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Radiator paint smell never goes away

Dear folks,

Forgive me if this has been discussed on the forum before, but my family and I are in a bit of bind. I am a pastor and live with my daughter and wife in the church apartment. It's a 1926 building with original boiler, radiators, and windows. In February a company came and did some lead remediation, which included stripping and repainting radiators. The radiators stank for weeks. At about the same time, we discovered multiple leaks in our boiler. The abatement company said we needed to run the boiler for 24 hours to burn off the paint smell--but we couldn't do it because our boiler needed repair. We finished that repair just before the cold came, and now we are finishing the burn they company asked us to do.

The issue is really that these radiators offgas so much we can't even sleep in our bedrooms--and it's been months since they were painted.

These are my questions:
1. Should we even have painted the radiators? They are giant, original cast iron radiators, some over 12 sections.
2. Should we even have done this 24-hour burn?
3. Is the best thing to do just to replace the radiators?
4. What's the expert advice? I'm a pastor, so I can do all kinds of wonderful things, but none of them have anything to do with maintenance, especially steam heat maintenance. My parishioners are also at a loss. Help!



  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    What kind of paint was used? Normally offgassing should dissipate after a few weeks even with regular spray paint from a can.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,560
    There's no harm to painting radiators. However, as @Abracadabra said, what kind of paint was used? Sounds a little odd to me. I use perfectly ordinary acrylic latex wall paint on the ones in the places I care for, and once the stuff is cured -- usually on the first heating cycle of the boiler but never more than 24 hours or so -- everything is fine.

    The long heating cycle won't have done any harm, so don't worry about that.

    Don't even think about replacing the radiators. That's a much harder -- and much more expensive -- job than you want.

    I would say the first thing is to find out what kind of paint was used. Then, perhaps you might try putting a coat of ordinary acrylic over it, if it will take it. A last resort would be for the summer -- take the radiators out and have them bead blasted and then repainted.

    I might add, however, that it also seems to me the the company which came for the lead abatement and then stripped and painted the radiators should be the ones to make this right. They are the ones who created the problem!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • PinkTavo
    PinkTavo Member Posts: 64
    edited December 2016
    I would contact the "remediation" company and ask them to remediate the smell. They must have used something odd...find out what. Ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet)..that will make them think you know something...Maybe the off-gassing is toxic. They could be in a pickle if it is. Maybe it could be sealed. The manufacturer should be able to tell them. I don't think it would be out of line to ask them to strip them again and repaint with something else....like a basic high temp paint from Rustoleum or the like. I have used this and the smell was gone in a day....and has lasted over 10 years now. Replacing the radiators would be costly and likely difficult to find the right sizes. (Not a painting/heating expert, but homeowner who has successfully painted radiators.)
  • Koan
    Koan Member Posts: 436
    @pastorj I understand. Just had 10 of our 11 radiators repainted . They have been operating for about three weeks and still smell a lot when heated, but it is dissipating. In my case the paint is three part automotive epoxy applied with a spray gun. When they first heated up your eyes hurt a little. I would make sure you know what paint was used and look up the Material Data Sheet. Then call the manufacturer and see what they say the curing time is. Eventually they should stop out-gassing. With some paints I have heard there is a 60 day curing time. In the meantime encourage ventilation as much as possible.
  • pastorj
    pastorj Member Posts: 3
    Thanks everyone! I will certainly look into the Material Safety Data Sheet.
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    edited December 2016
    So did the rads not smell at all when first painted? I noticed you mentioned repairing the boiler... what did they do exactly? If you actually had it replaced, did they skim it properly afterwards? If not, it may stink something terribly until all the oil is taken out. Just a thought.
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • BillW
    BillW Member Posts: 198
    Paint consists of a powdered "pigment" suspended in a liquid "vehicle". The "vehicle" evaporates and the pigment is left on the surface. Water-based and oil based paints work the same way. Epoxies are a completely other animal. They cure by chemical reaction, not evaporation. Odors from traditional paints are generated by the solvent and any additives in it being heated and off-gassed to the atmosphere. Water based paints sometimes have a mild ammonia-like smell. Oil based paints have a much stronger and longer lasting "petroleum" type smell.
    Epoxies are usually described as having a strong ammonia like smell, but this can vary, depending on the type.

    Usually, paint odors dissipate within about a week, but if the paint isn't mixed properly, it may off-gas for much longer and may never really "dry". Is the paint still sticky? If you are painting radiators, acrylic latex (water based) paint is usually the best. Off gassing from that is minimal.
  • pastorj
    pastorj Member Posts: 3
    They did smell when they were painted first--they said the smell would go away in a couple weeks. So, we slept in the living room. By then our super discovered a leak in the boiler, and the weather turned, and so I figured they would dry out over the summer while we fixed the boiler (it's a church, so we had to raise the money to get the fix, and of course they found extra holes, yadda yadda). I'm working on getting the Material Safety Data Sheet to see what they used and go from there.
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    So did they actually replace the entire boiler? If so, did they skim it numerous times? The smell from oils is bad and long-lasting and may be what you're smelling. Again, just a thought and perhaps easier to address.
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • flat_twin
    flat_twin Member Posts: 341
    We painted two radiators with rattle can enamel gray spray paint during a room remodel. It did take quite a while, several weeks I think, for the smell to go away but it did eventually.
  • LionA29
    LionA29 Member Posts: 255
    It's a timely process. Keep windows open to vent.
  • Koan
    Koan Member Posts: 436
    I know for sure ours are epoxy paint, and they still smell a bit when heated, but it seems to be better with time. when they were first delivered, they smelled at room temperature, but more when hot. Now they smell much less and only when hot.
    these were painted 9 weeks ago.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 14,961

    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment