How to bleed a radiator: get rid of unwanted cold spots

bleeding a traditional style radiator
(Image credit: Luke Arthur Wells)

If you have central heating you need to know how to bleed a radiator. It is a key skill that any DIYer should have in their arsenal. It will release air trapped in the central heating system and let water fill the radiator getting rid of any cold spots.

This will ensure that the radiator runs more efficiently meaning that you will get maximum output. Which in turn makes them more cost effective than if there were simply left.

While a lot of areas of plumbing should be left well alone, bleeding a radiator is something that you can take on yourself relatively easily. All you need is a radiator key and the know how, which you can find in this guide. 

Just make sure that you do a check every time winter rolls around and you will have a central heating system working as efficiently as possible to keep your home warm and toasty.

How to bleed a radiator: A step by step guide 

Bleeding a radiator is just one way to make your central heating more efficient. Find out more ways to go eco and save money at Home Energy Week at the Homebuilding & Renovating Show.

1. Prepare to bleed the radiators

To start, make sure that your central heating is off and that the radiators are cold. It doesn't matter what type of radiator you have you will run the risk of spraying yourself with hot water when bleeding the radiator.

At this point, you’ll also need to know how to re-pressurise your boiler and find the pressure gauge on the boiler. You’ll need to keep an eye on this during the process, so it’s a good idea to have a second pair of hands to help with this job if possible.

Close of Baxi 600 combi boiler panel

Check the pressure gauge on your boiler after bleeding a radiator to check that its still in the green band (Image credit: Steven Jenkins)

2. Protect the surrounding floors and walls

You will need to protect the wall and floors around the bleed valve. You don't want rusty water over your nice clean walls and floors. Place a towel between the radiator and the wall. Then hold another towel just underneath the bleed valve. 

You shouldn't need it, but make sure that you have a bowl on the floor underneath the bleed valve to protect it from any further drips.

3. Find the bleed valve and release the air

The bleed valve is typically located on the top right hand side of the radiator. The best traditional radiators, contemporary and modern radiators are typically all the same. 

You will need a radiator key or in some cases a flat head screwdriver to move the valve. You’ll need to turn the key anti-clockwise to open the bleed valve. 

You will hear air hissing from the valve meaning the air is being released. But make sure you are ready for a squirt of water. As soon as this happens turn the key clockwise to close the bleed valve.

bleeding a radiator valve

A multi-plumbing tool with a bleed key or a standard bleed key can be used to bleed a radiator  (Image credit: Luke Arthur Wells)

4. Keep an eye on the boiler pressure

After bleeding a radiator — keep your bleed key in a save place, they are easy to lose — check you boilers pressure gauge. Often the pressure will drop and fall outside the optimum green band and into the red. 

If the gauge level falls into the red zone, you will need to re-pressurise your boiler to bring it back into the green zone. This is relatively simple — especially on new boilers — but it will differ from brand to brand.

In the image below the two blue handles are used to re-pressurise the boiler. The one on the left opens the water supply and the one on the right re-pressurises the boiler. If unsure on how your filling loop works, check the manual or call in a professional. 

Close up of boiler filling loop

You'll need to locate the filling loop mechanism to re-pressurise your boiler while bleeding radiators (Image credit: Steven Jenkins)

5. Continue to the next radiator

Repeat this step on your other radiators that need attention. You’ll only really need to bleed the radiators that you determine have air trapped inside, working from the furthest radiator away to the nearest to the boiler, starting with the ground floor.

If remodeling you may want to know how much it costs to move a radiator. If you do have a radiator repositioned you will need to follow the previous steps once installed. Make sure valves are closed and the radiator is bled to ensure it pumps out plenty of heat. 

6. Turn the heating back on

Once you’ve bled all the radiators you need to, turn the heating back on and check that they’re heating up correctly. If not, there may be another reason for your radiators not working that may require it to be flushed. Also, double check all the valves are properly closed and that none of them are leaking.

VIDEO: How to bleed a radiator

How do you know if you need to bleed a radiator? 

There are a couple of ways you can figure out whether your radiator needs bleeding. Firstly, when the heating is on, carefully put your hands on the radiator. As air rises to the top, if you have trapped air in your radiator, the radiator will be cooler, or even cold, at the top, while the bottom is warm. This is a sign your radiator needs bleeding. You’ll find this effect is even more pronounced in vertical radiators and towel rails.

Another tell-tale sign of a radiator in need of bleeding is unusual noises such as gurgling, clunking and rattling.

If you’re unsure, there’s no harm in trying to bleed your radiator, as long as you follow the steps carefully as not to de-pressurise your boiler and cause damage to your heating system. 

You may also need to bleed radiators during the process of how to balance radiators, or when draining the central heating system for installing a new boiler or replacing a radiator

How often should I bleed my radiators?

According to Toolstation spokesperson, Mark Biles, Operations Director at M & M Mechanical Services: "You should look to bleed your radiator every few weeks in the winter because cold spots can appear at the top of the radiator which is evident of air lock in the radiator. If you don't bleed them then air can travel round the system and cause issues with flow rates and potentially lead to rust over time."

What do I need to bleed a radiator?

Bleeding a radiator doesn’t require many tools. The only tool you’ll really need is a radiator key, the design of which may depend on your individual radiator, but generally looks like the wind-up mechanism from an old-fashioned toy or a mini tire iron-style wrench used for car wheels. 

With that, you’ll also need a couple of towels (they won’t necessarily get dirty, but use old ones anyway) and maybe some shallow receptacles such as bowls to catch any water released while bleeding the radiator. 

How do I bleed a radiator without a key?

If you don’t have a radiator key to hand, no problem. Bleed valves are often slotted, meaning you can just use a flat head screwdriver. If not, it may have an opening for a tool like an Allen key, or you can often open these valves with an adjustable wrench spanner. A radiator key gives you the most control, however, and they’re cheap so it’s worth keeping one or two in your toolbox. 

how to bleed a radiator without a radiator key

(Image credit: Luke Arthur Wells)

Do you bleed a radiator with the heating on or off?

Always bleed a radiator with the heating off and after waiting for radiators to cool down. Once you’ve released the air in the radiator, water will start to spray or leak from the bleed valve, so you’ll want to make sure this is cold, not scolding, water. 

How long do you need to bleed a radiator for?

Not long at all. Depending on how much air is trapped in your radiator, you’ll only need to open the valve for between 5 and 30 seconds. 

What order should you bleed radiators in your house?

The general rule for bleeding radiators is to start from the furthest radiator away from the boiler and work your way towards it. If you’re doing radiators across multiple floors, start with the ground floor first, then repeat the process upstairs. 

This may not always be an exact science in large, sprawling houses, but as long as you try to work to this order as much as you can, by and large you shouldn’t encounter any issues. 

If your radiator springs a leak after it has been bled — it shouldn't — check out our how to fix a leaky radiator guide to help identify any problems.

Luke Arthur Wells

Luke Arthur Wells is an award-winning interiors blogger and stylist. His blog has been one of Vuelio's top 10 interior blogs for four years running, and he recently won the Best Creative Skill category at the Amara Interior Blog Awards. Luke has worked with some of the UK's biggest brands, from John Lewis and Made to Farrow & Ball and B&Q. He's a big DIYer, and loves coming up with creative woodwork projects for his home, a Victorian terrace renovation in Essex.

With contributions from