The usual paints recommended for radiators include enamel paints and oil-based paints. These are often higher in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and that won’t be suitable for everyone.
If you are repainting your radiator then you need to find out if it has an oil or water-based paint on it. If it has an oil-based paint on it, we have to use special paints or primers to go over that. It could also have a varnish on it and not a paint.
In some cases, a rust-resistant paint is needed and you generally want the paint to be able to withstand 200 degrees F.
This post goes over the VOC-free, non-toxic options that will work on new and old radiators.
If you want to strip the paint that is on there, here is a post on non-toxic paint strippers.
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1. ECOS Paints Radiator Paint
ECOS Radiator Paint is a strong bonding paint that can withstand higher temperatures that you can use on hot water radiators.
ECOS paints are 100% acrylic, water-based paints. They are zero-VOC and are known amongst the chemically sensitive as the favorite paint brand for folks with this condition.
If you are starting with a bare metal radiator, you should be prime it with two coats of ECOS Stain Blocking Primer. NOTE: For bare cast iron or blast-cleaned radiators ask ECOS for advice.
ECOS Paints does not have a primer that can go over oil-based paint on radiators. In this case, you will want to consider chalk-based paint (below) or look for a transitional primer that can withstand this temperature.
To prepare the radiator for painting, wash it if necessary. Turn the radiator off and let it cool down. You normally want to apply 2 coats of paint with 8 hours in between coats. You can turn the radiator back on when the paint is dry.
The Anti-Formaldehyde version of the radiator paint contains zeolite, which can absorb some VOCs.
Colors: ECOS can color match to any major paint brand.
2. Chalk Style Paint
Chalk style paint like Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is a great option because it can go over almost any other type of paint that is on the radiator – including over oil-based paint. You don’t need to prime it first. You don’t need to sand it unless it is chipping (or maybe if it’s very glossy). It also goes over most metal!
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is extremely low in odor, lower in odor than conventional zero-VOC acrylic paints. It will work for most folks who are chemically sensitive.
Other brands of chalk-based paint can work too. Be sure to check with each brand. I like Rustoleum Chalked Paint because it’s affordable and easy to source. It has some acrylic binder and is slightly higher in odor than Annie Sloan when wet.
Rustoleum Chalked can withstand temperatures up to 200 F. The company recommends a primer if it’s going right on metal.
To prepare the radiator, wash it down with non-toxic dish soap and water. Turn the radiator off and let it cool down. Paint it with 2-3 coats with a chalk paintbrush, or other brush type if you prefer. Adding a wax or lacquer can add shine or durability but it is not necessary. Wait a few days before turning the radiator back on.
Colors: Chalked comes in white, off-white, black, red, pink, grey, light teal, navy blue and two griege colors. Annie Sloan comes in white, old white, black, bright colors, and muted heritage colors (45 colors total).
- Rustoleum Chalked Paint – Around or under $25 for 30 oz (close to one quart)
- Annie Sloan Chalk Paint – Around $38 for 1 liter (which is close to a quart)
3. Pinty Plus
PintyPlus Tech Spray Paint for radiators is a prime coat for metal radiators. It’s a quick-drying, white, gloss, acrylic enamel spray paint.
It’s made for retouching and painting cast iron and aluminum radiators, heating tubes, and heaters.
Aerosol spray paints will always be more toxic than paint that comes in a can, even if it’s water-based. The propellant in spray paint is almost always a solvent even when the paint is water-based. On top of that, when you are aerosolizing a product that is also going to be a risk to breathe in. My post on spray paint goes into more detail.
I have not tested this radiator paint (which will not be low-toxin enough for everyone as you can see from someone in the comments) but I wanted to mention it since this company has a topcoat which is really good.
Pintyplus Evolution is the topcoat for radiators. This can withstand up to 100 C/ 200F. This is a water-based spray paint (most spray paints are solvent-based) and it has been reported as low odor. If you don’t want to use their radiator primer, just be sure to check with them if Evolution will go over your existing paint.
If you want to use a spray paint, this is the lowest toxin option for radiators that I know of.
To repaint the radiator you can apply Evolution without going back to the primer.
Colors: Evolution comes in three different whites, many bright colors, darker colors, a few griege options and metallics like gold, copper, brass.
- Under 30$ for two cans of Evolution.
4. Farrow and Ball Paint
I love Farrow and Ball paint for how low in odor it is. They have a primer called Metal Primer & Undercoat that is made for metal including radiators. You can then use their paints as a final coat.
Colors: Farrow and Ball specializes in heritage colors.
5. Linseed Oil Paint
You can use the Allbäck Linseed Oil Paint or the Allbäck Linus Paint on radiators. You can paint right on the bare metal or over any type of existing paint. Both formulas are all-natural with a linseed oil base and do not contain a solvent.
On hotter surfaces, use the Allbäck Fire Place Paint.
Colors: Allbäck specializes in heritage colors.
Is Lead Paint on Old Radiators a Risk?
First, you should check for lead paint on old radiators by using a 3M Lead Swab.
If you do have lead paint, the heat from the radiator is not high enough to volatilize it into the air. It would have to reach temperatures higher than 525 degrees F for that to happen. Lead in paint becomes a risk when it chips and flakes off.
If you have chipping paint, or if you would like to remove it anyway, use one of the non-toxic paint strippers that encapsulate lead as it removes it.
0-VOC Lead Encapsulation Paint for Radiators
If it’s in good condition, painting over lead paint with a lead encapsulant paint is a reasonable option as well.
Zero-VOC encapsulation paints include:
- LeadClear paint
- Sentinel Lead Encapsulant Paint
Insul-X Lead Block by Benjamin Moore has 90 g/l VOC (not low-VOC).
In Europe? Check out: Auro Radiator Paint or Lakeland acrylic paint (which is fairly similar to ECOS paint).
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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