Maintenance of a Home Radiator

Updated February 21, 2017

Radiators are a time-tested and efficient way to keep your home warm during those chilly winter months. The last thing you want to happen is for your radiator to break down in the middle of the storm of the century, so here are a few maintenance tips to make sure your home radiator doesn't leave you out in the cold.

Give Them Enough Room

Radiators heat rooms through two ways: radiation and convection. Radiation is the heat that comes off the radiator itself. Convection is when the radiator heats the air next to it, which causes the air to rise to the top of the room. Cold air, which is heavier and sits close to the floor, then rushes in from the bottom of the room to fill the gap. So it's important that radiators have room to circulate the air around them. Keep furniture, drapes and other objects at least 6 inches away.

Give Them a Bath

Keep the radiator clean of dust, dirt and lint. This will allow it to operate more efficiently. Use a cleaning brush to remove any accumulated material from the radiator fins. If your radiators have a flat screen at the front, remove these so you can clean the hard-to-get-to parts. This should be done weekly (or more frequently, depending on the number of pets you have).

Make Them Bleed

Before Old Man Winter visits, bleed the air out of each radiator. Locate the radiator valve at the top of each unit. Hold a container underneath the valve and give it a slow turn. On some radiators, this requires a special key, while on others you can use a wrench or a screwdriver. Allow any trapped air to escape. When only water runs out, tighten the valve again. Do this once a year.

Keep Them on the Level

If you have a steam radiator system, the radiator should be level or pitched slightly toward the inlet. This can change over time as the floor beneath shrinks or expands. Check by placing a level on top of the unit. Use shims underneath one end of the radiator to adjust the level as necessary.

Let Them Vent

Some steam systems have a self-bleeding air vent at the top that allows cold air to exit the system but shuts when it comes into contact with steam. Occasionally these become blocked with mineral deposits. Clean them with a solution of vinegar and water that's been boiled for 30 minutes. If that doesn't work, replace the vents.

Flush the System

This should only be done by the experienced do-it-yourselfer. Attach a hose to the boiler drain outlet and run it outside. Open the valve on the highest radiator in the house. Allow the system to drain. Then turn on the water inlet valve and run it until the water comes out of the hose clean. Close all the valves and run the boiler.

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About the Author

Nathan McGinty started writing in 1995. He has a Bachelor of Science in communications from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in international journalism from City University, London. He has worked in the technology industry for more than 20 years, in positions ranging from tech support to marketing.