Painting a cast iron radiator is annoying, but inevitable if you want to keep up a not-so-rugged radiator appearance. Fortunately, once you do it, and if you do it right, it’ll be a surface that stands up to the heat, wear, tear, dog tails, and butt resting… for awhile, at least. Last week when I was having my stairwell fit about the how poorly the frame gallery meshed with the painted stairs, I was also in the midst of a new project: painting the entryway radiator. Generally speaking, I’ve seen worse; it wasn’t chipping paint or a completely out-of-place color, but it was still obvious that it hadn’t been refreshed in quite awhile.
I guess you could say that the entryway transformation has been a slow work-in-progress. The front door (and storm door) were replaced, and the vinyl floor was removed to leave a stamped cement surface that I painted gray; the walls, trim, and ceiling were painted, as was the hallway and stairwell that extend from the front door, but the radiator had remained untouched. And there it stood. Staring at me in its chipping, dirty, creamy-ivory-complexion state. From the couch in the living room it’s right within your line of sight, and it taunted me nightly.
My mom and dad had painted the radiators in their old house once or twice as I grew up; Mom insists that the last time she did it, she used straight-from-the-can latex paint. That was back in 1992. I’ll vouch for her that they turned out fine, even having taken a beating with us kids jumping around on them, yet only enduring only a bit of paint wear. But when I started planning what paints to use, everything I read and everyone I spoke to suggested using to an oil-based paint to stand up better to the heat avoid chipping.
A few referrals led me towards Rustoleum’s oil-based paint, which offers enough colors of paint to lend some but not all-out creativity (if you want red or yellow radiators, perhaps, which I’m not writing off), but I wanted to stick with gray. Plain white was an option too, but I wanted to try and make the radiator blend in rather than stand out when it came down to it, and against the venetian gold wall, gray compliments the golds, but still takes a backseat to the colorful striped stairs (which also feature a few shades of gray).
I had cleaned off and vacuumed the radiator prior to painting, but left it in it’s spot hooked to the floor and filled with water because you couldn’t have paid me to disassemble one of those once again. If you ever dare to remove one, go for it, but prepare to have about 4 strong men and maybe an elevator on hand. I felt reasonably confident in my decision to leave it put and paint with smaller brushes back inwards as far as I could.
When it came to picking grays, Rustoleum offered two colors: Aluminum and Gloss Smoke Gray. My gut instinct said to go lighter in color given option, so I bought Aluminum first, albeit not realizing that their product was literally shiny, silver aluminum finish.
And even though I only tested it on one section of the radiator, I still managed to get the aluminum finish all over my skin, and if you follow me on facebook (which you should), you probably saw that I looked like the tin (wo)man for a brief while post-sample testing.
I should also point out that ventilation’s obviously important. I realized the strength of the oil-based paint with this sample test alone: this is no nice, green low-VOC stuff. In fact, it seemed like 10x VOC toxicity as I was getting the job done; it was intentionally a summertime project because keeping all house windows and doors open was a must, and the warm temperatures coupled with a healthy lake breeze helped to keep the house comfortable and less fume-y. Although I probably did lose some brain cells, I think that’s inevitable. I’d like to think that people have lost many, many more brain cells and still do just fine.
The aluminum paint went back to the store (although just to quick shout-out for it’s best quality – it applied REALLY nicely and had amazing coverage). I exchanged it out for a can of my second choice, the darker Gloss Smoke Gray. I also took this opportunity to test out a little handy tip that I scrolled past once on Pinterest, that being to wrap a rubber band around the paint can to wipe your brush against (as opposed to wiping it along the edge of the can creating a gooky, sloppy mess). Worked well, gotta say, despite a few near paint ricocheting oopsies on my part.
I had to apply many coats of this, which made me overly conscious about some problems I read about radiator efficiency when too many coats of paint had been applied, but I guess we won’t know about that until wintertime. After just one rough coat along the outermost surface, it looked like this:
It’s hard to tell in those photos, but in addition to needing to go deep within the radiator coils with a smaller, fine brush (for I used both a 1″ foam brush and traditional artist’s paintbrush), I also needed to give the whole outer portion another coat to cover up brush strokes and inconsistencies with coverage. It’s taken about a week to get it to this point, because I’ve needed to allow it 24-48 hours between each of the (3) coats to fully dry given the recent humidity.
After making my way through three coats on the outside and two coats on the “inside” (if you want to call it that) it was starting to look A-OK. But you can see a few missed areas inside, which I spied down and tackled with the last coat of paint and a tiny paint brush.
After the final touch-ups were done and dried, it was looking pretty good. Much improved. The photos don’t do justice to the clean glossiness, which hopefully I will grow to love-love, not just like-love.
The presentation of the entryway is much improved now though, with no ivory-off white competing with the fresh trim and striped stairs. The gray really does blend in.
For $9 in paint (and I only used 1/4 of the quart) and a few hours of painting, it was an easy and affordable update.