Asked on Feb 06, 2015

Old heat vents

by Niko
Imagine these in every room of your house...only they have been painted at least 100 times (maybe a little less, but not much) and they are all chipped, rusted and ugly. I looked up replacing them, but what I can find is super expensive!!!
What would you suggest using to clean these up (stripping off paint??) without having to detach the base from the wall to prevent destroying walls, paint, etc. I am not even sure the base comes off or it it does it will not come off easily without prying. I know the vent portion will pop out easier.
  22 answers
  • Niko Niko on Feb 06, 2015
    I may have to get an actual picture. The part that is attached to the wall looks like the above picture, but the vents are more like this picture.
  • Jean Vercler Jean Vercler on Feb 06, 2015
    I have some of these also-hope someone can help both of us!!!!
  • These vents will come off They attach in different ways but should be able to remove without to much difficulty. Be sure to cut the paint where it comes into contact with the walls and trims so you do not tear the paint finish. Trying to refinish in place would be horrible task at best. Once removed you have a few choices, You can strip them with a good quality paint stripper, dip them by putting a larger quantity in a deep pan that allows them to be soaked, or take them to any local furniture stripping place where they can make fast work of these and get them down to the original bare metal. Once the paint has been cleaned off, Use a good quality spray paint on them. Or you can always look at going the automobile paint route where they can be painted using a good quality finish then baked on so the finish will be more durable and last much longer all the while having a shiny finish.
  • Country Design Home Country Design Home on Feb 07, 2015
    Ugly is in the eye of the beholder- I think these are beautiful-lol!! I am not sure if you can replace those with modern day ones that don't look like the ones in the second photo, so the best thing would be to repaint them. I cannot tell from the photos if these are cast iron or just aluminum. You can either strip them with a commercial stripper or with a drill with a wire brush attachment, which will remove most of the heavy layers and loose paint. Then sand them smooth. Paint them with a good rust prevention spray primer, then again with the color of your choice. If you want them to blend into the wall and not stand out, then paint them whatever wall color they are going to be on.
  • Meyndert Borrie Bornman Meyndert Borrie Bornman on Feb 07, 2015
    Some advice on not damaging paint arround light switch covers and your vent base if it can come off the wall. Use a Stanley, carpet cutting knife and carefully cut the paint arround the edges deep enough to feel the roughness of the plaster. Remember the lower layers of paint is also stuck to the device. 2 problems with your vent is 1, it stand out of the wall to much. 2, the paint shoult simulate at least the skirting, bright white. Replace the louvre part with wooden louvres made by a good craftsman like the onrs they use on broom units.
  • Madeline Wood Madeline Wood on Feb 07, 2015
    Are they cast iron? I stripped paint off my cast iron ones with a wire brush attachment on my electric drill. It polished the vent nicely as well. Looks amazing.
    • Chris Chris on Sep 03, 2020

      In the process of doing the same method and it’s very gratifying seeing the beauty under the 100 years of paint on them

  • MikkiGirl MikkiGirl on Feb 07, 2015
    We have the same "registers" in our bedrooms and I don't think you can replace them since a single register heats two rooms - by adjusting the center piece.
  • Niko Niko on Feb 09, 2015
    Thank you evveryone! Here is a picture of what I am dealing with. I think they have some potential and I found that once I take the front vent off, they are attached with a couple of screws so I was able to pop them off. Now I am going to explore the best way to strip or sand blast!
  • Pagan Raven Pagan Raven on Feb 10, 2015
    You could also try using a heat gun and see if that would help loosen the layers of paint. Just be very careful..houses that old with those type of registers are most likely to have at least one layer of lead paint in there. Dealing with that myself! (mine are a bit more ornate and the original metal is brass. People painted over brass! Blah!) Good luck!
  • Gordon Abbe Gordon Abbe on Jun 05, 2015
  • Laura Laura on Feb 11, 2017

    I did mine with a rustoleum that has some texture rather than shine in black. Just cleaned and sanded (they'd only been painted over once). They look amazing compared to the ugly brown they were previously. Also had to paint some of the interior workings and flap controls, so papered all around/ventilated well and did them in place. Much easier than expected. Good luck!

  • Mary Boger Mary Boger on Feb 14, 2017

    Love them, wish they were mine! I'd just paint to match the

    trim . one caution....if you expose the hole where the vent

    cover goes if you have pets (think curious cats) make sure

    to cover so no furbabies get in and behind and into the ducts.

  • Sharon dunham Sharon dunham on Feb 24, 2017

    I would think they would have to come off the wall - registers would have had to be placed on wall after the walls were finished. Ours have two screws holding

    them. Do you think screws are painted over and you can't tell where they are??

  • EmilyEwer EmilyEwer on Feb 12, 2018

    Was anyone able to find a supplier of these old vents? If so, I would love to know your source.

  • Lisa S. Lisa S. on Apr 17, 2018

    You can buy replacements vent covers.

  • Peq52413420 Peq52413420 on Aug 29, 2021

    I have a very similar question but my heating ducts and two registers are from the 1930s and even more caked on with God knows what. I’m afraid it’s all lead I’ll try to upload a picture of a vent I took off…

  • Peq52413420 Peq52413420 on Aug 29, 2021

    my vents and intake registers are original to the 1936 house, set in awkward places and the 2 intake registers are huge and triangular. Taking up precious little wall space I need for couch/tables etc. I want to know if I can at LEAST replace these triangular intake registers that stand out from the wall. I used a can of spray paint in photo for scale. If I’m able to solve my problem does anybody want these things? Also let me know if anyone has answers to flatten the situation.:)

    There are pics of one of the 7 output vents Id like to clean up or replace. NOTICE on the vent where my finger is pointing-that is attached to a metal plate in back to open or close in each room. However anyone who has these can tell you, keeping lots of them closed while the heat is on will destroy your furnace and burn out the motor. I hope someone can help I’ve been everywhere I’m just a lady trying to fix stuff and make it workable LOL!


  • Virginia hall Virginia hall on Aug 29, 2021

    Paint same color as wall and add moldings to beef up

  • Blake Bowerman Blake Bowerman on Jul 12, 2023

    I took mine to a powder coating shop and they did a great job on the fronts and inserts. I just had the levers taken down to bare metal and will spray them since the powder coating is a bit thick and interferes with movement. However, I can't figure out how to put them back together. If anyone has a pic of the back and the top hardware I would be grateful!

  • Mogie Mogie on Jul 12, 2023

    If you don't mind spending a few dollars on this have them sand blasted and then repaint them whatever color works for you!

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Jul 14, 2023

    Maybe use something like Rustoleum paint to freshen them up. (No need to rub down, only remove loose paint)!