Bleeding a radiator simply involves loosening the radiator bleed valve and allowing any air trapped in the system that’s preventing water from flowing and heating your radiators correctly to escape.
In this DIY guide you will learn how to bleed a radiator correctly and ensure your heating system is running at peak efficiency.
Why do Radiators Need Bleeding?
Sometimes air can enter a central heating system and prevent it from working to its maximum efficiency. Normally you can tell this with a simple test.
When your heating is on touch your radiator. If it is warm at the bottom and cold at the top then there may be air in it. This usually happens when new water has been added from either the feed and expansion tank or simply when its topped up as a result of de furring or periodic maintenance.
Air can also be created in a central heating system by the blades of the heating pump spinning round. This air can cause air locks and stop the hot water and ultimately the heat from traveling around and completely filling your central heating system.
In the case of radiators it can prevent the warm water circulating from the base all the way up to the top. The usual remedy is to bleed your radiators or in some extreme cases totally drain them.
Bleeding a Radiator
Bleeding and draining radiators can sometimes be a little awkward and messy so we advise that you have some old towels, a jug or pot and also some kitchen roll or a cloth.
1. Protect Your Flooring When Bleeding Radiators
Lay the old towels on the floor around the drain plug area to capture any spillage (as seen above).
Occasionally old radiator water can be quite dirty and discoloured and if you have a light coloured carpet you don’t want to risk the possibility of any spillage!
2. Turn off Your Central Heating System
NOTE: Radiators should not be bled or removed with the heating on so turn it off. Not only should you do this to prevent boiling water from squirting all over you but by not turning the heating off and trying to bleed a radiator you could inadvertently suck more air into the system.
Also, if your heating system features a header tank make sure that you have not cut off the water to this.
3. What Radiator do I Bleed First?
Depending on the layout of your home will depend on what radiator you start at. If you live in a house with 2 floors (an upstairs and a downstairs) you will have to start with the downstairs radiators first, beginning with the radiator that is furthest away from the boiler and once you have done this you can then move upstairs using the same method.
If you do have any air in your radiator it will rise to the top.
4. Locating a Radiator Bleed Valve
On one side of the radiator there is a small square plug called a bleed valve. Depending on how old your radiators are will depend on what type of bleed you screw you have.
The old type can be seen in the image above, with the new type valve further down the page.
If you have an old type valve you will need a special key (see image below) to fit this bleed valve (imaginatively called a radiator bleed valve key) and it can be bought from most DIY stores.
If you have the new type valve then a bleed valve key should also fit this, but if you do not have one then you can use a flat head screwdriver (not ideal as you have a little more control with a bleed valve key).
5. Loosening the Bleed Valve
Bleed valves can be quite delicate and on inspection you may find that yours is damaged and you are unable to loosen it with either a key or screwdriver.
In this instance you may have to loosen the large nut that surrounds the bleed valve (can be seen in either of the 2 bleed valve images to the right) using a suitable sized spanner or an adjustable spanner. This can be quite tricky so only resort to this if you have no other option.
Holding your kitchen towel or cloth below the bleed valve (to catch any leakage) turn the key anti-clockwise about a quarter of a turn (old type valve or turn screwdriver anti-clockwise with the new type valve) and if there is air in the radiator you will hear a hissing sound as it escapes.
As soon as the hissing stops a dribble of water will escape from the radiator. At this point close the key or screw very firmly. You have now bled all the air from the radiator and can now move on to the next one.
6. Top up Your Heating System
If your heating system features a combi boiler (or boiler that needs to be manually topped up) you may now need to top it up depending on how much water escaped during the bleeding process and/or how much air there was in the system.
If there was a long period of hissing before any water made an appearance then this could mean that your system is lacking water and needs re-filling.
Different manufacturers may have differing methods of refilling their boiler systems so please refer to any documentation that came with your boiler on how to do this.
What if Bleeding Radiators Didn’t Solve the Problem?
If bleeding the radiators does not solve the problem you are having with your central heating it may be that you need to remove and flush out and drain the radiators.
Radiator sludge produced from rust and debris in the water supply can grind central heating systems to a standstill. Use the following instructions to drain and remove your radiators without mess. Make sure this kit is to hand.
Draining a Radiator
The first task is to remove the radiator from the wall. Firstly identify the feed and return valves on your radiator and close them down fully. Slacken the bleed valve (described above) to remove any pressure, then re-tighten once the radiator is of normal pressure.
1. Protect Your Flooring
As in the example for bleeding radiators above, this can get a bit messy if you are not careful so make sure that the area you are working in is covered with old towels/sheets etc…. to ensure that you do not damage any carpeted surfaces.
You will also need a tray of some kind that will sit on the floor below the pipe word and the union valve and catch any escaping water
2. Loosen the Union Nut
Once you have protected the surrounding area and positioned your tray, hold the valve tightly with one spanner while you undo the union nut to the radiator with another. NOTE: For full and detailed instructions on how to do this see our removing a radiator project.
3. Drain the Water From the Radiator
Water will begin to flow from the radiator. Should the water slow down do not undo the union nut any more. Open the bleed valve a little to let some air in, this will allow the water to flow out more easily. Do not undo the union nut or remove the bleed screw totally until the radiator is completely empty.
The union may be re-tightened at any time during this process. If you have a large radiator and it begins to fill the catchment tray, close the union, empty the tray and repeat the above process.
4. Remove the Radiator
When you are sure that the radiator is completely drained you can remove it safely and then take it out side and stand it upright to completely drain. There may also be the chance that your entire heating system will need power flushing.
There are now a few products on the market that allow you to disconnect your radiator and remove it without the need to drain it within your home, reducing the chances of mess or damage to flooring surfaces. One such product is called the Radclamp.
This is the process whereby pressurised water containing certain cleaning agents is pumped around your heating system to remove rust and dirt build up etc…. For a more detailed explanation of this process see the power flushing project.