Best Radiator Paint – Radiator Painting Guide

Posted on Categories:Painting guide, Interior Paint, Metal Paint, radiator paint
best radiator paint, radiator on wall

Radiators are one of the parts of our home that fade into the background. Even in winter months, when we’re glad we have them, we don’t spare a thought for our radiators and often treat them like nothing more than a heated washing line. You may not even realise that you can paint radiators.

Well, you certainly can, and today we’re going to talk about the best radiator paint, and how yours can look amazing.


  • Radiators need a specific metal paint.
  • Both water-based and oil-based paint options are available.
  • The colour and sheen you choose is up to you.
  • Follow our guide for the best results.

Should I Paint Radiators?

With all of the improvements interior paint has seen over the last few years, there aren’t many surfaces that can’t be painted these days.

If you’re a keen interior decorator, radiators that are looking worse for wear will stick out like a sore thumb next to your freshly painted walls, doors, and skirting boards.

Unless you want to remove them and endure a chilly Christmas, painting radiators is the best option. Plus it’s one more way to express yourself.

Best Paint for Radiators

Painting a radiator is a fiddly job, and you need a specialist radiator paint for the best results. With the wrong paint, or a lack of prep, you’ll end up with air bubbles, streaks, and irregularities that will stand out even from a distance.

So what’s the best radiator paint for the job?

To paint a radiator you need metal paint, which can handle the heat of radiators and pipes, and bonds to the smooth surface. But heat resistance alone isn’t enough, if you paint a radiator with normal paint, the changes in temperature will cause it to flake after only a short period of time, so you need a paint that can handle constant fluctuations in surface temperature.

There are a few different types of radiator paint; let’s go over them one at a time.

Water Based Radiator Paint

As with many painting projects, your main choice is between oil and water-based paints. The latter is becoming more and more popular with tradespeople, who used to prefer oil-based for its longevity. Nowadays it’s a much fairer fight, and water-based radiator paint has a few advantages over its oil-based counterpart.

Advantages of Water Based Radiator Paint

  • Easy to apply for beginners
  • Dries quickly
  • Safest for pets
  • Low odour
  • Brushes/rollers can be cleaned easily
  • More affordable

But it still has disadvantages too:

Disadvantages of Water Based Radiator Paint

  • Lower sheen
  • Can take up to two weeks to fully harden
  • Prone to chipping

Oil Based Radiator Paint

As a general rule when it comes to painting, if there is a water-based option, there will be an oil-based paint too. The choice between the two comes down to personal preference most of the time, and once you choose one, you’ll rarely switch to the other.

Here’s why people prefer oil-based paint:

Advantages of Oil Based Radiator Paint

  • Higher sheen level
  • Offers better protection
  • Hardens quickly
  • Often creates a smoother finish

However, here are some things you should keep in mind:

Disadvantages of Oil Based Radiator Paint

  • Strong odour
  • Can yellow over time (if light colours are used)
  • Takes longer to dry
  • Not recommended for beginners

Best Finish for Radiator Paint

Those two types of radiator paint can also come in a range of sheen levels. Water based paint has less sheen and is the only option for a matte finish. Oil based paint is shinier, due to the oil naturally reflecting light.

Choosing the right sheen is important, as it will affect how your radiators will look in different light levels. For instance, glossy radiators will reflect more light, so if it’s in direct sunlight throughout the day, it can be dazzling. On the other hand, a matte finish won’t reflect light at all, so can look gloomier when the sun’s out.

So what’s the best finish?

Well, once again it’s down to personal preference. It’s unlikely that this will be the first part of your home you’ve painted too, so matching the sheen levels of other surfaces helps too. However, if you want to be bold with your radiators, a higher sheen than the walls around it will help them stand out more.

Our advice is this; choose a sheen level that complements the rest of your home. If you want your radiators to blend into the walls, try to match the sheen level and colour you’ve chosen in the past.

radiator painting guide

The Best Colour for Radiators

When you have a specific colour scheme for your home, you can use your radiators to further express yourself. They can be painted to match or complement your walls and furniture, turning them from an eyesore you try to hide to another thing to be proud of. But it only works if you have the right paint for the job.

White is the most common paint for radiators, but black is becoming more popular too. If you prefer a gothic style, black is the perfect choice. If a more colourful shade is more your think, both lighter and darker colours work well too.

How to Paint a Radiator – Radiator Painting Guide

Now you know which radiator paint is right for you, and your Paintmaster order has arrived on your doorstep, it’s time to get to work.

There is plenty of prep involved when painting radiators. We recommend reading through our guide a few times first, so there are no surprises when you move from step to step. You should also get everything you need ready before step one.

Here’s what you’ll need to paint radiators:

And here’s a short version of our guide, to refer back to when painting:

  1. Prep
  2. Cleaning
  3. Sanding
  4. Priming
  5. Painting

STEP 1 – How to Prep for Radiator Painting

The first and most important thing to do before you begin priming or painting your radiator is to ensure your heating is off and will stay off until the surface has dried and hardened. This will naturally be easier in warmer months but can be worked around if winter is the best time for you.

If your radiator isn’t completely cold the paint will bubble, which will ruin the look of the finish.

Before you begin painting, cover all vents and valves with masking tape to keep them free from paint. Then, use your dust sheets to protect the floor and walls around the radiator to avoid splashes.

STEP 2 – How to Clean a Radiator

Next, clean your radiator as thoroughly as possible. This will help you achieve an even finish across the surface, as any dust or grime will show through even multiple layers of paint.

The best methods to clean are using a vacuum to remove dust from tricky to reach areas, such as inside and behind the radiator. Then, use a damp cloth to wipe away any surface grime. If your radiator is quite old, and needs a more thorough clean, a metal cleaner combined with a sponge or cloth will do the trick.

If there are any patches of rust, remove them before painting too.

STEP 3 – How to Sand a Radiator

To get the best results from your paint, you need to sand down the metal surface of your radiator first. This will create a better surface for your primer to cling to.

If your radiator has been painted previously, this step is especially important, as any previous layers of paint will create an uneven finish when your new radiator paint has dried. After a few years of use, even metal paint can flake or chip, and these flakes will be a pain to deal with.

If sanding does not fully remove the old paint, use a degreaser to get rid of the rest.

STEP 4 – How to Prime a Radiator

Primer is not essential for painting a radiator, and some people choose to skip this step. However, not only does a quality all-purpose primer get the best out of your paint, but it will also extend the longevity of the radiator paint too.

Use your paint brush to apply an even layer of primer to your radiator, making sure to overlap each stroke to prevent gaps. A single layer of primer is all you need.

Give it plenty of time to dry, then it’s time to start painting.

STEP 5 – How to Paint a Radiator

Now for the fun part.

It’s important not to load your brush with the correct amount of paint for each stroke. Too much and you’ll end up with runoff – this will leave streaks when the paint has dried. If you use too little, you’ll also have a streaky finish, and will need an extra layer or two for the best result.

A radiator can be a tricky surface to paint, so here’s some advice. When painting the front, work with the natural grooves, which are commonly vertical.

You may be wondering if you should try to paint the back of your radiator. This is very fiddly, but if you paint an inch or so around the edges, it’ll look 100% painted from the front or sides.

Depending on what type of radiator paint you chose, you’ll need either 1-2 or 2-3 layers of paint. Check the can for the manufacturer recommendations. This will also tell you how long to leave each layer to dry.

STEP 6 – Admire your Painted Radiator

Once the final layer has dried, remove the masking tape and dust sheets, and take a step back to admire your handiwork. How does it look?

If you followed our guide closely, it should look amazing! Your radiator will look better than new, in the perfect colour and sheen that matches or complements the rest of the room.

The UK’s Most Trusted Paint Supplier

Painting a radiator can be a tricky job, but the results speak for themselves. When you’ve spent dozens of hours transforming your home with paint, your radiators shouldn’t let the side down.

All it takes to make your radiators look amazing is a tin or two of paint, and a couple of hours of your time. The best place to get any paint and painting accessories is Paintmaster, and don’t just take our word for it!

We’re the no.1 choice for tradespeople, with large quantities of paint available at competitive prices, and we’re loved by domestic painters too!

Check out our blog for more information, advice and guides about all things painting. If you have any questions about any of our products, please get in touch.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Can I paint over old radiator paint?

If the previous layer of paint is cracked or peeling, you need to remove it first using sandpaper or paint stripper. If the surface is still smooth, you can apply your paint with primer as an undercoat.  

Can you paint straight onto a radiator?

Before you paint onto your radiator, you need to add a coat of metal or radiator primer. This creates a solid base for the paint to cling to and protects any rusty or worn-out parts of the surface.  

Is painting a radiator a good idea?

Over time, radiators look worn out. Painting them makes them look like new, but you need the right paint for the job. Some paints can even improve the efficiency of your radiators, saving you money in the long run 

Should I sand radiators before painting?

You should sand your radiators if there is any old paint or grime that can’t be removed by cleaning. Imperfections will show through even multiple layers of paint, ruining the look of your radiators, so be sure to make the surface as smooth as possible before you paint.

What is the best colour to paint a radiator?

Unlike with other interior painting projects, the colour you paint your radiators will affect how much heat it produces. Dark colours, especially black, produce the most. However, if you aren’t worried about efficiency, you can paint your radiator to match or complement the rest of your home. 

What kind of paint do you use on a radiator?

Metal paint is the best for radiators, as it can withstand the temperature changes and bonds to the surface well. Other kinds of paint will flake or peel after a short period of time.