The Cross House

Let the Radiator Restoration Commence!

Today, I began stripping the niche radiator. NOT fun! This reveals traces of the original dark gold finish, which I plan to recreate. Although, at the moment, I have not found a source for dark gold paint which will work on a radiator. I cannot use spray paint! Or latex!


I love the elegant detail in relief. In person, I can see hints of the original gold finish.


The finished radiator will look, I hope, sorta kinda like this.




21 Responses to Let the Radiator Restoration Commence!

  1. I’ve spend the better part of the past week stripping the 1781 mantle in our library. I think there were 11 coats of paint on it and I’m still not finished. I will be repainting it but now all the detail in the moldings will be visible. They were completely obliterated by 2 centuries of every kind of paint imaginable. The original color was white best as I can tell. REALLY, REALLY HARD TO REMOVE gummy white. The color I’ve chosen is a warm white for all the trim in the 18th-century rooms to date, but the woodwork in my house historically was painted. Anyway, Ross… what product are you using to strip the radiator, and I gather you are stripping it in place??

    • Sounds like linseed oil paint – that stuff turns REALLY gummy when you hit it with a heatgun! It consists of little more than boiled linseed oil, pigment (often lead white, that turned slightly grey soon as the pigment reacted with tiny amounts of sulfur in the air, possibly not so tiny in houses with coal fireplaces) and some kind of drying agent, often lead-based as well. It’s terrific to use but really hard to remove. In Europe they used that for nearly everything well into the 1950s. I’ve had walls painted with that, a cheap substitute for tile and when it starts chipping it’s a lot easier to just whack down the finish coat of plaster and replaster than to strip the paint. Caustic strippers are supposed to work but I haven’t had much luck. Apparently you can even mix your own using equal parts of linseed oil soap and lime putty but I haven’t tried that. Pure linseed oil soap (one part soap, one part water) does work wonders on painted hardware, much better than the crockput method. No need to mess around with hot items, brush off paint or anything – just leave it over night and the paint will settle in a layer on the bottom of the pot. I once kept soapy water in an old paint tin for cleaning brushes and much to my surprise discovered that it had completely dissolved the dozen or so layers of all kinds of paint (water-based, oil, epoxy, metal primer and lord knows what else) over night!

      I suspect your 1780s woodwork was a light grey rather than a warm white too from what I’ve read about pre-1900 finishes. Plain white really only appeared after WWI and until the invention of water-based paints in the 80s it didn’t stay white – any oil-based paint yellows, particularly in dark rooms.

      • You’ve described what I’m dealing with perfectly. I finally got all the paint removed today with caustic paste stripper and a LOT of elbow grease. Will clean up residual tomorrow with liquid stripper and steel wool. What a job!

      • Agree! I like Kutzit and Strip-eze by Savagran but not too many places carry that brand it seems. I used the Jasco equivalent paste to take off the multiple layers (two applications) and will follow up with the liquid Klein-strip liquid and steel wool tomorrow. A BIG icky-sticky mess I’ve been into on this thing but oh so worth the effort!

          • I will too, next time!! I have a very primitive bench that came from my old elementary school in Georgia that I swear had to have been given a fresh coat of paint every year for a century. (Mind you, my parents went to the same small town schools as I and we even had some of the same teachers, so I tell no lie estimating the age of the homemade benches that were being tossed when they mothballed the schoolhouse.)

  2. When I was fixing steam radiators in my house I was told by the heating pro that the theory of heating when these radiators were put in, was that you heat the house enough that you can open the windows a bit, fresh air being good for you. This is not sustainable. Later people, in the late 20th century, put metal paint on the radiators help turn the heat down and they kept the windows shut. So metal paint would look lovely but it will reduce the efficiency of the system. has a nice little history of cast iron radiators. There are two photos of old radiators. One is black and one is white. The white one is apparently famous. I found that photo on at least three websites. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the black radiators were kept nice and shiny with stove polish (a.k.a. black lead or grate polish) as opposed to paint.

    Just doing my part to slow you down by presenting other options.

  3. Something I am considering is using gold metallic paint on the entire radiator, then using a darker antiquing process to accent the details. Not sure on shades of gold yet, but I did use gold Rustoleum paint (not spray paint) on one about 10 years ago, and it has held up fine…

  4. I am really hard-core old school so I refinished the ornate cast-iron radiators American Radiator Company Roccoco) in my 1893 house exactly how they had been originally using heat resistant bronzing powder.


    It is important to get the heat resistant variety so it doesn’t tarnish quickly. The bronze powder pigment is available in a variety of colors. I don’t really remember where I purchased the bronzing liquid for metal that I used but it was essentially a varnish like product that has probably since been outlawed for toxic fumes. I need to dig in and do a bit more research since I am finally finishing the last two radiators in my house this summer. At one time in the Old-House Journal there were articles describing how to achieve a two-tone finish, sort of a base coat and then a highlight coat that was wiped off selectively to bring attention to the ornamental detail. The radiators have held up fine for 30+ years with a mellow, not glossy, metallic glow.

    • Thank you, Carrie.

      I looked at the website but nothing specifies heat-resistant.

      So, I called them. And they do, indeed, offer heat-resistant!

      They are mailing me a color card, and then I will go from there!



  5. I’ve seen “restorers” on TV use spray paint on radiators and I wondered if it would hold up well. Judging from the comments above, that was a quick fix that would require more work and money down the road. How were radiators originally finished?

  6. Your radiator will be elegant when finished. Not usually the type of word that describes radiators, but in this case, it fits.

  7. I have several radiators in my Victorian home and am currently renovating the living room. I thoroughly cleaned the radiator in place and searching eBay found an ancient tin of Bronze powder, probably made in the early 20th century. My hope is to dissolve it in “bronzing liquid” and then brush it on to simulate the original appearance. (As an old fart, I’m unprepared to move the radiator to sand blast it.) I read all over the web about “bronzing liquid” but have failed to find what exactly it is. I’m open to suggestions so I can make my own bronzing and apply it. I don’t expect the radiator to look exactly as it did a century ago when installed but would like to come close.

  8. Hi, I just purchased a home build in 1885 and would like to begin restoring a few. I was considering using a service to do the work because I am concerned about exposure to lead paint and other possible toxics. What advice could yuh offer to this novice? I’m certainly not opposed to the hard work but I am a bit intimidated….

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