Turns out the previous owner of my 1940s apartment had restored the built-in metal radiators by stripping surfaces down to bare steel and sealing them with a metal-friendly lacquer. Blithely and over time, I set potted geraniums and basil on the radiator tops, occasionally sloshing water as I tended them. Eventually, rust rings appeared on top, followed by long rusty streaks down the metal sides. No wonder New Yorkers paint their radiators! –Mary Ellen Polson

After ignoring the problem for years, I got the idea to test-sand one of the rad tops in an out-of-the-way spot. Shining steel appeared! With my well-loved orbital sander, I took the smaller radiator top that’s in the bedroom down to bare metal. Repeated sandings with successively finer sandpaper (100, 150, 220) produced a surface with the patina of old nickel. Read more.

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