How To Paint & Refinish HVAC Vent Grate Covers

How to refinish dirty or antique cast iron vent grate grill covers so you don’t have to pay to replace them! The process is easy and the tools required are minimal. The bulk of the refinishing is having the patience to be attentive to detail! 

Refinishing and giving new life to your dingy, rusty, banged up vent covers is easy to do! A coat of enamel paint can go a long way. If the vent grate covers are in need of more repair, then this tutorial is for you!

Looking to repaint your old decorative cast iron vent covers? 1. Clean 2. Sand chipped paint 3. Spray with enamel paint

Out 1886 Victorian home was loaded with gorgeous, jaw dropping ornate vent grates. I very specifically remember being SO excited to have a home with such character!…it only took until house #4 to get the character I had always dreamed of!

As luck would have it, three months later the house was struck by lightning and caught fire. During the reconstruction, a second HVAC unit was added. The goal was to improve efficiency by splitting the area that each unit had to heat and cool. The “old” unit {unit prior to fire} was left to heat and cool the 1st floor and basement. The new unit was added to heat and cool the 2nd floor and 3rd floor attic {which is now insulated as apart of the house as opposed to it’s own space as before}. So in other words, we now have two AC units that sit outside, and 2 furnaces that are inside the house – 1 in the basement, 1 in the attic.

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However, in the process of eliminating the HVAC runs on the 2nd floor, many of the vent holes were left – ? ?  Always having fun at this house!

The vent in our master bathroom was a different style than the other vents, however, it still was old and super cute!

bathroom with toilet, checkered floor tile and window

During the rebuild, the only thing replaced in here was the ceiling. Everything else stayed the same. The vent cover was removed and stored for 21 months until today! After having an open hole all of this time, I finally had had enough and put it back into the house but fully refinished because it suffered a lot of abuse while out of the house…well, in reality, they all did!

We brought the vent grates back to our house from a storage unit, they were still filled with insulation debris from the demo phase of our rebuild. Haha! No one will ever be able to say we didn’t “really really” put every ounce of effort back into this house! I completely washed them with a hose, soap and scrub brush.

cast iron vent grate cover

There were so many colors of paint on some of the vents – the ones that came out of the kid’s rooms. Using a special editing feature, I pulled all of the colors found on the one! I mean, in normal circumstances I would be like “uhhh”. But with this house, I’m like all lovey dovey, how cool is that? Lol!

cast iron vent grate cover

As much fun as all of the colors were, my most favorite was the gold!!!! I’m definitely a gold lover though and am incorporating it back into this house….like even when gold was super unpopular, I still loved it. Despite loving the gold, I chose to keep or make everything flat black…for now!

Looking to repaint your old decorative cast iron vent covers? 1. Clean 2. Sand chipped paint 3. Spray with enamel paint

Moving along from the fun colors šŸ™‚ Let’s get down to the refinishing part!

How To Remove Paint

For these antique vent grates, I completely stripped them of all of the paint by sanding with my hand sander and scrubbing at them with a wire brush.

Side note about this hand sander – we have owned a couple of different brands throughout our DIY years of renovating homes. This one is by far my favorite. It does not hurt your hand or leave your hand feeling like it’s still shaking after you finish. It’s a tad bit on the larger side (but I have very small hands…my 12 year old has bigger hands than me) – but the easy of using it and the comfortability is fantastic!

Paint Stripper to Remove Paint

The alternative would have been to use a paint stripper, however, I’m not always the biggest fan of paint stripper. It’s very stinky, very messy and still requires sanding, wire brushing and/or scrapping to fully remove the paint. In my personal opinion, paint stripper bubbles and creates more of a mess than I like to deal with. When I stripped the woodwork in one of our bedrooms before the house fire, I painstakingly made my way through the layers and layers of paint, while half-way pulling my hair out. The paint stripper was not fun, although it was easy. Sanding the wood or using a heat gun was a way better option.

Heat Gun to Remove Paint

After removing 100s of years of paint from various items, using a heat gun is actually the best and easiest method aside from just straight out sanding. It’s easy and usually pretty quick. However, there are some downfalls. Depending on the type of paint you are dealing with, you will need to wear proper masking to avoid inhaling the fumes caused by the “melting” paint. When I heat gunned the woodwork, I masked up with this heavy duty mask.

Looking to repaint your old decorative cast iron vent covers? 1. Clean 2. Sand chipped paint 3. Spray with enamel paint

*Safety Side Note: I should have worn my respirator mask while sanding to avoid inhaling any paint dust. Don’t be like me.

How To Paint Metal Vent Covers

When painting over iron, metal, etc, you want to use a very durable, high quality paint. In addition, you don’t want a paint that will crack or show signs of expanding/contracting when the temperature of the item it is covering changes from hot to cold. After examining many different paint cans at my local Walmart, I found this product by Rust-Oleum that was a high performance enamel. I knew this was exactly what I needed.

I personally chose to buy it in a flat finish, as I did not want shiny grates. The color options were limited in this line, however, that was not an issue for me as I wanted black. I am happy to report that this paint has held up amazing. In our master bedroom, the vent grate is recessed in the floor, right in the middle of our doorway, so it gets stepped on daily. There are no scratches or scuffs.

Looking to repaint your old decorative cast iron vent covers? 1. Clean 2. Sand chipped paint 3. Spray with enamel paint
cast iron vent grate cover

Supplies Required:

Video Tutorial

YouTube video

Before & After

Here is the bathroom that I showed you at the beginning! While the white was cute, the black pops more and highlights the tile floor.

Before and After Refinishing HVAC Vent Grate Covers

Here is the master bedroom doorway grate that I also mentioned. The wood floor was a very light color when we bought the house and we immediately had the entire house {the 1st and 2nd floors are all hardwood floors} refinished and re-stained to our favorite, timeless color, Early American before moving in….and then again after the fire. The HVAC runs for the 2nd floor were {supposed to be} eliminated with new runs coming from the new furnace in the attic – they were, however, this particular run was not shut off and wiring was run through it – ohhh the joys. My hubby quickly solved that issue and properly closed it off. The vent grate now is just for show (and actually the joists from the 1st story are now too large {tall} for the vent to sit in the hole like it used to – hence why the damper has been removed). We plan to install a thin piece of wood, paint it to the same color as the vent grate, and install it before the vent cover so it doesn’t look like this in the long term. We will also need to add some shims to level it out so the “frame” doesn’t break in any more places from it no longer being level. But…one project at a time!

**Note: you may be asking why not remove the grate and patch it in with more wood flooring? The short answer: 1. loss of character. The longer answer: 2. more flooring would need to be removed in order to properly patch in {tooth} in the flooring 3. the wood flooring in this room is not the traditional 2.25″ wide in size, it’s much thinner and would require even more work to track it down…and wouldn’t match exactly as this floor is very very old! Not that it could’t be done, because we actually did this when we had the floors refinished the first time…but, go back to answer #1. šŸ™‚ So, the vent grate stays!

Looking to repaint your old decorative cast iron vent covers? 1. Clean 2. Sand chipped paint 3. Spray with enamel paint

I hope that this has inspired and given you the knowledge you need to refinish the vent grate covers in your own home. Be sure to join our email list of thousands of other DIYers who are also looking to repair and update their homes on their own!

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