What to Know When Restoring Old Radiators

Old Radiator by Nic McPhee from Flickr

Old Radiator by Nic McPhee from Flickr

Steam heat is hot in renovating old homes. Bringing back the steam means cleaning and restoring old radiators to match the beauty of the room.

So when you want to get started restoring old radiators in your old home, here are a few things you need to know.

American Dry Stripping™ & Xtreme Coatings helps people restore their old radiators to look better than new. We are based in Milford, Connecticut and serve customers in metropolitan New York and surrounding counties, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Contact us to learn more.

Click the link below ⬇️ to see our radiator portfolio!

We offer a pick-up and delivery service.

Spring and summer are best

Unless you are not living in the home, the best time to get vintage radiators stripped and refinished is spring or summer. Cold temps can pop up earlier than expected in New England. Expect a turn around time of about a few weeks or so for a full house of radiators, less for a one or two. Contact us and we can get you an estimate right away.

Cast Iron Radiators are Heavy

Cast Iron Radiators Refinished and Ready for Delivery
These suckers are HEAVY!

If you decide to go DIY, you will need to disconnect, drain and move the old radiators in order to strip and clean all the nooks and crannies of these old beauties.

If you decide to go pro, you must factor in moving and delivery costs for their restoration. Most places expect you to bring the items to them, increasing the cost of the project.

American Dry Stripping has a 24-foot, enclosed trailer that makes transportation of old radiators seamless and convenient. If you can get them to the driveway, we can move them from there.

Prep is Key

Radiators must be completely drained and dry inside. Cast is especially susceptible to oxidation so if any water is inside and drips out once the blasting is complete, rust will occur almost immediately.

Chemicals are complicated

Most states, including Connecticut, now have strict regulations on the disposal of toxic chemicals. So whether you decide to go DIY or pro, take this into account. Dipping radiators in an acid bath or using other chemical strippers is an option: one that requires the disposal of chemicals afterward.

Abrasive media blasting Sandblasting American Dry StrippingWorking with these chemicals on your own means investing in protective gear: goggles, gloves, suit and especially the correct breathing mask to prevent inhalation of toxic fumes.

Additionally, many old radiator paints contain lead, which makes working with chemicals and disposing of them even more problematic.

American Dry Stripping primary tool is air, contained in blast booths. We follow the strictest safety guidelines when it comes to blasting any surface with lead paint, including protecting our team with OSHA-certified blast hoods, body and hearing protection and using Grade‑D air supply. We use environmentally-friendly media whenever possible and ensure the proper disposal of blast waste.

Time is money

If you are thinking about restoring the radiators yourself, first do the math. Stripping and cleaning layers of old paint from ornate surface details and tiny spaces takes hours. Our method of dry abrasive media blasting (sometimes called ‘sandblasting’ though sand is rarely used anymore) radiators allows us to reach every centimeter of surface quickly, and cost effectively.

Any old paint won’t do

Restoring cast Iron Radiators, after blasting & Coating. "Champagne" finish
Cast Iron Radiators, after blasting & coating. This is a “Champagne” finish

Cast iron radiators reach temperatures of 180 to 250 degrees F.  They need to be coated with the right paint to avoid peeling, chipping and noxious off-gassing. There are high-heat wet paints available specifically for the job. However, they take time to apply and to dry, and still off-gas for a short period of time.

For the best result, we recommend you finish the job in-house with our experienced powder coating team, Xtreme Temperature Coatings. In powder coating, an electrically charged powder is applied to the radiator with a special gun, reaching all of the surfaces equally. The radiator is then cured in a 400-degree oven. The paints are available in a full range of colors. 

The result is an odorless, durable and scratch-resistant surface that will stand up to the test of time.

Contact Us

American Dry Stripping™ & Xtreme Coatings helps people restore their old radiators to look better than new. We are based in Milford, Connecticut and serve customers in metropolitan New York and surrounding counties, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Contact us to learn more.

We offer a pick-up and delivery service.

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20 thoughts on “What to Know When Restoring Old Radiators

  1. There is hardly any standardization or commonality when it comes to these time tested steam radiators. We see them in all matter of shapes and sizes. Yet the one feature these radiators all have in common is warmth. When this iron is up to temperature you are surrounded by a cozy warm environment that beats any propane, electric or fuel heating system.

    Once the old surface finish coating is removed (depending on how old lead paint could be a factor) and the surface is down to bare cast there is no limit to the finishing step. Many of our customers choose to refinish with powder coat. Many people believe you can only get powder coat in limited colors….not so. Check out our “resources and links” page under the About Us section and look for the color charts. Powder comes in a rainbow of colors to choose from that will match any freshly renovated paint job in your house. Check it out!!!

  2. I have a large antique radiator, 23″w X 13″d X 48″h which needs to be striped and protected to prevent rust. I can deliver it, however my concern is the finish. I don’t want it to look brand new by using high sheen/gloss paint. I prefer a satin/dull clear or metal finish (plating?) if possible. Suggestions are welcome!

    Thank you!

  3. I like that you mentioned making sure you have properly prepped your radiator before working on it. I have seen many damaged because of a lack of research and preparation. When working on something so valuable it is important you understand all the components.

  4. Hello, we had three radiators powder coated here in San Francisco and after we reinstalled them we set a towel on top of one and the new coating became soft enough when the radiator was warm that it stuck to the fabric ! Now the finish looks all rough. The shop is not willing to do anything for us, saying that we can’t set anything on our powder coated radiators because that is the nature of the finish. Does this sound right to you? They are one pipe steam radiators and the powder coat finish was supposedly cured at 400 degrees

    1. Hi Maria, thanks for the question. We will send you a personal reply, but here’s a general answer. We can’t say for sure because we don’t have enough details a few things jump out at us.

      1) Residential radiators do not reach 400 degrees F. Tops they reach 250 degrees F. If the radiator was cured properly, the powder coat would not congeal (that’s what you are describing) until it reaches 400.

      2) It’s possible your powder coater MAY (remember we can’t say for sure) have started timing on the curing when the OVEN reached 400 degrees — and not when the substrate on the radiator reached 400 degrees F. The METAL has to reach 400 degrees, not the oven. That’s when you start the clock. Some less experienced powder coaters may make mistakes with timing and with temps in the curing process.

      3) A less likely option (since we don’t know what your system is) is that you are referring to a radiator in a commercial system. This is unlikely. Commercial systems are pressurized (residential systems are not… they simply run on a loop) and too dangerous for residential setting. But IF in the off chance this were the case, then the metal could get hot enough in a pressurized system to heat to 400 degrees.

      Ask the shop again if they guarantee their work. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had this experience.

      Thanks for your questions Maria!

      1. Elizabeth:

        There is not a heating system on the planet, commercial or otherwise, that would permit any sort of exposed surface to reach 400F. That would cause instant and very serious burns. Woiuld you touch the inside of your oven at 400F? Even commercial systems using VAV heat-exchangers fed with live steam limit to saturated steam temperatures (212F/100C). In extreme conditions, a residential radiator surface might hit 195F with the internal temperature being around 215F (steam at 1 psi).

        1. Hi Peter, I think you may have misread the post. The reference here to 400 degree F temps is during the heat curing process when the radiators are powder coated. That happens only in our shop, obviously not in the heating system. Thanks for reading!

  5. Looking for someone to refinish our radiators in Wisconsin. Would you happen to have any places we could contact?

    1. I’m looking for one in Worcester, MA, but a NY Times article I just read recommended one in the DC area–guy named Bob Reed. You can Google and find him, I’m sure.

  6. Hi, i read somewhere the baking process (400F) can damage the gaskets in the rads. I have a 12 section old school steam radiator. The painter who painted it had no clue and used those cheap “quick color prime” to spot paint the rad and now the smell never goes away. Was thinking of doing a sandblast and powder coating, but again just read about leaks after the curing in the oven. Any thoughts? or is it safe (both to the radiator or to people in the house) to leave it just sandblasted? thank you!!

    1. Hi Dee:
      Thank you for your question. We restore at least 250 steam and water radiators each year and have never had a problem with gaskets or the connection surface between each fin section after powder coating. The powder coat cure temperatures can range from 360F to 400F degrees which is set by the powder coat manufacturer. Radiator components easily handle those temperatures. Paint is not designed to handle a working radiators frequent changes in temperature as it warms and cools. Paint also contains what is known as VOC’s or volatile organic compounds which which has low heat tolerance and gives off the odor you are experiencing. This will not happen with powder coat since it is cured at around 400F and contains absolutely no VOCs. Prior to any finish application the surface of the substrate, in this case cast iron, surface preparation is a must otherwise your radiator restoration project will be frequent and ongoing. We media blast (generic term is sandblast) all surfaces of a radiator what is call a clean white metal blast removing all existing paint and corrosion resulting in essentially a “like-new” surface. To your last question, radiator substrate is cast. Once that substrate is exposed it is subject to oxidation. In this case ferrous oxide or rust giving that reddish look. Matter is not created nor destroyed only altered in form and in this case Fe is replaced by FeO2. A process that does not stop unless the substrate is protected. I would not, for more reasons than I can go into here, leave your radiator metal surfaces exposed. That’s a short version. Feel free to call or email via our webpage contact form if you would like to discuss your issue further. Thank you again for contacting American Dry Stripping & Xtreme Coatings.

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