Design & DIY

Paint for baseboard heaters

Is there a paint you can use on rusty baseboard heaters? Can you use regular paint, or will it smell when they’re turned on?

—Jenn W., Marmora, Ont.

Yes, you can use regular paint, and no, it won’t smell when you crank the heat (though it may the first time after you’ve painted). Before painting, you’ll need to sand off that rust. Then use a rust-arresting metal conditioner, followed by an anti-rust paint such as Corrostop, recommends Sam Marinucci, technical services manager at AkzoNobel. Or, you could use a latex paint (after sanding and applying a rust-arrestor for latex). Andrew Fedele, technical services adviser for Para Paints, says the benefit of using a latex paint rather than an oil-based metal paint is that latex has more elasticity—the better to deal with expansion and contraction as the heater heats and cools. Since it’s not flexible, metal paint may get brittle as it ages, says Fedele. However, latex paint, if it’s a light colour, could yellow from the heat. “By next summer, it may not look so great anymore,” says Marinucci.

Whatever product you choose, if you use a spray bomb, you’ll probably need to remove and relocate the heaters while you paint them, or at least be diligent about covering up anything you don’t want to spray accidentally, such as the heating element.

Applying the paint by brush may mean less prep work, but unless you’re skilled, it’s not easy to get a smooth finish, say our experts. As Jerry Aleksic, owner of Artistic Design Deco­rators, puts it, “It could look like a dog’s breakfast.” Maybe that’s okay with you, and we understand—this isn’t the Prettiest Baseboard Heater Awards. How much cottage time do you want to put into sprucing them up? With that in mind, another option is to replace them.

“My first reaction? It’s not worth it to paint,” says Aleksic. “If they’re really rusty, it’s time to upgrade.”