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Cleaning and Painting Old Heat Registers & Grilles

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Giving old air vents new life with special cleaning and refinishing

When you live in an old house, certain things just look old, and with time and busy schedules, often they don’t get cleaned, replaced, or even noticed. The vents in the back section of Hawk Hill fell into this category:  rusty, corroded, and I’m afraid to admit what that white cobweb type stuff might contain. One evening I noticed how rough these vents looked and I decided to remedy them.

Well, That’s not totally true. Actually, I noticed them, then priced how much it would cost to replace the vents, and THEN I decided to attempt to clean them up!

Thankfully, the entire project took about 10 minutes of hands-on work for each vent- maybe less! A bit more time was involved in waiting for the vents to dry after washing and again for the paint to dry. This project can be done in a weekend- perhaps even in a day.

Step 1. Notice your vents! Yikes! 

Giving old air vents new life with special cleaning and refinishing

 Step 2. Deep Clean Vents

I ran my vents through the dishwasher to get the gunk off. It’s a good idea NOT to wash stuff this gross with regular dishes you’ll be eating from. (Sometimes I just dedicate a round of dishwasher washing to utility items like air vents,  dog bowls, tools, flea market-bound recycling-center glass, and empty planters.)

If you’ve read much on my blog, you know that I think Citric Acid fixes just about any cleaning problem- so toss a tablespoon or two in your dishwasher to get an extra deep clean.

Giving old air vents new life with special cleaning and refinishing
Before the first round through dishwasher

After the vent was clean, I realized how rusty the vent was, and that the rust was collecting dust particles which, combined with summer air conditioning moisture, created more rust and general gunk. So I scrubbed off rust and corrosion with a steel brush, (if you are dealing with a lot of rust, check out my no-scrub rust remedy ) then I ran them through the dishwasher a second time and let the vents dry completely overnight.

If you don’t have a steel brush get one- they are fab! Don’t look in the grill section- grill brushes are marked way up, but simple, cheap steel brushes can be found in the paint scraping tool section of your hardware store.

Step 3. Paint Vents with a Metal Finish Spray.

Working inside a half-broken-down cardboard box to protect my driveway and contain over-spray, I painted my vents with several light coats from many angles. Lots of angles helped ensure that paint covered every surface that might show when someone walked past, over, or around the vent. Light coats help prevent paint from running and pooling in areas that got over-sprayed while I was trying to reach hidden spots.

Once the paint was dry this project was finished and I was THRILLED! A complete makeover for my vents for only the price of 1/8th of a can of spray paint. I used Rustoleum’s Oil Rubbed Bronze for an upscale take on basic spray paint finish.


Tuesday 20th of February 2018

You are just full of good ideas! Tackling those nasty bathroom vents today.