** This was the first fireplace that we restored. Since then we have also restored another Edwardian fireplace using a slightly different and so much more effective method. You can read about it here. You can also check out our complete guide to Restoring, Maintaining and Running a period fireplace here!*
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.
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Here’s how to restore a cast iron fireplace:
First, I applied the paint stripper 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 plastic 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 the 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. 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 our top 5 tips on how to restore a cast iron fireplace
- Let the chemical paint stripper (this is the only paint stripper we recommend) 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 the required finish.
- For maintenance use WD-40 to clean the fireplace. Never use water.
And here are the before and after pictures for you:
Cast iron fireplaces rust very quickly if they come in contact with water. Use some fine steel wool to rub away any rust and wipe the surface with some white spirit to clean it. Depending on how much you’ve rubbed the surface, you may need to reapply the grate polish.
If your fireplace is decorative just regular dusting is more than enough to keep it looking good.
If you use the fireplace to burn wood or coals, the best way to clean a cast iron fireplace is with WD-40. Start by sweeping up any ashes (after completely cooled) with a dustpan and brush and remove as much dirt as possible. Then use some WD-40 and a soft rag to wipe away any remaining dust and polish the fireplace.
Whatever you do, don’t use water to clean your cast iron fireplace as it will cause it to rust.
Spay some WD-40 directly onto the cast iron fireplace and use a soft cloth to rub it all over the surface. WD40 is an excellent metal polish for cast iron fireplaces. The more you buff the surface, the shinier it will get.
Make sure the cast iron fireplace is clean and free of any bits of paint or dirt. Then apply some grate polish with a soft rag.
A secret tip is to mix the grate polish with a tiny bit of white spirit before applying it to the cast iron. This will loosen the iron paste slightly and make it much easier to apply evenly.
You can paint almost anything if you use the right paint, and a cast iron fireplace can also be painted. Make sure to use paint that’s suitable for metal. We’d also recommend using an oil-based paint as water-based paints can cause the cast iron to rust.
If you want a black fireplace we would definitely recommend using grate polish over black paint for your cast iron fireplace though as it’ll give you a lovely traditional and hard-wearing finish.
Restoring a cast iron fireplace is affordable but it does take a bit of time to do. We paint about £60 to restore our cast iron fireplace. This includes all supplies like the paint stripper and grate polish as well as the plastic scraper, steel wool and white spirit that we used.