Can baseboard heater covers be painted? 

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Many old homes have baseboard heaters as they can be more efficient than other heating systems like radiators. More notably, these units come with metal baseboard heater covers that hide the cables and different heating elements inside. Unfortunately, these covers tend to rust over time, especially if your unit is installed near rooms with high moisture levels like the kitchen or bathroom. 

While you can solve this issue by getting yourself the best baseboard heater replacement covers, you might end up paying a high price for the new ones. So, why not just paint your old, rusty baseboard heater covers to make them look new again? In addition, you can paint your baseboard heater covers with an accent color or along with the rest of the room to give character to the border where your floor and walls meet. 

There’s one issue though! Unlike other paintable surfaces, metal baseboard heater covers experience greater temperature fluctuations as they operate. For that, it’s important to ensure that you follow all the right steps to achieve a strong, durable, good-looking paint job. 

Why paint baseboard heater covers? 

Most homeowners paint their baseboard heater covers because of rust as it makes the heating units look unsightly. Baseboard heaters quickly develop rust if they’re located in a humid room or if the initial paint becomes chipped. Even worse, this rust continues to spread once it forms. 

Luckily, painting is a simple solution to hide rust and other imperfections on your baseboard heater covers, thus improving their appearance. However, avoid painting over the rust as it will continue to spread unless you remove it and seal the metal surface. For that, it’s important to ensure that you properly prepare the metal surface before you start painting your rusty baseboard heater cover. 

Secondly, you can paint the baseboard heater covers to refresh their appearance and match your home’s trim or walls. Better yet, this allows you to paint the metal cover with a different color and it’s much less costly than replacing the heating system or buying a new baseboard heater cover. 

Is painting baseboard heater covers a good idea? 

If you’re not yet replaced your metal baseboard heater covers with ultra-durable and rust-resistant options, they’ll become an eyesore over time. In addition, these covers will become rusty, faded, scuffed, and discolored, quickly becoming an eyesore as they’re visible. 

On the bright side, as we have established, metal baseboard heaters can be painted to refresh their appearance and make them look new again. However, before you decide to paint the covers, you’ve to ask whether it’s a good idea as there might be better options. This may include; 

  • Cleaning the baseboard heater covers 

If you know how to clean baseboard heater covers, you can simply make them look good again by cleaning them. At the same time, cleaning your baseboard heater regularly keeps your device running efficiently. 

 Before you clean the cover, make sure you remove it from the heater and put them horizontally on a table or on the floor. Avoid cleaning them while they’re attached to the heater since you can accidentally cut the corners. Moreover, removing the covers for cleaning will help you check the condition of the metal fins and heating element.

To clean the cover, use a sponge with a soft scrubber or non-abrasive cloth and some mild, general-purpose cleaner. However, if you notice rust, a spot that won’t come off, or discoloration, it’s probably a good idea to paint the cover. Alternatively, you can consider another option like buying a baseboard heater replacement cover panel. 

  • Replace baseboard heater covers

In some cases, painting or cleaning your baseboard heater is not a great idea. For instance, if the baseboard heater cover is damaged beyond repair, you should probably consider buying a new replacement cover. The same case applies when your cover has damaged edges or holes caused by rust. Also, refinishing the baseboard heater cover can be an expensive and time-consuming process. So, if you’re not up to the task, it’s about time that you consider buying new covers. 

Instead of replacing the covers with a new version of the same thing, look for something that is more durable and aesthetically appealing. Interestingly, there are many types of baseboard heater covers available. For instance, some covers are made of powder-coated, rust-resistant materials. While others are made from galvanized material, which is also rust-resistant, durable, and sturdy. 

In addition, modern baseboard heater covers are easy to install, functional and fashionable. This gives your old heater a stylish appearance that will perfectly blend into your home’s interior decor. Best of all, they take a fraction of the time it will take to paint your old baseboard heater covers. 

However, if your baseboard heater cover is not damaged beyond repair and cleaning it doesn’t get rid of all the rust, you can go ahead and paint it!

How to paint metal baseboard heater covers 

What you will need 

Like any other DIY project, painting your baseboard heater cover can be a bit more challenging than you might think. This is because you will need application tools, cleaning items, and special rust-inhibiting primer and paint. Some of the items you will need before you start the task include; 

  • Steel wool/ 180 – 220-grit sandpaper
  • Sanding sponge 
  • Warm soapy water 
  • Wire brush 
  • Painter’s tape 
  • Paint tray 
  • Degreaser cleaner 
  • Clean microfiber cloths/damp rags
  • Paint thinner 
  • Rust-inhibiting metal paint 
  • Rust-inhibiting metal paint 
  • Foam paint brushes/ roller 
  • Protective eyewear 
  • Dust mask 

1. Preparation 

  • Turn off the power source of your electric baseboard heater 

Remove the fuses or turn off the circuit breakers that power your baseboard heating unit to avoid the risk of electrocution. 

  • Prepare your workspace 

Open a window to ensure that there is adequate ventilation in your workspace since paint emits fumes. Also, wear a dust mask, protective gloves, and safety glasses to protect yourself from sanding dust and fumes. 

Next, put a drop cloth on the floor around your workspace and tap off the wall border near the heater if you’re planning to detach the cover from the unit. However, painting the baseboard cover will be much easier if you remove the cover from the unit. 

  • Prepare the baseboard heater cover for paint

Remove the front faceplate and the end caps of your baseboard heater. Put the cover on top of a newspaper/ cloth laid on a flat surface and use a blower or wiping cloth to remove all the loose dirt. Once your baseboard heater is clean, switch to abrasive methods to remove rust, smooth out rough edges and prepare the surface for paint. 

First, rub down the cover with a wire brush/ steel wool to remove any flaking or rust from its exterior. Next, sand the cover with 180 – 220 grit sandpaper to remove the old paint. If the edges of the baseboard heater are rough, sand them with 320 grit sandpaper. Wipe everything with a general-purpose cleaner and a damp cloth to remove any sanding dust and let the cover dry thoroughly. 

2. Choose the right primer for baseboard heater covers 

After preparing your metal baseboard heater cover for paint, the next step is to find the right primer and paint for the job. In general, there are 2 kinds of primer you can use on metal baseboard heater covers. They include; 

  • Rusty metal primer 

As the name suggests, rusty metal primers are specially designed to resolve rust issues. Its formula contains substances that bond with rust, forming a better surface that the top coat can adhere to. More importantly, it seals off the metal surfaces to protect them from corrosion. 

 However, you should not use a rusty metal primer on lightly rusted or metal covers with no rust. This is because rusty metal primers usually contain ingredients that soak and seal the rusted metal. Moreover, these ingredients rise to the surface of painted metal, causing the fresh top coat to flake off within days. 

  • Clean metal primer 

A clean metal primer is a great option for lightly rusted or metal covers that were previously painted. 

With that in mind, choose an oil-based metal primer that works well on painted, lightly rusted, or clean metal such as Rust-Oleum clean metal primer.

3. Look for the best paint for baseboard heater covers 

The type of paint you use on your baseboard heater cover will depend on the type of baseboard heater you’re working on.

  • Water-based baseboard heaters 

If you have hot water (hydronic baseboard heater), you don’t necessarily have to use heat-resistant paint since these units don’t get very hot. Although water often leaves the boiler at 80 deg C (180 deg F), its temperature drops up to 50 deg C by the time it gets to the heater. Moreover, the baseboard heater cover doesn’t become too hot to touch. As a result, you can either use oil- or water-based paints over the oil-based metal primer with this type of heating system. 

  • Electric baseboard heaters 

In comparison, electric baseboard heaters can reach temperatures of up to about 65 – 95 deg C (150 – 200 deg F), thus exceeding the heat tolerance of most paints. Interestingly, Rustoleum’s clean metal primer is ideal for use in electric baseboard heaters since it can withstand temperatures of up to 95 deg C (200 deg F). As for the paint, Rustoleum also manufactures high-heat spray paints for baseboard heaters that can withstand temperatures of over 540 deg C (1000 deg F). The only drawback with these types of paint is that they’re available in limited colors. However, there is a wide range of heat-resistant paints for baseboard heaters on the market that can withstand temperatures of 95 deg C (200 deg F) and are available in various color options. 

4. Apply the rust-inhibiting metal primer 

Priming is an important step when painting your baseboard heat covers. A primer protects the metal surfaces and provides a good adhesive surface for the topcoat to adhere to. 

However, choosing the wrong primer might shorten the life of your paint. So, make sure you choose the right type of metal primer. For instance, if your cover doesn’t have any rust, you can simply use a regular metal primer. But if the cover has some rusty spots, make sure you use a rust-specific metal primer. 

Once you’ve selected the right type of rust-inhibiting primer for the project, spray or use a paint brush to apply the primer onto the cover. Apply 2nd coat of primer, allowing the 1st layer to dry completely before you apply the 2nd coat.  

5. Paint your baseboard heater cover 

While priming prevents corrosion and improves adhesion, the topcoat is all about durability, color presentation, a glossy finish, and dirt build-up resistance. In recent years, water-based paints have become quite popular since they don’t emit toxic fumes and are easiest to clean up. Moreover, high-quality water-based paints can last up 2 – 4 times longer than regular oil-based paints. Not to forget that their formula had shorter drying times than their oil-based counterparts. This allows for the fast application of the 2nd coat, helping you complete the task faster. 

As for the paint color, you can choose any color of your choice since it’s usually a matter of personal preference. But if you want to disguise your baseboard heater as much as possible, consider using the same paint color as the surface that is directly behind it. For instance, if the baseboard heater directly touches the floor, you can paint the cover the same color as the surrounding baseboard trim. However, if the unit is mounted away from the floor, you can paint the baseboard heater covers the same color as the walls. 

To paint your baseboard heater cover, put a newspaper on a flat surface and put the cover over it. The newspaper protects the floor surface from dripping paints. Paint the cover on one side and let it dry before you paint the other side. Once the first side dries, paint the 2nd side, let it dry and repeat the painting process for both sides to apply the 2nd coat. 

Wait for the 2nd layer of topcoat to dry fully, put the heat cover back on the baseboard heater and turn it on. 

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