Looking to freshen up your home, a lick of paint is a great idea but you are here wondering if you can paint radiators with emulsion. Although it is possible and many people do, it is not something I recommend and regardless of what paint you use, painting radiators takes quite a bit of work and preparation to get the job done properly. I will go into more detail below so keep reading to find out what you need to know before deciding to paint a radiator with emulsion.

Emulsion v Enamel

What is Emulsion?

An emulsion is a water-based paint with vinyl or acrylic added to make the paint more durable after it has dried. It is traditionally used for interior walls and ceilings, but it can be used on various surfaces. Hence, you could paint your radiators with emulsion but there are a lot of downsides to doing so which I will discuss later in the article.

Can You Paint a Radiator with Emulsion?

Although you can paint a radiator with emulsion, it is not recommended as the paint soon dries up, cracks and will look like it did before. When painting something like a radiator, you want durability, and an emulsion is generally too thin and is not formulated to withstand high temperatures.

In truth, if you wish to paint a radiator, the preparation work involved is the same regardless so you may as well purchase a tin of paint that is specifically designed for pipes, radiators etc.

When is Best to Paint Radiators?

The best time to paint your radiators is when it’s warmer outside. Painting them during the summer will take care of business and you’ll have beautiful results with minimal effort. Be aware that they may need at least a day or so between coats to ensure a nice clean finish that won’t crack.

How to Paint a Radiator

When painting any surfaces that are designed for heating, you will need to consider a few things before you start painting.

What You Need

When working on radiators, you will need to make sure that all the equipment is in order. This includes wearing protective gear and having everything laid out before starting so there are no accidental spills or mistakes along the way.

  • De-greaser
  • Dust Sheet
  • 400 Grit Sandpaper
  • Cloth/ Rag
  • Acid Etch Primer (recommended)
  • Oil Based Paint for Metal
  • PPE (Goggles, Gloves, Respirator)

Step 1 – Clean the Radiator

The first thing you should do before cleaning a radiator is to lay down some dust sheets or other protective surfaces. This will help keep the floor clean and protect it from any spills that may happen while working with the radiator.

Then give it a thorough wash with white spirit before wiping away all excess moisture using another clean cloth or paper towel until there is no residue left.

Step 2 – Sand Until Smooth

Sand the radiator until it is shiny, bright, and smooth even if it appears to be clean. The radiator must be sanded to remove the previous paint that was applied. If left untouched, it could play havoc with your paintwork later on. After sanding, you will need to give the radiator a wipe with a cloth or rag to ensure that there is no leftover dirt or dust that will affect your painting.

Important Note: If your radiators are particularly old (pre-1992), they may have been painted with now-banned lead paint. If so, additional precautions will need to be taken but it will be safer to just replace the unit. If you are unsure, you can get a Lead Paint Test Kit (Amazon Link – Opens in a New Tab).

Step 3 – Prime

We recommend the best primer for radiators is an acid etch primer (amazon link – opens in a new tab). An acid etch primer is what is often used in car repair shops on metal surfaces, and it is great for things like radiators. This primer will come in aerosol form making it very easy to apply – just remember to wear your PPE.

Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions that should tell you:

  • How to use the primer
  • How many coats required
  • How long to wait between applications

Step 4 – Paint

When it’s time to paint your radiators and you have given enough time for drying as per the primer instructions, for best results use radiator enamel paints on them and not emulsion. These are specially formulated for hot surfaces and will provide long-lasting protection against corrosion while also giving off an even heat distribution in any room that needs warming up quickly!

Step 5 – Leave to Dry

Once the painting is done, we recommend leaving the heating off for a further 48 hours to give your freshly painted radiator time to dry thoroughly. This is also why we recommend doing this kind of work during the warmer months of the year when the heating is not in use.

Best Radiator Paint?

Many people just use emulsion, but this isn’t ideal – it soon Develops cracks due to the constant changes in temperature. The best radiator paint for your home is a radiator enamel aerosol (spray paint).

Aerosols typically give a cleaner finish that looks great not to mention it is quicker too. A brand that I have used before is Rustoleum (amazon link – opens in a new tab) I can recommend it highly.

Rustoleum Enamel Paint


It is definitely possible to paint a radiator with emulsion, but the prep work and process involved are the same as if you were to paint with specific radiator paint. Why risk doing all of that hard work for the emulsion not to last and end up cracking in a few months? It is best to just do the job properly the first time and paint with proper radiator enamel.

How to Properly Paint a Radiator Infographic

Plumbing Wizard Tips

“Use radiator enamel paint specifically formulated for hot surfaces!”

“Leave the radiator to dry for 48 hours after painting before turning on the heat!”

“Always use a primer before painting radiators – this will protect the surface and help the paint last longer!”

“Make sure you are wearing the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) when applying primer, including gloves, goggles and a respirator!”

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to prime the radiators before painting?

Yes, it’s a good idea to prime radiators before painting. Priming will help the paint adhere better to the surface and will help to prevent peeling and cracking. Choose a primer specifically designed for metal surfaces and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application.

What kind of paint do you use on radiators?

You would use enamel paint on radiators. Enamel paint is a type of paint that is made up of glass particles and resin. It is a highly durable paint that can be used on a variety of surfaces, including metal and plastic. Enamel paint dries to a hard, glossy finish and is resistant to chipping and fading.

How to clean radiators for painting?

To clean radiators, you will need some white spirit and a cloth. Dampen the cloth in the white spirit and wipe down the radiator. Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. If there is any built-up dirt or grease, you can use a wire brush to scrub it off. Rinse off the radiator with cold water and dry it thoroughly before putting it back in place.


Lee Pearce is not just a master plumber; he’s a veritable Plumbing Wizard. With over 30 years of experience in the trenches of pipes and drains, Lee has become the go-to sage for DIY plumbing, saving homeowners thousands in potential call-out charges. As the founder of Plumbing Wizard, he’s dedicated to demystifying the complexities of home plumbing, offering easy-to-follow advice that stands the test of time and pressure. His online blog is a treasure trove of tips, tricks, and tutorials that empower everyday individuals to take charge of their home’s plumbing health. Lee’s practical wisdom is not just about fixing leaks; it’s about imparting confidence and self-reliance. When he’s not writing or elbow-deep in a plumbing project, Lee is passionate about educating the next generation of DIYers, ensuring that practical skills are passed down and preserved.

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