How to Clean a Cast Iron Radiator

Cast iron radiators have been in use since the 1860s and use steam to heat accordion-shaped coils and keep rooms warm in winter. The central boiler heats the water, creating steam that rises through the pipes to the radiators, and the tightly rolled coils retain heat longer , staying hot even after the boiler is turned off. But these radiators lose their effectiveness when dust and dirt builds up on the coils, obstructing heat penetration . Here are a few steps to properly clean your cast iron radiator.

Prepare the site and get your tools

The best way to keep your radiators clean is to wipe them down with water and a rag weekly , but cleaning all the radiators in your home is likely to be a weekly chore that no one will remember. For longer periods between brushings, a deeper cleaning is required. You’ll need:

  • Vacuum
  • Bucket
  • Water
  • Cleaning solution
  • Radiator cleaning brush or long, thick stick.
  • Two rags – one for washing and one for drying.
  • Cloth or plastic for flooring.

Turn off the radiator

Your radiator must have a lip to prevent steam from entering. Some look like a cap with arrows indicating the on and off direction, while others may look like a thermostat . Make sure the radiator is turned off and cooled down before cleaning.

Vacuum the radiator

Using a vacuum nozzle, stand behind, under and between the coils of your radiator. When you’re done, place a cloth under the radiator for the next step. If you want to protect your walls, use masking tape to add plastic to the wall behind the radiator.

Choose the right brush for cleaning

The radiator cleaning brush looks like a lint brush or an old school chimney cleaning tool . If you don’t have it – and you probably don’t – it’s easy to do it yourself by taking a long stick and wrapping it in a cleaning cloth, securing it with strong tape.

Clean the radiator

Take a bucket and fill it with warm water, which removes dirt more effectively than cold water. Then add some cleaning solution to the water — any dishwashing liquid will work — and dampen a cloth or radiator brush. Scrub between the radiator coils and see how much dirt gets on your brush and onto the plastic cloth underneath. After cleaning the radiator, it is important to dry it with an extra dry cloth to prevent rust.

Consider internal cleaning if it still doesn’t work effectively

If your radiator still does not heat your space as expected, an internal flush may be required as an internal flush is required when sludge builds up inside the coils. “Central heating systems can be cleaned with chemicals to remove sludge or mechanical flushing,” says the Radiator Center . But this should only be done by a licensed plumber, so ask your landlord or call a professional.


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