Old Vents vs. New Vents

When we first moved into our house back in late October, one of the first things we did was to give everything a new coat of paint. To do this, we removed all the old HVAC vent registers. The old vents we pulled off the walls were packed with dirt & grime – I’m pretty sure no are at all was getting through a few of them.

Initially, we were so grossed out by the old vents that they went straight into garbage bags, and we just planned on buying new ones. We’ve had gaping holes in our walls ever since.

Empty vents without covers.

Well we did buy new ones from out big box store. But as it turns out, they are just a little bit underwhelming. Compared to the heftiness of the old ones, the new ones just feel cheap and flimsy. Plus, they are slightly different dimensions, so installing them will be a chore (we’d have to cut into the original wood baseboards in some places, and I’d rather not have to do that).

So all of a sudden, figuring out a way to clean up the old vents is suddenly sounding a lot more attractive. That will be a lot of work, too. They’ve been painted a few times, and I’m sure trying to scrape all the paint off of each one of those little fins could drive a person batty.

Old Vents? or New Vents?

I’ve seen a lot of people talk about soaking door hinges and such in a crock pot, and then the paint comes off pretty easily. I think these vents, though, are too big to fit in a crock pot. How could I get the same effect? Could I find a big pan and bake them in the oven for a few hours to get the same effect? Or should I just submerge them in a five-gallon bucket full of paint thinner for a while?

What do you think? Old vents or new vents? If you like the old ones, what’s the best way to go about stripping the many layers of paint off all those tiny fins?

10 comments to Old Vents vs. New Vents

  • I’ve never used it myself, but I know chemical paint stripper exists. You might have to use something different depending on if it’s latex, oil, or lead paint. I picture filling some sort of bin with an inch or two of the stripper and submerging the vents in there for a while. Sorry I don’t know more details!

  • Hmm, I definitely wouldn’t go the oven route, but that’s just me.

    Like the commenter above, I would probably go for a chemical stripper. You can get cheapo disposable aluminum lasagna/cake pans from the dollar store, and they should hold up to the chemicals in the stripper. For the paint on all of those vent “fins”, a wire brush might do the trick.

    Anyway, I totally vote for the old vents, it just might take a bit of work to get them cleaned up and looking good again!

  • Do you have a dip-and-strip place in town? I took my old registers to a furniture stripper and they removed every trace of paint and I didn’t have to bother with cleanup. I feel your pain–it’s almost impossible to find new registers that fit old house ducts.

  • @Ashley – the benefit of using the oven is that I could toss a frozen pizza in there at the same time, right?

    @Heather – that’s a good idea. It didn’t occur to me that I might be able to hire it out to someone else. I’ll see what’s available in the Twin Cities area.

  • I had almost the exact same experience with our floor registers. We installed hardwoods and scraped the old ones because they looked so beat up. When I finally got around to buying new ones, we found the size was different and they’re mostly plastic. Gharr….

    What are the chances you have a grinder with a stiff bristle attachment? I gotta think that would clean away all the grime and paint pretty quick.

  • OK, I checked with my better/smarter half (house-wise!) and he suggests good ol’ elbow grease. Get a good brush, some hot water & soap and scrub the crap out of them. As for the paint, you could paint right over, or strip them first with a solution from home depot. Good luck with whatever you decide. Definitely think the older ones are the better choice though!

  • Margaret

    What about sand blasting. Maybe a body shop or machine shop would do it.

  • Dewey Guy

    You could do the soaking in a crock pot method by using a soup kettle or stock pot (should be large enough) on the stovetop with low heat. Check your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, thrift stores, etc. for a good deal on one, plus if you don’t pay a lot for it you won’t mind destroying it as you certaining won’t want to use it for food after this.

  • I used chemical stripper on my grates. One afternoon I just went out on the lawn with a brass brush, a spary can of stripper and my garden hose and went at it. It took about three goes but they came out great. You can se how they turned out here:


    I have used the crockpot method on hardware also and found it to work very well. I’d suggest using an electric roaster to do your vents if you want to do it this way since that will accomidate them.

  • Sue

    I soaked my grates in a solution of hot water and TSP just to clean them while I painted the wall. When I took them out sometime later all the paint had come off. Not my intention but they were clean and ready for new paint. I too, bought new grates for some of the rooms and because they don’t fit are still propped against the wall. I vote to use the old ones.