; Drying time: 4-6 hours; Coverage: 0.5m²; Coats required: 1-2; Colours available: White