How to Clean Radiator Pipes

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1940s House Radiator
1940s House Radiator (Image: Barbara Raskauskas)

Heavy metal radiators as home heating devices have been around since the 1860s and continue to be used in older homes. Lighter weight and more streamline radiators may be used in new construction or in renovation of older homes for a more modern appearance. If you clean radiator pipes periodically, they can perform more efficiently and will definitely look better.

Things You'll Need

  • Long, circular cleaning brush
  • Radiator key
  • Vacuum cleaner

Use the crevice attachment of your vacuum cleaner to get some of the dust and spider webs between the fins of a radiator.

For finer cleaning, use a long circular cleaning brush, like the type used to clean dryer vents. Work the bristles of the brush up and down between the fins on both the front and the back. Then from each end of the radiator, push the brush in toward the center of the radiator. Move the brush up and down and back and forth. Twisting the brush can also help.

Wash off accumulated dust with a damp rag. This is a good task to perform while the system is on, so the water evaporates quickly from the heat of the unit, thus avoiding any potential of rust forming.

Bleed the air out by using the radiator key. That will eliminate clanging in the pipes. To bleed a radiator, place a bucket under the valve, insert the key and then turn the key counterclockwise. When water starts to flow, turn the key clockwise to shut the valve. If water flows immediately, the radiator did not need bleeding.

Radiator Valve
Radiator Valve

Most radiators have two pipes through the floor or ceiling leading to the radiator. One is to take hot water to the unit and the other pipe is to return the water to the boiler to reheat it. That means the same water is constantly circulating through the pipes. In rare cases, a buildup of minerals could necessitate draining the boiler through the drain pipe on the boiler. Most likely, the boiler will never need draining and in fact, refilling after draining could introduce oxygen into the system. Check the manual with your boiler to see if draining is necessary.

Tips & Warnings

  • Radiators can be painted to match your decor.

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