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How to clean a radiator

Why it’s important to keep your radiator clean

As well as looking better than a dirty one, keeping your radiator clean and free from dust and dirt can actually help to keep your heating costs down.

Dust in between the fins of a convector radiator can prevent heat from escaping, which will mean your radiators have to work harder to warm your room.

Dust inside the fins of a convector radiator

It’s important then to take the right measures and thoroughly clean your radiators at least once a year and keep on top of any dust that builds up. Making it a part of your daily or weekly cleaning routine is definitely a good idea.

You may not become a millionaire overnight, but a few minutes here and there all add up and could lead to a big saving on the cost of your home heating over the lifespan of your system.

Why does my radiator keep getting dusty?

There’s dust in the air all of the time. Even now as you read this. It’s everywhere and it’s probably not all dust either – there’ll be pet hair (if you have pets), nicotine residue (if you’re a smoker) and all sorts of other stuff mixed in – it’s probably best if you try not to think about it.

The reason it clumps together and gets trapped in and around your radiator is because of the current of air that helps to circulate warmth around your room.

A diagram of natural heat convection from a radiator

Warm air rises and cool air falls. So as the air sinks, it takes dust with it and as it’s drawn up through the radiator, dust will begin to collect at the back and across the fins of your radiator.

It could be that you haven’t even noticed it before. I mean let’s face it, who out there goes looking into the depths of their radiator on a regular basis? Exactly!

And if you are one of the people that don’t peer in-between the fins down the back of your radiator, chances are you’ll come across a fair amount of dust when you do.

What do I need to clean my radiator?

Before you pull your marigolds on and start to clean your radiator, make sure you’ve got each of these things to hand.

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Duster
  • Bucket of soapy water
  • Sponges & cloths
  • Towel or a dust sheet
  • A long stick (like a yardstick)
  • Sellotape

Cleaning your radiator

Follow the simple steps below to get your radiators looking clean and shiny again and ensure that they’re working as well as they can be; saving you money and keeping you warm.

Step One – Turn off your heating

Before you even start to clean your radiator, it’s important to make sure that your heating is turned off.

Not only is this a safer option than trying to clean a hot radiator, but it makes more sense to start cleaning when the radiator is cold, as this will stop the convection current from drawing, even more, dust up behind the radiator as you clean.

Step Two – Get the vacuum out

To begin with, you need to try and clear as much of the dust from in, around and under your radiator as possible.

If you have the right attachments on your vacuum cleaner you may even be able to get down and inside the fins. But don’t worry if you don’t, there are a few ways around that problem.

Step Three – The yardstick method

Of course, you can buy specialist radiator cleaning brushes, but where’s the fun in that?

Anyone that ever watched Blue Peter will tell you that there’s more satisfaction in completing a job with tools that you’ve made yourself – and this is pretty rudimentary if I’m honest.

Just take a long piece of wood – something like a yardstick or a metre ruler – wrap a cloth around the end and secure it in place with some sellotape; being careful not to cover too much of the cloth with the tape.

Place a towel under the radiator (in order to catch any dust) and begin to push the stick down the back of your radiator, from top to bottom, pushing dust and dirt out until clear.

Repeat this on each section of your radiator, until you have cleared most (if not all) of the dust away.

Step Four – The hairdryer fix

Believe it or not, but a really simple way of getting the dust out from the inside and down the back of your radiator is to use a hairdryer.

Just point the nozzle of your hairdryer into the grooves at the top of your radiator and turn it up on to the highest setting.

That should help you to get a lot of the leftover dust down and out from in and behind your radiator – Just be sure to place a suitable sheet or towel down on the floor before you begin.

Step Five – Soap up your radiator

Grab your bucket and fill it up with warm water.

Pour in a little washing up liquid or your favourite household cleaning fluid – I personally like Stardrops, because it’s relatively inexpensive and my mum told me (years ago) that it’s the best.

Swirl the water around till you get a good amount of suds going, plunge your sponge into the water and wring it out so it’s just slightly damp.

Wipe down the exterior of your radiator with the sponge, being careful not to splash too many drips on the floor or carpet and wipe it off with a dry cloth to avoid any rusting.

And last, but by no means least, check the wall above your radiator. Sometimes the heat can cause dirt and dust to stick to the wall. Using the same soapy water, just give the marks a quick rub, being careful not to damage any paintwork or wallpapering.

Some extra radiator cleaning tips

  • Be sure to regularly vacuum your radiators. This will not only help to protect you against allergies but will definitely help to ensure that your heating is working at its optimum level at all times.
  • As with making changes to your radiators – like installing new ones – summertime is the best time of year to give them a thorough clean
  • If the panels of your radiator are too tight to push a cloth or a duster through, you can always use compressed air.
  • If you really want to give your radiator a full-blown clean and makeover, you can always remove it from the wall altogether, or even paint it a different colour!

Things to remember when cleaning a radiator

Cleaning your radiators is pretty easy to do once you’ve got the hang of it. But there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re doing the job.

It’s important to be careful with the kind of materials you use to get your radiator clean. Avoid using abrasive materials like Brillo pads for example, as these may scratch and damage the surface.

If there are stubborn stains on your radiators, leave a spray solution on for a few minutes longer than normal and wipe it away vigorously with a cloth or a sponge.

Never try and remove the panels on an electric radiator for cleaning purposes as you may damage the heating mechanism. Instead, clean around the panels to protect both yourself and the integrity of the radiator.

Nicotine can attach itself very easily to warm objects, slowly turning the material yellow and grotty looking. If this is the case with your radiators, you may have to use a cleaner that has been specifically designed to remove that type of stain.

In some cases, you may have to remove the radiator altogether to ensure a deep and thorough clean is achieved.

Should you contact a professional cleaner?

There will, of course, be times when the best option is for you to contact a professional cleaner.

This is likely to be the case if your radiator hasn’t been cleaned for a long time, or if you have just moved into a house and don’t fancy cleaning out other people’s dust.

A professional cleaner will also be able to establish whether there is actually any point to cleaning your radiator, or whether the best option is to paint it, or perhaps buy a new one altogether.

Really dirty heaters can be a risk to your health and will only offer reduced heating capacity, so if you feel you can’t do the job yourself, bring in an expert once a year to do it for you.

That way, you can be assured of a ‘proper’ job; one that will leave your radiator free from allergens and have it looking shiny and new in no time.

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