Restoring a Traditional Radiator

Before there were forced-air heating systems and underfloor heating mats, there were hydronic systems, which ran using boilers and radiators. A study about central heating published by the DEMAND Centre specified that these systems were introduced in the 1930s.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that they were popularised as the standard heating system for UK homes. This has remained unchanged for the past eight decades, with up to 96% of all homes in the UK fitted with boilers.

Cleaning an old radiator


Most old radiators in the UK were created out of cast iron and steel, as opposed to the aluminum radiators commonly found elsewhere in Europe. This house fixture is enjoying a recent rise in popularity due to the appeal of period properties. Cast iron radiators formerly neglected and painted over have become visual assets because of their vintage quality.

When working with an old radiator, begin by using a vacuum to remove the dust from the radiator surfaces. For more ornately designed radiators, you might need to use a wet cloth for intensive dusting. To remove stains, mix a mild detergent with water and use a sponge.

If you’re using a reclaimed radiator that had been repainted, you might need to strip the paint layers to restore its original cast iron look. The Old House Journal recommends making a makeshift tank big enough to submerge at least half of the unit in paint stripper. Plug steam vents, air vents, and hot water inlets and outlets to keep the chemical out.

After placing the radiator in the tank, pour water and then leave it for a while to make to water down the stripping solution. Let your radiator soak for several hours or overnight before carefully taking it out and scrubbing with spiral wire brushes. The duration of the final stripping process depends on the nature and layers of the paint.

Keeping your radiator healthy


Because of daily wear and tear, homeowners need to practice basic maintenance steps and trouble-shooting for their radiators. Whether made of cast iron or steel, radiators subject to proper upkeep should be able to serve homes and families for years.

One of the most important maintenance steps radiators need is to bleed them once a year, or as needed. If you find that your radiator isn’t as quick to warm up as usual or if it is cold on the top and warm at the bottom, then it needs bleeding. It’s done by opening an air vent to allow trapped air to escape from your radiator.

You can do this even without a bleed valve. Detailed instructions were listed in another Jose’s Home blog post, as well as the tools needed for the process.

Repairing a radiator leak

Things are a little less straightforward when it comes to leaking radiators, as repairs will depend on the source and severity of the leak. First, use a towel to dry the surfaces of your radiator to see where the leak is coming from. If it’s any bigger than a pinhole or caused by corrosion, you might need to contact a professional or replace the radiator entirely.

If the problem is coming from radiator valves or stopcocks, try and closing the valve fully. This is because leaks in these areas usually occur when they are in a mid-open position. If the spindle packing within the valves is worn out, drain your central heating system and unscrew the nuts that connect the water pipe to the valve. Unscrew the valve and replace with a new one. After replacing the valve, bleed your radiator before using it again.


Maximising your radiator


To further improve your radiator’s performance, be sure it’s surrounded with enough space to allow air to flow freely. For families with pets and small children, consider investing in a radiator cabinet to prevent accidental burns or scratches. It prolongs the life of the unit by protected it from damages, too. Additionally, they even provide an additional aesthetic. For instance, the radiator covers on Screwfix come in a variety of colours and designs, such as Victorian styled units that can complement your house’s vintage decor. Screen mesh is recommended rather than a grilled cover to keep the radiator visible.

Do you have any other tips for radiator care? Feel free to share them with us in the comments section!

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