Sludge and water tsunami – How to remove a radiator

This is it…

I haven’t even finished the first paragraph yet I’m telling you with confidence that this is the best guide for removing a radiator that there is out there…  How do I know?

Because I’m going to tell you the truth about what happens when removing a radiator.  Unlike other guides with slim, perfectly-behaving and regularly maintained radiators that barely contain any water….

My 3 archaic radiators however, caused 3 sludge and water tsunamis!

I make no apologies for having no live videos (only post-removal) – I was running in headless chicken mode trying to prevent an emergency call to the Water Board.

Why remove radiators?

If you are doing DIY to walls then I suggest you remove radiators before starting work so you can properly plaster, paint etc without leaving a gap.  Radiators can be put back on afterwards.

Preparation is key – Clear the surrounding much larger area

Radiators are not selfish in keeping water and black sludge to themselves.  Ideally remove any carpet and clear all your possessions for at least 1.5m surrounding…

If you don’t have the good fortune of having a carpet that you don’t care about (conversely I am secretly envious if you have a luscious pile!) then I suggest you take a great deal of care and lay down alot of plastic sheeting at least twice the full width of the radiator and seal it with tape, making it flush, right up as high as you can on the radiator inlet pipes, to just below the horizontal pipe that enters the radiator.

What do I need?

  1. Several empty plastic tubs e.g. ice cream or yogurt pots – depending on radiator size at least 8 pots per radiator.  Seriously.  If, like my radiators, the pots fill with alot of water and rapidly, it buys you just a little more time to dash off and pour the water away before returning for a refill
  2. Two spanners of size that fits the radiator pipe joints – I like these £7.99 (3 pack was on offer £1.99 when I bought mine!), use the two largest
  3. Srewdriver – With small, flat end, not Philips
  4. Plastic sheeting – if you have a carpet or can’t clear the local area
  5. Old rags / towels – Useful backup
  6. Clothing – Old clothes and shoes
  7. Sticky labels – So you don’t mix radiators!

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What are the steps?

Whatever your brand or style or radiator, they tend to function similarly so these instructions cover alot of models.

1. Preparation

As above, clear the area around the radiator, use plastic sheeting if necessary

2.  Electricity

Turn off at the mains

3.  Water

Turn off at the the mains, using stop cock

4. Turn off both water entry valves/pipes into the radiator. 

There are 2 valves/pipes into a radiator:

  • Right hand side – Lock-shield valve – Usually covered by a cap.  Turn the valve cap clockwise all the way to the end until it stops.  If the valve cap does not screw and instead is removable, take it off to expose a pin and gently using a spanner turn the pin clockwise to the end until it stops
  • Left hand side – Valve is thermostat – Usually covered by a valve cap with a circular arrow or numbering.  Turn the valve cap clockwise all the way to the end until it stops (usually to zero)

5. Right hand side of radiator

  • Plastic tub – Put underneath where the radiator pipe and valve join.
  • Pristine joints – Aim to ensure interlocking joints and threads between pipes, nuts and bolts remain in tact and are not damaged, or else future leakage might occur.

  • Valve on vertical pipe just below join with horizontal pipe – Gently, using the largest spanner hold this valve in position.  Care to point the spanner shaft away from the radiator, else it gets in the way
  • Valve on horizontal pipe between the radiator inlet and vertical pipe – Gently using the mid-size spanner rotate the valve joint from the bottom upwards 3 times only, so that the valve joint loosens slightly i.e. Due to the amount of space between the pipes you’ll only be able to make a small upward movement before having to remove the spanner, lowering to reattach it to the bottom of the valve joint again to then rotate the valve joint from the bottom upwards again
  • Water Trickle – A little water might start to trickle out of the valve oint into the plastic tub.  If this doesn’t happen (as for my radiators), that is alright, move onto the next step
  • Displace water with air – The Law of Physics.  The radiator has water inside it but as it is a closed container with nothing to displace it, the water stays inside it i.e. an air lock.  For this reason, using a screwdriver (or radiator key) carefully open the top radiator valve to let air inside and displace the water below, so it flows out of the valve joint below (if you’re lucky).

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If you’re lucky, ou can control the speed of water flow by turning the top air valve on and off.  Keep filling the plastic tub with water and replacing it when full – it can take about half an hour (yes that long) until all the water has drained from this end of the radiator.

If you’re unlucky (like me!) and water still doesn’t trickle out, that’s alright, move onto the next step.

  • Water gushing – As I still couldn’t get the water out, with caution and a little trial and error, with the top air valve open gently unscrew and open up the bottom valve of the radiator a little more.  Then carefully lift the entire radiator upwards ever so slightly to ease the joints… I found this very hard as I am weak and the radiator very heavy.

Then it arrived…. the tsunami, water and black sludge everywhere!

  • Production line emptying plastic tubs – Suddenly the plastic pots filled within seconds and I was running to empty them before all 6 refilled again!
  • Help – Will this ever stop?  Water didn’t stop…  it kept flowing….  gushing… more than the latest thunderstorm!  I had a moment of fear and wondered if the water would ever stop, had I damaged the pipework, what would I do, call the Water Board??

Phew! After about what seemed like 10 long, adrenaline-filled minutes the water and black sludge slowly started to lesson… and finally stop.

  • Detach radiator end – When water stopped, unscrew joining nut completely and gently lift the end of the radiator slightly to detach it completely from the vertical pipe

Right hand side done, ready to start on the left?

6.  Left hand side of radiator

Effectively repeat the process above as for the right side – with a small change that is the direction of unscrewing the valve between the radiator and vertical pipe being from the top downwards:

  • Plastic tub – Put underneath where the radiator pipe and valve join.
  • Pristine joints – Aim to ensure interlocking joints and threads between pipes, nuts and bolts remain in tact and are not damaged
  • Valve on horizontal pipe between the radiator inlet and vertical pipe – Gently, use the largest spanner hold this valve in position, pointing the spanner shaft away from the radiator
  • Valve between the radiator inlet and vertical pipes – Gently using the mid-size spanner rotate the valve joint from the top downwards 3 times only, so that it loosens only slightly
  • Water Trickle – A little water might start to trickle out of the joint into the plastic tub.  If this doesn’t happen, that is alright, move onto the next step
  • Displace water with air – The Law of Physics.  Using a screwdriver or radiator key gently open up the top valve.

If you’re lucky, water should start to trickle out the radiator at the joint below….  Keep filling and replacing the plastic tubs as they fill with water until the radiator is empty (might take half an hour).

If you’re unlucky (like me!) and water still doesn’t trickle out, that’s alright, move onto the next step.

  • Water gushing – Gently unscrew and open up the bottom valve of the radiator a little more, ensuring the top air valve is open.  Then carefully lift the entire radiator upwards ever so slightly to ease the joints slightly…  Until the flood arrives again.
  • Production line emptying plastic tubs – Keep filling and emptying for about 10-200 minutes until all water removed
  • When water stopped – Unscrew joining nut completely and gently lift the end of the radiator slightly to detach it from the vertical pipe completely

7. Take radiator off the wall

  • Heavy – This was hard, I really struggled as radiators are very heavy.  Double check that the radiator valves at both ends are clear of the vertical pipes, then take a deep breath and try and prise the radiator upwards, lifting it away from its wall attachments and put it onto the floor.

Warning – This tilts the radiator slightly and so even more water and sludge appeared, euuugh!

9.  Labelling

Might sound crazy!  So you don’t get confused, do label radiators with their location, in case you’re storing lots of them in one place (like me).

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10.  Wall attachments

I took photos to remember their position/location.  Then carefully using a screwdriver remove the metal pieces and keep the screws… for when you have to complete this process in reverse

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Strong drink – gosh, with so much flooding and adrenaline pumping, I needed not just one glass of bubbles but a bottle!

So there we have it – a proper view of radiator removal that involves a LOT of mess!

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