One of the only original features we still have in the house is the cast iron Edwardian fireplace in the master bedroom. When we moved in, it was completely covered in yellowish paint.
Although it would have been easier and quicker to have the fireplace sandblasted, we decided to undertake the restoration work ourselves. After a bit of research I found out, that you can’t use a heat gun on cast iron, as the sudden difference in temperature can cause the iron to crack so we opted for a chemical paint stripper.
After a few tries, I found that this method worked best for us:
First, I applied the stripper with an old paintbrush according to the instructions on the packet (make sure to use the necessary safety equipment). I left it in place as long as possible, being careful not to let it dry completely. Then, after it had dissolved the paint I wiped off most of the residue with a stripping knife and kitchen paper. It is important not to wipe down the cast iron with water, as it will cause it to rust. The best and by far easiest way to remove the remaining bits of sticky dissolved paint and stripper is to use white spirit. It seems to neutralise the paint stripper which makes it really easy to just wipe off. For any stubborn paint areas, I found that dipping some steel wool in white spirit and scrubbing the area works really well. This method is also good for areas where the cast iron surround is more patterned, and the sticky paint residue would otherwise get stuck in the details.
There were at least 7 layers of paint on our fireplace that had to be removed and although the chemical stripper worked well, it didn’t penetrate all of them in one go, so it took a few more applications to remove all of the paint.
We used the same method to strip the original encaustic tiles, but made sure to use a plastic scraper in order to not scratch the tiles.
After a quick sand with steel wool and a final wipe down with white spirit, we applied black grate polish (bought at our local fireplace shop). When the grate polish was completely dry I used an old cloth to wipe off the excess and give the surface a polish.
Here are my top 5 Tips for Restoring a Cast Iron Fireplace
- Let the chemical paint stripper work as long as possible.
- Remove the dissolved paint with a stripping knife and kitchen paper.
- Use lots of white spirit to remove the remaining paint residue until the surface is completely clean. Use steel wool to sand if necessary.
- Apply black grate polish and leave to dry. Then buff to required finish.
- For maintenance use WD-40 to clean the fireplace. Never use water.
And here are the before and after pictures for you: